Definition of Done – Where to Start?

Definition of Done

Often after exploring the definition of done in Scrum in our training, and exploring its importance to promote transparency and a commitment to the increment every Sprint. A common question we get asked is how do we get started with creating a Definition of Done (DoD)?

It’s not surprisingly a common question. Often when working with Scrum teams, we’ll ask, “Where’s your current Definition of Done (DoD)”? The general response is either one of the following:

  • We don’t have one
  • Go searching for a dusty document – “it’s somewhere in confluence”
  • It is a certificate – representing some activities they do in a Sprint and hasn’t changed since it was created

After helping teams fully comprehend the critical role of the Definition of Done in Scrum to facilitate genuine feedback, and validation from customers, and enable the delivery of valuable products. At this stage, the common question arises: ‘How do we get started?’

For me, the place to start is to obtain transparency in 3 key areas

  1. Current End-to-End Workflow – All the activities required to create a valuable, usable increment that the customer can use!
  2. Workflow vs. Current DoD  – How does our current workflow compare to our current Definition of Done? What are the gaps between the two?
  3. Improving Our DoD – What are the possible next steps can we take to improve our Definition of Done, so that at the end of each Sprint we have a valuable, releasable increment?

Once you obtain transparency of where you are and where your destination should be. The next step is gradually bringing some of those activities into a Sprint via inspection and adaptation. This could be the challenging part and something we’ll leave for another post.

Before we go into a bit more detail on the practical steps to achieve this transparency, let’s have a quick recap on the importance of the Definition of Done.

Importance of Definition of Done

In our previous blog, Product Owners want a Perfect Definition of Done we discuss the importance of the Definition of Done in Scrum and why a strong Definition of Done has to include all the activities to be a valuable and useful increment for every Sprint. This enables transparency and supports both empiricism and predictability in our forecasting.

Weak Definition of Done

The sketch below nicely summarises the importance of a Definition of Done and why it needs to represent releasable. And what happens to predictability when we don’t and have the increased risk of undone work:-

Definition Done, yes but.. Predictability

How to Create a Definition of Done

Step 1: Transparency on what’s needed to have a valuable useable Increment for your customer

The first step is to get transparency of all the activities needed to create a releasable, or valuable & useful product increment to your customer. There are a number of ways to do this.

One way is to get the team to capture a list of all activities that need to be done before a Product Backlog Item (PBI) is considered Done so that the increment can go Live! Sky’s the Limit! Don’t be constrained to thinking about what you are doing in a Sprint.

Create a sticky note or card for each activity.

This could be achieved by simply brainstorming with the team. Yet we found a useful facilitation approach to obtain is through the use of liberating structure 1-2-4-ALL. This allows a bottom-up intelligence approach and obtains everyone’s input. If you are interested in exploring and learning more about liberating structures through practice, then check out the PSM II course.

Definition of Done - List all Activities

Another useful technique is to visualise your workflow through the use of Value Stream Mapping. A Value Stream Mapping is an activity where your Team visualises and socialises the areas of efficiency and inefficiency across the whole process.

Value Stream

Our preference is always to execute a Value Stream Mapping (VSM) session when starting with any Scrum Team to help explore their workflow & value stream together. Any visualisation technique can be very powerful to enable understanding & collaboration – this approach is no exception. It can really help teams get on the same page & identify where the focus of improvement perhaps should be.

Being a Technical agile coach, we’ve been brought in to help establish Technical Excellence practices in teams that enable business agility. Teams tend to already have a preconceived idea of what they want to improve, yet they have no evidence for this. Value Stream Mapping can help the whole team explore and understand the workflow and collectively understand what is stopping the workflow from getting that value to the customers as early as possible.

Step 2: Benchmark. What is the current Definition of Done and what is currently not included?

Next is to use all the captured activities to achieve a releasable increment to see what’s in your current Definition of Done and what isn’t. This enables everyone, at this point, to have a clear understanding of what is meant by “Done” and how much outstanding work there is as well, which will affect our predictability.

This step may highlight to a Scrum team the challenges ahead and entailed having the ability to create a done increment at the end of a Sprint. And with any activity that’s not in the Definition of Done, this work needs to be added to the product backlog after each sprint to enable true transparency of all the work needed for the product.

There are different ways you could achieve this, but we will give you 2 possible approaches that we have picked up on our way while working with Scrum Teams. Each option is similar, with both making it clear what your current Definition of Done is and the additional activities needed to make the increment a releasable one.

Option 1 – Box Format

  • Draw 3 boxes, drawing one bigger than the next & around the previous box. It can be useful to draw these boxes in different colours. Name the first inner box as “NOW“, the second outer box as “NEXT“, and the third outer box as “FUTURE“.
Definition Done - option 1
  • Ask the team to go through the activities created in the first step and add all the activities they are, or should be doing, in a Sprint into the first box called “NOW“.
  • Then ask the team to go through the remaining activities not selected and add any activities that they think could be included in a Sprint with either little effort or permission to the outer box called “NEXT“.
  • Finally, whatever is left in the non-selected activities, place them in the “FUTURE” outer box.
Definition Done - Filled option 1

Option 2 – Column Format

  • Draw 3 lanes, labeled “Outside”, “Inside”, and “Definition of Done”.
Definition Done - option 2
  • Ask the team to go through the activities created in the first step and add all the activities they are, or should be doing, in a Sprint to the “Definition of Done” lane. As expected, this is their current Definition Of Done.
  • Next, with the remaining non-selected items, select the items inside your team’s control to move into a Sprint. Any items they can do with no or little permission. Place these items in the “Inside” lane.
  • Any activities not selected go in the “Outside” lane.

Step 3: Continuously Improve towards a Definition of Done that is closer to Releasable

Whichever approach you take in Step 2, you’ll have your current Definition of Done commitment to the Sprint Increment and the possible next steps to gradually improve this towards committing to a releasable Definition of Done.

  • Every item outside the Definition lane, or box, clearly shows everyone all the activities required for the increment to be releasable, even when you say you are “DONE”. Clearly showing how weak or strong your Definition of Done is right now.
  • Your next steps and focus are to begin strengthening your Definition of Done, to be closer to being a releasable increment. This means looking at the “NEXT” or “Inside” items and moving them into the Definition of Done. Having these appear transparently may help raise any possible discussions or support needed by the team to bring them across and into the Definition of Done.
  • Once all the “NEXT” or “Inside” items are moved to the Definition of Done, then it is time to move on to the “FUTURE” or “Outside” items. These will likely need some organisation changes or support. Making these activities and challenges transparent early on will also help with some early discussions that are likely needed with key members or leaders to bring these into the Definition of Done.
Definition Done - Filled option 2

After gaining transparency on the gaps in our process, the next step is to inspect those gaps, adapt our workflow, and include the missing activities in our Definition of Done. This will ensure we have a valuable and usable increment at the end of each Sprint.

Like Further Help?

We’ve created a mural template that puts this all together. You can download it from here – Create your Definition of Done. If you have any feedback on how to improve, then do let us know.

If you are using Scrum to deliver a Software Product, there will likely be some challenges for a new Scrum Team to create a potentially releasable increment every Sprint. If you, or your Scrum Team, are looking for help with these challenges, then the Applying Professional Scrum for Software Development (APS-SD) course may offer some help. It is a 3-day hands-on course where you will experience how to deliver quality software using Scrum with Agile and DevOps practices.

We also offer technical excellence training & coaching, so if you want to reach out and discuss this further, please get in contact at

Thanks for reading and if you want to learn more about Scrum, scrum mastery and product development, why not check out our courses?


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