Finding Done

How can a facilitator help a team finding what done means for them, considering their environment and their work. How do I facilitate the Definition of Done (DoD) discovery workshops. What you can find below is my current standard practice. There might be better options for your teams and I’m sure I will keep evolving it and I will uncover a better way but it worked for me a few times and I don’t know better as of today. I hope it can be helpful to some of you.

How to Run a Definition of Done Workshop

I organize the workshop as a team brainstorming exercise in three steps: generate ideas, evolve them and select the ones suited for the actual DoD or for improvement actions. As with all team workshops of this kind it is important to start with an introduction in which the overall goal and a high level view of the process is provided, and finish it with a de-briefing activity. Don’t try to provide detailed instructions for all activities within the workshop during the introduction as it will be too much for participants. You will make it easier and more enjoyable if you provide the instructions for the activities just-in-time.

Step 1: In an ideal world…

In this step we are after pure volume of ideas. We use a collection of ideal world scenarios to facilitate the team getting to think about what they need or would like to happen before considering a backlog item complete.

The scenarios are pretty simple: In an ideal world…

  • …when I deliver a story…
  • …when somebody else delivers a story…
  • …when I work on top of code developed by somebody else on the team…
  • …when we complete a sprint…
  • …when we complete a release…
  • …when some other team completes a release…

The team need to complete the phrases defining how the end state of the system they are producing or their own team will be in the circumstances I ask about. Using different scenarios prompts the team to use different points of view and results frequently in different insights, i.e. what we think we would like to happen when we close a user story may not be what comes to our mind when asked what we would like one other developer to do before closing a story, we may even uncover a different perspective if asked what we would like to find when working on the code already marked as completed.

This exercise can be performed silently writing cards to be stick in a wall or in a loud voice with a recorder, previously engaged by the facilitator, recording the answers in cards or in a white board. When done in a loud voice the order can be round the table or free for all.

We should use the technique that better suits the team. As an example, we can use silent brainstorming to avoid group thinking and increase the participation of shier team members; we can use round the table to allow some level of interaction while asking everybody to participate.

As in any brainstorming, during this idea gathering exercise it is not allowed to discuss or critize the ideas. We want to encourage a “yes, and…” mentality and a playful mood. Try throwing some silly ideas in the room to help the team focusing on the sheer amount and avoiding self-censoring.

Allow between half an hour and an hour for this step, depending on the team size and maturity, as fresher teams may need longer.

Step 2 – Refining the Ideas

The team is asked to re-position the cards in the board based on how related they are, stack them if they are the same, the ones that are really close should be directly related and the further apart they are indicate their relative logical distance.

Re-writing the ideas, evolving them, combining them and any other manipulation of the cards that results in addition or refinements of ideas is allowed. We ask the team to avoid getting rid of ideas yet.

Allow about half an hour for this exercise.

Step 3 – What Can We Do About…

The facilitator explains the concepts of Definition of Done for Backlog Items, the Sprint or Iteration and the Release.

The facilitator takes every card or written item in the white board and asks the team what to do about it. Here are the available options:

  • Is this something we can do today if so we decided?
    • Yes -> Do we want to do it?
      • Yes -> Add it to the DoD Backlog Items, DoD Sprint or DoD Release.
      • No -> Add it to the Trash Bin.
    • No -> Is it doable, practical and valued by the team?
      • Yes -> Add it to your improvements backlog, so it gets implemented
      • No -> Add it to the Trash Bin.

At the end of this exercise the team (and not the facilitator) has decided what to do with each item and has actually transformed the initial idea card into an actual entry into the DoD ready to be used immediately, a well-defined improvement added to the backlog or a paper ball within the trash bin.

Allow 60 minutes for this step. If at the end of that timebox there are still cards to go through organize a subsequent session to review them. Do not allow the team to get tired or the quality of the decision making will suffer.

Why Writing This Blog Post

The last part of this post will be an explanation of why I wrote it.

I have seen some teams struggling to get to their DoD, having long discussions in endless dense meetings only to realize a couple of sprints later the DoD they have created was not really helping them crafting better products or describe their progress.

When it was my turn to help teams in those circumstances I have tried a simple approach to facilitate the conversation and avoid that pain. This approach to the workshop facilitation was refined over the course of a few attempts and teams. I have used it successfully for a good number of teams now. I always thought I had discovered independently a logical approach to this topic that every other agile coach out there was already using, but apparently this is not exactly the case. Recently I have been asked to write down and share this simple method by a few attendants to one of these workshops and a couple agile coaches I have discussed the request with.

I thought I could get rid of the task by finding it described somewhere else but I have not found it. I could find a few references describing how to run a DoD discovery workshop.

Definition of Done Resources

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2 thoughts on “Finding Done

  1. Johannes van Niekerk

    Javier, good article and very good process to follow, I would suggest adding some pictures and examples of the questions that came up.

    • Thanks for the comment, Johannes. I still have my notes with some of the intermediate ideas and the final edits. I can ask the team for permission and add them. It may help clarify how it’s done.

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