How the Definition of “Done” can Transform Your Business

By Paul Spencer

Ambiguity over what the word “done” means can lead to confusion among your employees, stifle progress, and derail potential success. However, when everyone on your team understands the definition of “done,” they will pull in the same direction and hold one another accountable.

A clear Definition of Done will play an instrumental role in cultivating consistent success across your organization. Every employee grasping what “done” means ensures that your employees pull in the same direction and hold one another accountable. It creates a shared language that builds a transparent culture and benchmarks quality.

Ambiguity over what the word “done” means can lead to confusion among your employees, stifle progress, and derail potential success. When your teams understand and agree on the tasks that need completing before delivering the work, you limit the scope for over-engineering and cut out inferior results. It can transform your business.

What is a Definition of Done?

Asking employees to update you on their progress welcomes answers like “almost finished.” You might even hear “done.” On the surface, these replies soothe your anxiety and get you to move on, trusting in their judgment, but they’re redundant statements. This might be finished in your employee’s eyes, but that doesn’t mean the work is completed.

When you haven’t agreed on what done means or the tasks that make up a finished work unit, it could mean anything.

Successful projects depend on everybody knowing what one unit of work entails and seeing how the parts fit into the whole. You’ve then erected a framework that can guide your workforce towards the finish line. It’s vital to create a series of open and shut workflows that lead to consistent, quality, and timely outputs.

Delivery requires the Definition of Done

If you have a project that requires delivery to a client, such as a product, it needs a Definition of Done. It provides a series of tasks that your team completes before announcing the product as ready. Without this process, there’s a good chance that your team will miss something, which might seem small at the time, but could affect the quality. When you define “done,” you ensure quality is baked in with the added benefit of combating project apathy and perfectionism.

Innovation requires the Definition of Done

Innovation should permeate every facet of your business. Designating creativity into a unit of work or incorporating it into a workflow ensures your employees are accountable for forward-thinking. Teams will always refine, teach, learn, stay open-minded, and implement new techniques. Some people feel anxious to try something new but encouraging it as part of the workflow empowers them to think outside the box with freedom and enthusiasm.

Why you should care about the Definition of Done

Lack of clarity over the interpretation of “done” can induce harmful symptoms associated with poor quality and lack of top to bottom accountability. It can cause friction and confusion, impact employee relationships, and force uncomfortable conversations with clients.

Everything goes better when done with others, and processes run smoother when your teams understand expectations before starting projects. Sharing a common vision and agreeing on the definition of done before passing the finish line should ensure your workforce’s accountability.

People can concentrate on innovation and execution instead of worrying about measuring “done” on every project. Without ambiguity, everyone can embrace their complexity and feel confident that the work unit is fit for release once the agreed-on steps are completed. Things have a habit of circling back around and eating resources when every item on the checklist hasn’t been ticked.

There are additional benefits to breaking work into measurable units. It enables you to make calculations, estimations, and decisions based on accurate information. Each unit equates to an average amount of time, making a whole raft of things easier to manage. You can determine the resources needed, cost projects better, build stronger relationships with clients, and much more.

How to create your Definition of Done

Your management team is responsible for leading the conversation over the Definition of Done, but everybody has a role in deciding what makes up a complete work unit. It’s a collaborative exercise. Without every stakeholder’s input, you’ll struggle to get universal acceptance of what constitutes “Done.”

Engage your entire team in the decision-making process. People usually have their own ideas of what must be done, which shows the importance of getting everybody on the same page. It creates transparency around the reasoning behind the agreed-upon set of requirements, winning the support you need.

Once you’ve settled on the Definition of Done, you should create a checklist that notes every element in the work unit for both delivery and innovation. Your teams must complete every item on the list before labeling the work completed and handing it over. Embed your checklists into the workflows to mitigate any danger of people forgetting to tick every box.

Shape a culture of transparency, trust, and accountability

You’ll enjoy plenty of tangible benefits by creating a shared language that everybody understands and speaks across your organization. Communication should be the bedrock on which you build your company. But more incidental positives come in the form of workplace culture. People know their roles and expectations while feeling part of a community, with everyone pushing for the group’s collective success.

When you zoom out and look down at your entire organization, you want to see synchronous, harmonious, and innovative operations. You want fluidity, like a flowing assembly line of works units that stream from start to finish, where your clients are workforce finish the day with a smile on their faces. You can transform your business with the Definition of Done.