Building Your Agile Muscle

Does your team have a definition of done (the list of valuable activities that assert quality in your product)?

In the dictionary, the term done means:

“Having been carried out, accomplished, or finished”

Many teams struggle to know when they are done, whether it is from the product backlog item clarity itself, or the team’s engineering paradigms paired with the diligence they have established in DONEness.

Have you ever seen anyone say “That’s Done Done”, or even “That’s done, done, and done”? We should have one singular version of what DONE is and the entire team (all roles) stand behind that version as a filter for things they choose to demonstrate in their sprint review sessions. If the product backlog item is not done, then don’t call it done; don’t split it up simply because you weren't able to complete it. Move it to the backlog for re-prioritization and in the retrospective, try to determine why we didn't get it to DONE.

Having a definition of done allows you to start your strength training exercises in agile engineering. When you first start a work-out program, you have a fairly light regimen that allows you to lift weights, do cardio, and stretch without getting hurt. As you strengthen yourself, you start changing your regimen to have more discipline and rigor. You might add more days to the work-out, increase the weights, or even do complex aerobics.

The point is, if you don’t continue to escalate your work-out, you won’t get stronger. You have to exercise those muscles. At some point, they will reach their comfort zone and be able to perform your current work-out with minimal exertion. The point of increasing your work-out regimen is to get stronger and stronger.

The same holds for your definition of done. You have to start out where you are, but have the idea of where you want to go. Your definition of done should change overtime as you strengthen your agile engineering practices. Work those development muscles and become stronger and more agile the more you add to your rigorous definition of done. Your customers, the business, and your team will thank you for it, I promise. You might have a ton of weights sitting on the floor that you wish you could lift. You will never get there if you don't start adding a little weight at a time.

If your definition of done is the same now as it was 1-2 years ago, you aren’t agile and you certainly aren’t improving. Measure it like velocity, the trend over time should show an upward slope, always try to increase your team’s strength in doneness.


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