Done means Done

One of the commonly held principles of Agile is that you build software incrementally. I know a lot of you have heard this and think you understand what it means, but are you actually living it out?

Here’s what I mean: as a developer, when you say that a feature that you’re working on is done, are you sure that it meets all of the requirements? Have you accounted for all of the edge cases? Is it production ready code?

If you answered anything other than “yes” for any of those questions, then I would question what the word “done” means to you. “Done” does not mean that you’ve coded it to work in most situations and that you’ll rely on your QA team to find bugs for you to fix.

The problem is that when other people hear you say “done”, they will assume that you really mean done. This is especially true with business people and management. In their world, done means done.

There is really no point in not using the same definition of “done” as business people, because they’re the ones paying for your project. So when you come back to them and say that you need a few weeks to just fix bugs, they’re going to give you weird looks. “Wait, I thought you said that was done.”

Before you even start developing a feature, sit down with your BAs and QAs and define what “done” means for this particular feature. Think of all of the requirements, edge cases, and non-functional requirements (like how fast it should load).

Now you start coding. Write unit tests first that will prove that your code will fulfill the requirements. Then write the code to make the tests pass. Then go through the requirements and manually test it to make sure that you got it all right (you can’t easily write a test to see if you got your CSS right, or if the page loads fast enough). If you have to, refactor your code so that you don’t have any hacks or technical debt. Now you hand it off to your QA team. You should expect that your QA team will find no bugs in your code. Maybe they will find bugs (because you’re not perfect), but that will be the exception instead of the norm. You should think that your code is ready to go to production.

Now you can really say that your feature is done! My definition of “done” is that there is no more work to be done on the feature. That means that not only should it do everything that the requirements say, but there should not be any technical debt added or things that you have to go back and refactor later, because then you’re not really done.

So when you say you’re building software incrementally, make sure that you really are done before you move on. Have high standards! There’s no point in settling for anything less.