Close-up of a smartphone and laptop displaying task management applications with a 'Done' checkbox, illustrating digital project delivery and completion tracking

Project Delivery through the Definition of Done

By: Hajime Estanislao, PMP, CSM

Have you ever found your project team celebrating the end of a sprint, only to realize the outputs aren’t quite ready for release? Uncertainty about when a task is complete can lead to inconsistent deliverables and project delays.

The “Definition of Done” (DoD) is a cornerstone in project management that ensures every task, feature, or phase meets established criteria before being considered complete. This concept is vital across methodologies like Agile and Waterfall, where its application significantly influences project outcomes.

Imagine every project deliverable is clear, meets quality standards, and aligns perfectly with client expectations – no more revisits, no scope creep, just streamlined efficiency from start to finish. It can be your reality with a well-defined DoD. From individual coding tasks to large-scale releases, the DoD sets the bar for quality and completeness, ensuring everyone – from developers to stakeholders – is on the same page.

Ready to transform your project delivery process? This article will help you craft a robust DoD that suits your project needs and team dynamics. Learn how to collaborate effectively, detail deliverables, set standards, adapt to feedback and continually refine processes.

What is the Definition of Done?

The DoD is a crucial concept in project management that signifies the criteria required to consider a task or project phase complete. Due to their different approaches to project management, this definition varies significantly between Agile and Waterfall methodologies.

Definition of Done Within Agile Project Management Contexts

In Agile project management, the DoD is a dynamic, team-agreed criterion that ensures all necessary work is completed before a feature is finished. This definition ensures transparency and quality control as features pass the development process. It may include coding, testing (unit, integration, system), documentation, design approvals, and any other conditions the team deems necessary in a software development project. The Agile DoD is iterative, often revisited and revised throughout the project lifecycle to adapt to changing needs and lessons learned.

In Scrum, the DoD helps ensure that each increment is potentially shippable. It defines what it means for a user story or sprint to be complete, ensuring that all scrum team members understand and meet the required quality benchmarks before proceeding.

Definition of Done in the Waterfall Methodology

Contrastingly, in the Waterfall methodology, the DoD is often more static and predefined, usually at the project’s outset. It’s typically more detailed and rigid, encompassing a comprehensive list of activities, verifications, and validations before moving to the next project phase. This method’s linear and sequential nature means changes to the DoD are less frequent and usually require formal amendments and approvals.

In traditional Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) models, the DoD might be a phase completion sign-off, where a phase (like design or testing) is incomplete until all specified deliverables are reviewed, approved, and documented. This helps the project team define what needs to be delivered and prevent potential scope creep.

Examples from Other Frameworks Relating to the Definition of Done

Kanban is less prescriptive than Scrum and requires a DoD to ensure workflow items are handled and completed. It focuses on task completion and their readiness to move to the next project phase, ensuring continuous delivery without bottlenecks.

Extreme Programming (XP) – The DoD includes passing all unit tests, code reviews, and integration tests. It ensures that the most agile software development projects are completed on time and adhere to high-quality standards and readiness for the next iteration or release.

Lean Software Development emphasizes optimizing efficiency and minimizing waste, so the DoD in this context often includes criteria that ensure work is “done” in the leanest way possible. It involves removing unnecessary documentation, meetings, or processes that do not add value to the end product.

Reasons You Need to Know the Definition of Done as Project Manager

Understanding the DoD is an essential skill that facilitates clear communication and sets explicit expectations for project managers and team members. In many settings, the DoD helps clarify the objectives, ensuring that the project management and delivery processes align toward a common goal.

Establishes Clear Expectations

It delineates project requirements, helping project and scrum teams and stakeholders understand when an objective or project is complete.

Enhances Quality Control

Ensures all aspects of the project portfolio management and processes meet predetermined standards before considering a deliverable fully delivered. Quality control ensures continuous alignment with the portfolio and strategic goals by preventing gold-plating and scope creep.

Promotes Accountability

The development team and project managers know what deliverables to deliver, reducing ambiguities and encouraging responsibility.

Facilitates Efficient Workflow

Defining what ‘done’ looks like allows for smoother transitions between different project phases, enhancing overall workflow efficiency. DoD facilitates the many aspects of work flowing through either the waterfall method or the iterative process of agile projects.

Supports Continuous Improvement

Regularly revisiting and potentially revising the DoD provides opportunities for feedback and continuous improvement in the project management approach. It defines what needs to be delivered, and through the feedback obtained, project professionals help further define predictable outcomes and contribute to the specific phases and final product.

By adopting the DoD in many environments, a project manager or a scrum master can establish a structured, transparent framework that promotes success regardless of project management approaches. DoD sets clear benchmarks for delivery and integrates a systematic approach to breaking down the project’s complexity.

"Two professionals collaboratively building a wooden block tower with a 'Done' sign, representing teamwork in defining project completion criteria."

Step-by-Step Instructions to Build the Definition of Done

Performing and establishing a DoD for project tasks, stories, or epics ensures project progress and success through continuous alignment with the set objective. The process of building a DoD provides a roadmap that guides all team members on the aspects of the project that meet customer or stakeholder expectations. This structured approach helps prevent scope creep, enhances team accountability, and ensures quality delivery. 

5 Simple Steps to Build a Definition of Done

  1. Kickstart with Collaboration
  2. Detail Deliverables
  3. Set the Standards
  4. Approve and Adapt
  5. Review and Refine

These steps form a continuous improvement cycle that defines the waterfall process and enhances the overall project management process. 

Kickstart with Collaboration

The first step in creating a DoD is to involve all relevant stakeholders in a collaborative session. This includes project managers, developers, designers, testers, and clients. The goal of this meeting is to gather input from everyone who will contribute to or be affected by the project outcomes. Use techniques like brainstorming or the Delphi Method to collect and consolidate diverse perspectives. This ensures that the DoD encompasses all necessary aspects of the project and sets a foundation for mutual agreement and understanding.

Detail Deliverables

Once the team has convened, the next step is to define and list all deliverables required for project success. This goes beyond outlining the tasks; it involves specifying what a finished task looks like. For each deliverable, describe the expected outcomes, associated tasks, and any documentation indicating completion. This clarity helps prevent misunderstandings and sets a clear pathway for what to achieve. Project management software helps track and present consolidated information to the team and stakeholders.

Set the Standards

After detailing what needs to be done, establishing quality standards and acceptance criteria for each deliverable is next. These standards should be measurable and attainable, providing a clear benchmark for quality and completion. They should include specific performance metrics, testing requirements, and review processes. Setting high yet realistic standards ensures that the project deliverables are not only completed but also of a quality that meets the project goals. Project managers may consider SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound) to guide the creation of standards.

Approve and Adapt

With a comprehensive list of deliverables and standards set, the next step is to seek approval from all key stakeholders. It ensures everyone agrees with what constitutes “done” and is committed to the defined criteria. Be open to feedback and ready to adapt the DoD as necessary. This step solidifies the DoD as a dynamic document that can evolve in response to project needs and stakeholder insights.

Review and Refine

The final step in establishing a DoD is the ongoing review and refinement of the criteria as the project progresses. Schedule regular review meetings to assess the DoD’s effectiveness and make adjustments based on project experiences and challenges. This iterative review helps to continuously improve the quality and efficiency of the project delivery process.

"Contemplative businessman with a graphic of a lightbulb with check and cross symbols, symbolizing the thought process in utilizing the Definition of Done in projects."

Key Considerations for Successfully Utilizing the Definition of Done in Your Projects

Successfully implementing the DoD in project management requires an understanding of how it applies across different levels of project work—from individual tasks and user stories to agile teams and broader features and epics. Each level carries distinct considerations that can significantly impact overall success and project efficiency.

At the user story level, DoD is a checkpoint for ensuring that each small functionality meets the specified acceptance criteria and aligns with overall project goals. It helps maintain quality and consistency throughout the software development project and process, ensuring that each component integrates smoothly into bigger features. For user stories, the focus is on detailed validation steps like passing unit tests, undergoing thorough code reviews, and meeting functional and non-functional requirements before acceptance by the Product Owner.

Moving up to features, the DoD ensures that these larger units of functionality are ready for release, contributing to the project’s release velocity. Here, integration into the overall build and ensuring that features perform well in higher-level environments become critical. It includes passing automated tests and meeting compliance and documentation standards. This is the usual approach in software engineering, which heavily applies the agile framework in combination with how collaborative and flexible the teams work.

At the highest level, when dealing with epics, DoD serves a strategic function. It ensures that a collection of features works cohesively to fulfill a significant market or organizational need. The focus here extends beyond individual functionalities to include comprehensive integration, performance in production environments, and alignment with market expectations. This strategic perspective ensures that the project delivers value at scale, balancing supply with market demand, and often involves cross-functional teams and broader stakeholder groups.

Elevating Your Agile Practice – One Step at a Time

To elevate the effectiveness of the DoD and maximize project success, it’s essential to integrate DoD with the right-fit project management methodology. Whether Agile, Waterfall, or a hybrid approach, choosing the appropriate framework can influence how the DoD is structured and executed. Integrating DoD with the selected methodology ensures that project deliverables consistently meet or exceed expectations throughout the lifecycle, adapting to changing project dynamics and stakeholder needs.

One way to enhance the utility of the DoD is by incorporating continuous feedback loops within each phase or level of project delivery – from user stories and features to epics. This iterative evaluation allows real-time adjustments and improvements to the DoD criteria, fostering a more adaptive and responsive project management environment. By systematically reviewing and refining the DoD, the project manager and teams can stay aligned with evolving project requirements and market conditions, ensuring that the final outputs are both high-quality and relevant.

Expanding the scope of DoD to include aspects like customer satisfaction and end-user engagement can provide deeper insights into the overall project success. By integrating these broader metrics into the DoD, software development teams meet technical and functional requirements and deliver solutions that align with the user’s needs and drive business value. This approach ensures that the projects have defined specifications and resonate well with the end users, enhancing the project’s impact and success in the real world.

"Diverse team engaged in a collaborative discussion in a modern office setting, exploring alternatives and techniques for project delivery."

Alternatives and Other Techniques

While the DoD is a powerful tool for ensuring project completeness and quality assurance, other methodologies can also effectively manage project delivery and standards. These alternatives may be preferable in environments where flexibility or different forms of project management tool governance are required.

Acceptance Criteria

One alternative to using a strict DoD is to employ detailed acceptance criteria for each project task or deliverable. Unlike the DoD, which can be broad and encompassing, acceptance criteria are typically more specific to individual features or user stories. This method allows for greater specificity and can be easier to manage on a task-by-task basis, ensuring that each element of the project meets the client’s or stakeholders’ needs before it is considered complete.

Definition of Ready

Another approach is the Definition of Ready (DoR), which focuses on task preparation before work begins. It includes clear specifications, available resources, and dependencies sorted out. The DoR can help prevent delays and inefficiencies by ensuring that all prerequisites are met before the initiation of work, thereby streamlining the software development process and reducing bottlenecks.

Milestone Reviews

Some projects might benefit from milestone reviews instead of a continuous DoD. These are periodic evaluations of progress against predefined milestones or stages. This method can be useful in long-term, complex projects with phases that have distinct objectives and deliverables. Milestone reviews provide regular check-ins and reassessment opportunities to ensure alignment with the project goals and allow for corrective actions in a structured manner.

Choosing the right-fit method depends on the project’s complexity, the development team’s working style, and the specific requirements of the stakeholders involved.

"Rear view of a man evaluating a wall filled with project notes under a 'Definition of Done' sign, encapsulating the review of project completion standards."

Final Thoughts on the Definition of Done

The DoD is a fundamental concept in project management that ensures all deliverables meet agreed-upon standards before they are considered complete. This criterion is essential for maintaining quality, ensuring consistency, and preventing the progression of incomplete or substandard work. By clearly defining what “done” means for every task, user story, or project phase, teams can align their efforts, minimize misunderstandings, and effectively manage stakeholder expectations.

Implementing a well-defined DoD facilitates smoother transitions between project stages and enhances overall project efficiency by reducing rework and delays. It encourages transparency and accountability among team members and stakeholders alike. As projects grow in complexity and scope, the importance of a robust DoD becomes even more pronounced, serving as a critical tool for successful project execution and delivery.

Whether you’re working in Agile, Waterfall, or any other agile project management framework, the DoD is an indispensable part of the process. It ensures that each project component or deliverable contributes positively to the outcome. Its role in project management cannot be overstated—it is truly the backbone of project success.

References

Huether, D. (2017, February). Definition of done. LeadingAgile. Retrieved April 2024, from https://www.leadingagile.com/2017/02/definition-of-done.

Scrum.org. (2024, April). What is a definition of done? Retrieved from https://www.scrum.org/resources/what-definition-done

Atlassian. (n.d.). What is the Definition of Done? Retrieved April 2024, from https://www.atlassian.com/agile/project-management/definition-of-done

 

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