Getting to "Done" in Agile Development


When the tasks in the "Done" column needed more attention, the team created a "Done Done" column. Later, they created a "Done Done Done" column. In this article, Brian Bozzuto discusses how you can stop adding columns and honestly get to "done" without having to kid yourself.

Three of the Agile Manifesto's twelve principles reference the value of producing working software. It directly names working software as the highest priority—a deliverable to be completed often and the primary measure of success. Scrum practitioners should note the goal of every single sprint is to complete "production ready" code. The point to teams is clear: Agile teams should endeavor to deliver working software capable of rapid deployment on a regular basis. The message to stakeholders is also clear: If you see it in a demo, you can quickly put it in your production environment. But, what happens if that's not quite the case? 

Done, Done, DONE

I saw it on my first Scrum team. This particular challenge expressed itself clearly on our little task board. We started with three columns representing the states of work of a given story: "Not started," "In process," and "Done." It seemed innocent enough and I was enamored with the elegance of such a lightweight framework. How was I to know what would come next? The problems began when we neared a release and started integrating our work with another team. Inter-team dependencies began to bring the system down. When system administrators tried to move the code to new environments, incomplete release notes caused havoc. Additionally, upstream data sources weren't receiving changes propagated on the same schedule as our team.

Our ScrumMaster tried to hold us accountable by asking us what "done" meant. The far right column of our board was changed to "Done, Done," implying our standard definition of done was just not good enough. Although this change to our board was half in jest, it was an indication of our failure to account for cross-team integration. It got worse. Later, we found that even though the business signed off on our stories, they weren't fully approved. The system people voiced major performance concerns when they saw just how often we were going to call some of the internal services. It seems that "Done, Done" wasn't actually good enough for us, either; we had to update our board to read, "Done, Done, DONE." I think we would have kept doing this as we discovered additional requirements to actually launch our product. Mercifully, by this point, we ran out of real estate on our humble rolling whiteboard; however, the impact to the team was not over. In the end, we spent nearly two months preparing for a production roll out. The team’s speed of delivering new features plummeted as we dug through the "Done" and merely "Done, Done" work fixing bugs, writing release notes, and changing configuration files to move through our environments. Our business sponsor was not pleased with two months of additional work for functionality she believed was already complete.

So what was at work here? Every day, senior developers and testers worked together in our team. We felt our code was bulletproof and our product owner was signing off on each story as we went. In my experience, there are two primary culprits at play in situations like this that conspire to undermine the team's ability to realize "potentially shippable" code. These culprits have many manifestations; but let's take a look at some of the most common instances of both.


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1 comment
Kathy Iberle's picture
August 22, 2013 - 11:39am

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