A Clear Definition of Done

Key Performance Indicator: Clear Definition of Done

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Today I’m going to reveal the first of six new key performance indicators gleaned from the latest Global Study of Product Team Performance. But, before I do, I’d like to take a moment to revisit the background of the study.

A Unique Study

The survey itself is unique in that since its inception it has received support from a constellation of leading industry associations and market players. These are groups that generally don’t collaborate on such endeavors.

This effort continued our approach to distributing surveys and following up with regression analysis. We sent direct mail invitations to our subscriber database. Our sponsors and promotional partners also sent invitations to their stakeholders to participate in the survey.

After the survey closed, our statistician conducted regression analysis. The consistency enables longitudinal trending of key performance drivers. Additionally, we continued to use both team productivity and organizational financial outcomes as measures of performance in our regression analysis.

#1 Key Performance Indicator:

High Performance Teams Have a Clear Definition of Done.

The first new key performance indicator underscores the importance of having a clear definition of done. It also reveals the value of having team members themselves create that definition.

Our question to survey respondents was: “Who, if anyone, defines done for their teams?” Nearly 30% (29.4%) of responders indicated that the product team as a whole collectively develops its definition of done. That response was followed by management (23.4%), the product manager (19.5%), the product owner (15.6%), “no one – we wing it,” (7.4%), and engineering management (4.7%).

Results of Cross Correlation

We cross-correlated these results with teams that meet or exceed organizational expectations and learned something interesting. The first result that stood out was a distinct negative correlation between winging it and team productivity. That is, teams that don’t define “done” don’t perform well.

Second, our data definitely shows that it matters who creates the done definition. Organizations in which team members themselves create a clear definition of done are more likely to out perform their counterparts. Product teams that have their product owner draft their definition of done perform slightly more effectively than those teams that develop their definition of done collectively.

There was no effectiveness correlation to having a manager outside the team dictate a team’s definition of done. We think the practice of establishing a definition of done within the team makes team members hold themselves more accountable to the done definition and to each other. Any benefit of having management standardize a definition is outweighed by the demotivating effect of management handing it down as an edict.

Clearly, defining done matters. And when a member (the product owner) or all members of the team (collectively) do the defining, teams are likely to deliver at the highest level.

Next week we’ll explore the second key performance indicator extracted from the latest Global Study of Product Team Performance.


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