Clearing Up Common Misconceptions of the ‘Definition of Done’

Cracking the Code: What is the ‘Definition of Done’?

In the Agile product management framework, Scrum, the ‘Definition of Done’ (DoD) is a shared understanding of when a product backlog item (often a User Story) is complete. It is a global definition of quality that applies to all product backlog items.

The DoD is a checklist. This checklist ensures that truly finished work is what gets delivered. Activities might include testing, documentation, compliance, user acceptance, and others. This checklist sets the same expectations for all team members. It ensures every product increment meets a quality standard at each Sprint’s end.

You can read the Scrum Guide’s description of the Definition of Done at .

Why the DoD is Essential: The Power of Checklists

The DoD is your team’s reminder of quality. It shines a light when deadlines loom and stress levels rise. The DoD reduces risks and avoids unexpected setbacks. When we’re under pressure, we might cut corners. Eventually, we learn that those corners cut us back. The DoD reminds us of what quality work should look like.

Let’s detour to everyone’s most cherished pastime: laundry. You know, the relentless cycle of soap, rinse, dry, and the ever-elusive missing sock. The dryer dings its triumphant end-of-cycle salute. We’re done, right? Not so fast! Your checklist for declaring that the load of laundry is done might look like this:

  1. Check if clothes are as dry as a desert at noon.
  2. Clothes neatly folded or hung, rivaling a department store display.
  3. Dryer lint banished to the trash (fire hazard is so not today’s vibe).
  4. Clothes are put away, hiding in their respective closets and drawers.
  5. The laundry basket is back in its corner, empty and eager for the next round.
  6. And the ultimate victory lap: Every sock accounted for, none left behind in the dryer’s Bermuda Triangle.

Let’s see how cutting some of these corners leads to real problems with our laundry example below:

Laundry DoD TasksWhat Happens If SkippedThe Potential Consequences
Check if clothes are dry.Clothes remain damp and become smelly or moldy.Can’t wear clothes, necessitating time and costs to rewash. May also require money to replace ruined items.
Ensure clothes are neatly folded or hung.Clothes end up wrinkled.Clothes are unsuitable to wear. This might cause embarrassment to yourself and potentially your partner.
Remove the dryer lint.More energy and time to dry, and in worst cases, a fire hazard.You can’t find what you need when needed, leading to wasted time searching and potentially being late for appointments.
Put clothes away.Clothes remain scattered.More energy, time to dry, and a fire hazard in worst cases.
Return the laundry basket to its corner.Dirty clothes pile up on the floor.Creates a visually unpleasant environment, leading to frustration and potential embarrassment when others see it.

The same applies to our projects and products when we leave work ‘undone’. We face:

  • Rising costs
  • Extra time commitments
  • Lower work quality
  • Frustration and embarrassment
  • Delays in following tasks due to ‘unfinished business’

A Definition of Done helps us to reduce these negative consequences, building quality in throughout.

Unraveling Misconceptions: The Mysteries of Language

Deciperhing Scrum terminology sometimes feels like trying to catch smoke with a net. Take the term ‘Done’, for instance. Depending on who you’re talking to, ‘Done’ might mean anything from ‘I’ve started this’ to ‘It’s ready for launch.’ It’s as variable as recipes for Grandma’s secret spaghetti sauce – everyone has a different version.

This ambiguity can lead to confusion and misinterpretation. If I had the power to redefine Scrum terminology, I’d rename ‘Done’ to something more concrete and descriptive. Maybe something like ‘Definition of Quality’ or ‘Definition of Releasable’. But until I gain the superpower of linguistic transformation, we’re stuck with ‘Done’.

Debunking Four Common Misconceptions About DoD

  • Misconception 1: It defines product or project success. Not really. The DoD influences quality, which affects success. But it doesn’t directly define success.
  • Misconception 2: It’s all about metrics. Not quite. The DoD’s goal is to integrate quality into each increment. Metrics can form part of your DoD, but it’s not a data storehouse.
  • Misconception 3: It determines project or product completion. Incorrect. The DoD says when we can consider an individual Product Backlog Item or User Story ‘done’ within a Sprint not when the whole project or product is done.
  • Misconception 4: Each Product Backlog Item has a different definition. Wrong again. That’s Acceptance Criteria’s role, unique and local to each Product Backlog Item. The DoD, however, applies across all Product Backlog Items.

Misconception 4 Unpacked: DoD is Not The Same As Acceptance Criteria

Number four, confusing the Definition of Done for Acceptance Criteria is the most common misconception, so let’s unpack that one more. Going back to laundry: different laundry types have unique care instructions (the Acceptance Criteria). For example, you dry delicates on a low setting to prevent shrinkage, while whites get dried on high heat for maximum cleanliness. These are Acceptance Criteria—conditions individual tasks must meet.

Regardless of laundry type, a core criterion (the DoD) must be met: clothes are dry, folded, put away, and the lint trap is clean. Similarly, the DoD is consistent across all Product Backlog Items in Scrum. It provides a universal quality benchmark. This way, Acceptance Criteria, and the DoD work together, ensuring task-specific conditions and overall work quality.


So, whether you’re managing a project or laundry, remember the power of a well-defined, consistently applied DoD.

  • Download the Misconceptions of the Definition of Done infographic.
  • Check out my post on the ‘FINISHED’ acronym to help your team collaboratively craft their Definition of Done.
  • And don’t forget: always double-check your dryer for sneaky, sock-stealing gremlins.

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