Far too often we accept that people tell us a task is almost DONE. In this article I explain, what the concept behind the Definition of DONE is, how it can save you a huge amount of time and headache and why it is dangerous to accept 80% DONE as a status of a task in your project.
The Definition of DONE is one of the cornerstone concepts of effective, efficient and minimalistic project management. It is so simple, that it’s one of the most overlooked. Nonetheless it is vital, and ignoring it can get you in huge trouble.
I’ve already touched on the ‘Definition of Done’ in my blog article about the “Five SCRUM Concepts Everybody Should Know”. Here, we will dive much deeper in it, because this is so important, I want you to get this! So, read on!
The concept of DONE was developed in the AGILE project management world but is nonetheless crucial for all kinds of projects.
What does DONE mean?
It states very simply that a task is only DONE when certain predefined criteria are met. A task which does not meet the criteria is not DONE. It’s black or white:
There’s DONE or DONE NOT.
There’s no almost done.
(freely adapted from a very wise man; you know who I mean 😉).
One important point though: NEVER assume that somebody should know how the outcome of a task looks like once the task is finished. Even people working in the same team might have totally different assumptions how DONE looks like. Put it in writing! Time tends to alter the way we think to remember how something was said or meant.
This simplifies the communication enormously, makes it easy and seamless. There is no discussion about things that are nearly finished, or how it looks like when it is finished. It’s finished when the status is DONE. Full stop.
How do you define the criteria?
That’s really easy. Let’s take 2 simple real live examples. I chose 2 non-business related, because I want you to get the idea and then apply it to your business by yourself.
You want your daughter to tidy up her room. Then the criteria you should by the way discuss with her in person to make sure that they are understood, could be: “I want you to put all your toys in the boxes, then bring your dirty clothes over to the washing machine and finally get all the papers on your desk in their binders, sort your crayons and clean the desk.” Once defined it’s clear how Done looks like and the chances you are satisfied are much better than if you just said, “I want you to tidy up your room.” See what I mean?
Let’s say, you organise a garden party and the grocery shopping need to be done. You manage the whole project; your wife does the cooking and your son has been chosen to go shopping. Now it’s important that the team members who are involved in the first task and in the following one discuss together how Done looks like. It’s your son who does the first part (the shopping) and your wife who will use the result (the groceries) to do the second part (the cooking). There is no point for you to draw the shopping list and definition of Done with your wife and then hand it over to your son. You need to get both team members put their heads together and define exactly how this should look like. E.g. how much, which brand, what to look for quality wise etc., and then also does the task end when everything is on the kitchen counter or when it’s put into the fridge, etc.
You see that it is important, that the one who does the second task defines exactly what is needed as a result for the first task. If you do this the outcome of the previous task can be used seamlessly for the following task or meets customer expectations if it’s the final product or service.
Why you should never accept 80% Done
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I get it. Project managers tend to easily accept a team member announcing that a task is 80% Done, when they are on their way to report a project status to top management. It just looks better on this famous bar chart when the bar is not entirely empty or even red but pretty much filled with green.
And hey, the last 20% are a piece of cake. WRONG!
80% Done is NOT Done! Stop deceiving yourself, in these 20% so many things can happen. In business, the person in charge might contract some illness, be home sick for 2 weeks or resigns from his job and your task remains at 80%, which basically means that the person who needs to work with its result cannot start and your planning slides day by day. And in the worst case you start back at 0 with this specific task.
Therefore, the degree of advancement of a project always needs to be calculated based on the tasks which are 100% Done and never on the “real” advancement of a task.
The highest risk for a project doesn’t lie in the first 20% of a task, but in the last 20%. Because if you see major setbacks at the beginning you can always change your approach. Whereas, if we have put in all the effort to go to 80%, we tend to try to force our way through, because we have already put in all the effort, and then fail.
Just some examples to visualise:
In a marathon 100% Done means running 42,195 km, when you have done 80% you still have 8,4 km to go. Which are lots of very painful steps to go. Believe me, I’ve done that and I can tell you the last kilometres are the toughest.
You drive from Paris to the centre of Barcelona which is 1000 km. With 80% done you have even not entered Spain, let alone made it through the city, found a parking, …
I hope, you get the point.
How defining Done can save effort
Actually, defining Done can save you a lot of effort.
Let’s take the assumption that you tell a co-worker to do a report of a meeting. You think you will get the bullet points and decisions next morning and then you wait. 2 weeks later, you had nearly forgotten that there was a meeting in the first place. Then you get a full written report in whole sentences, with a copy of all the slides shown and very nicely formatted. A beautiful piece of craftsmanship.
Sad enough, a complete waste of effort and worse you will need to put in even more effort getting the information that you want out of this report.
So, when you and your team do the Definition of Done on the tasks of a project, you save effort on 2 levels. You make sure, that the person executing the task will do just what is required to make the result of the task useable for the next task. Not more. And the people who work on the next task will get an input which is at the same time complete and just what they need to start working.
That is the Definition of Done, what it is good for and how to use it. I’m sure, the more you will use this in your daily life, business and private, the more you will love it. Again, to make it absolutely clear, do not skip this point, even if it sounds very basic.
Now it’s up to you to get you started. Check in with the ongoing projects in your business, if there are tasks reported at 80% or less and keep a close eye on those. And for the future, make sure to integrate the Definition of Done into your standard operating procedures.
I am curious to read about your experience, so please do not hesitate to leave your comments below.
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Now, go below to the comments, ask your questions or let’s start a discussion! I will be glad to help and as you already know I answer all questions.