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How Definition of Done Can Influence Your Net Promoter Score

07/09/2013 by Satisha Venkataramaiah

I was on a plane operated by a major U.S. airline, flying from New York to Charlotte, North Carolina, supposedly taking off at 8:25 a.m. Everybody was seated and I thought that we are ready to go when there came an announcement that was a broken chair on the plane and it needed to be fixed before takeoff. Well done, crew! Did you not prepare the plane before letting passengers aboard? There was, after all, a captain responsible for making sure that the passengers had a great experience and a team to make sure that the product was ready for the customers to use.
The crew has list of things to do before boarding the passengers, something like:

  • Clean the plane.
  • Make sure nothing is broken.
  • Make sure that plane can fly (!).
  • Have a list of passengers available.
  • Stock food and drinks for passengers.
  • Make sure the doors and windows are working.
Etc., etc. This is their Definition of Done (DoD). In my case, they let the passengers board the plane although their DoD was not yet met. As a result, a string of unsatisfactory services piled up for the passengers:
  • All the passengers were confined to their seats for the next hour.
  • Some of them missed their connecting flights.
  • Some of them (like me) made their connecting flights only by a whisker.
Now, most of these planes serve multiple routes and follow a tight schedule, which means they continue to slip their DoD and create more problems every time.
A week later, I was on a plane again, operated by the same airline, from Dallas to Las Vegas. I was not surprised to see seats that were not cleaned and a half-eaten chocolate in the pouch in front me. If you asked me whether I would recommend this airline to my friends and family, I would say "No" until I saw improvement. In fact, in the meantime I would suggest people outright avoid this airline. It has created a detractor in me (and probably in many other passengers).
Now relate this experience to any product team. If Scrum teams agree on a weaker DoD (like not having to do integration testing), they create undone work, the kind of mess we saw in the airline example. This is nothing but technical debt for which you pay a higher interest rate until you say, "We need to rewrite this garbage," and then you go out of business when you can't ship any more new features.
Before you embark on building products, understand the following Agile principles, internalize them, and create a Definition of Done that helps you demonstrate them and ship valuable product.
  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  • Deliver working software frequently, from every couple of weeks to every couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale.
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
Play Scrum! Have fun.