What Does it Mean When a Product Backlog Item is Done in Scrum?

John Carter
November 5, 2023

In the world of Scrum, the concept of 'Done' holds significant importance. It serves as a foundation for the success of a project and the effectiveness of the Scrum team. Understanding what it means for a product backlog item to be considered 'Done' is crucial for both the team members and the stakeholders in order to ensure smooth progress and optimal results.

Understanding the Concept of 'Done' in Scrum

Scrum is an agile framework that emphasizes iterative development and continuous improvement. In this framework, a product backlog item is considered 'Done' when it meets the agreed-upon criteria and is in a releasable state. This means that the item has been thoroughly developed, tested, reviewed, and approved for release. Achieving the state of 'Done' is a collective effort involving various team members, including developers, testers, and product owners.

The Definition of 'Done'

The definition of 'Done' is a set of criteria that outlines the requirements and expectations for a product backlog item to be considered complete. These criteria may vary from project to project, but they should be clearly defined and agreed upon by the entire Scrum team. The definition of 'Done' usually includes aspects such as functional requirements, code quality, documentation, and user acceptance.

The Importance of 'Done' in Scrum

The concept of 'Done' serves several purposes in Scrum. Firstly, it provides transparency and clarity regarding the expectations and standards for completing a product backlog item. This helps to avoid any ambiguity or confusion among team members and stakeholders. Moreover, 'Done' enables the team to accurately track progress, as it indicates which items are truly completed and ready for release.

Secondly, 'Done' ensures the delivery of high-quality work. By adhering to the agreed-upon criteria, the team is able to maintain a certain level of excellence throughout the development process. This becomes especially crucial when multiple team members are working on different items simultaneously, as it establishes a standard for consistency and quality assurance.

Thirdly, the concept of 'Done' promotes continuous improvement within the team. By regularly reviewing the definition of 'Done' and reflecting on whether the criteria are still appropriate and effective, the team can identify areas for improvement and adjust their processes accordingly. This helps to maintain high standards and evolve with the changing needs of the project.

Furthermore, the concept of 'Done' encourages collaboration and accountability among team members. When everyone is aware of the criteria for completion, they can work together to ensure that each item meets the required standards. This fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility, as each team member understands their role in achieving the state of 'Done'.

Moreover, the concept of 'Done' also plays a crucial role in managing stakeholder expectations. When a product backlog item is marked as 'Done', it signifies that the item has been thoroughly developed, tested, reviewed, and approved for release. This reassures stakeholders that the work has been completed to the agreed-upon standards and is ready to be delivered.

In addition, the concept of 'Done' helps in managing project risks. By ensuring that each item is completed and meets the defined criteria, the team reduces the chances of delivering incomplete or subpar work. This minimizes the risk of encountering issues or delays during the release and implementation phase.

Furthermore, the concept of 'Done' promotes a sense of accomplishment and motivation within the team. When a product backlog item is marked as 'Done', it signifies the successful completion of a task or feature. This boosts team morale and encourages them to continue working towards achieving the state of 'Done' for other items.

Lastly, the concept of 'Done' also facilitates effective sprint planning and backlog prioritization. When the team has a clear understanding of what it means for an item to be considered 'Done', they can accurately estimate the effort required for each item and prioritize them accordingly. This helps in optimizing the team's productivity and ensuring that the most valuable items are completed first.

The Role of the Product Backlog in Scrum

The product backlog is a central component of Scrum. It serves as a dynamic list of all the features, enhancements, and fixes that are desired for the product. The backlog is continually refined and prioritized based on stakeholder feedback and the needs of the project.

Defining the Product Backlog

The product backlog is a living document that captures all the requirements of the product. It is typically maintained by the product owner, who collaborates with stakeholders and the development team to ensure that the backlog is an accurate representation of the product vision. The items in the backlog are usually expressed as user stories or technical tasks, with clear acceptance criteria defined for each item.

The Purpose of the Product Backlog

The product backlog serves multiple purposes in Scrum. Firstly, it provides a prioritized list of work that needs to be done, enabling the team to focus on the most valuable items first. This helps to ensure that the development effort is aligned with the overall goals and objectives of the project.

Secondly, the product backlog acts as a communication tool between the product owner, the development team, and other stakeholders. It serves as a single source of truth for understanding the scope and requirements of the product, thus facilitating collaboration and shared understanding.

Thirdly, the product backlog allows for flexibility and adaptability. As the needs and priorities of the project evolve, the backlog can be adjusted and reprioritized accordingly. This enables the team to respond to changes and deliver incremental value throughout the development process.

Moreover, the product backlog serves as a historical record of the project's evolution. It captures the evolution of the product's features, enhancements, and fixes over time, providing valuable insights into the decision-making process and the rationale behind certain choices.

Additionally, the product backlog promotes transparency and visibility. By having a clear and accessible list of all desired features and improvements, stakeholders can easily track progress and understand the current state of the project. This fosters trust and accountability among team members and stakeholders alike.

Furthermore, the product backlog encourages collaboration and shared ownership. The product owner collaborates with the development team and stakeholders to gather feedback, refine requirements, and prioritize items. This collaborative approach ensures that everyone has a voice in shaping the product and that decisions are made collectively, based on a shared understanding of the project's goals and objectives.

Lastly, the product backlog serves as a tool for managing dependencies and interdependencies. By capturing all the desired features and improvements in one place, the product owner can identify potential conflicts or dependencies between different items. This allows for proactive planning and coordination, minimizing risks and ensuring smooth progress throughout the development process.

The Journey of a Product Backlog Item

Every product backlog item goes through a series of stages before it can be considered 'Done'. Understanding this journey is crucial for both the team members and the stakeholders, as it gives insights into the development process and the effort required to deliver a releasable product.

Creation of a Product Backlog Item

The journey of a product backlog item begins with its creation. This is usually a collaborative effort between the product owner and the development team. The item is defined in detail, capturing the user requirements, technical specifications, and any other necessary information. The item is then added to the product backlog, ready to be prioritized and worked on.

During the creation phase, the product owner and the development team engage in discussions to ensure a clear understanding of the item's purpose and functionality. This involves brainstorming sessions, user interviews, and market research to gather insights and ideas. The team may also conduct feasibility studies to assess the technical viability of the proposed features.

Once the item is defined, it undergoes a review process where it is evaluated for clarity, completeness, and alignment with the product vision. This review involves multiple stakeholders, including designers, developers, and quality assurance specialists, who provide their input and suggestions to refine the item further.

Prioritization of Backlog Items

Once a product backlog item is created, it needs to be prioritized based on its value and urgency. The product owner collaborates with the stakeholders to determine the relative importance of each item and its impact on the overall product. This helps to ensure that the team focuses on delivering the most valuable features and functionalities first.

Prioritization involves considering various factors, such as customer needs, market trends, business goals, and technical dependencies. The product owner may conduct workshops or meetings with stakeholders to gather their input and align the priorities. This process requires careful analysis and decision-making to strike the right balance between short-term gains and long-term product vision.

Once the backlog items are prioritized, the product owner communicates the order to the development team. This ensures that the team knows which items to work on next and can plan their work accordingly. Prioritization is an ongoing process, and the order of backlog items may change based on evolving requirements and market dynamics.

Completion of a Backlog Item

Completing a product backlog item requires a collaborative effort from the development team. The item goes through various stages, including development, testing, and refinement. Each team member plays their role in ensuring that the item meets the criteria defined in the definition of 'Done'. This may involve writing code, conducting unit tests, performing integration tests, and seeking feedback from stakeholders.

During the development phase, the team follows agile practices, such as daily stand-up meetings, to track progress, identify and resolve any issues, and ensure a smooth development process. The developers work closely with the product owner to clarify any ambiguities and make necessary adjustments to meet the desired outcome.

Once the development is complete, the item undergoes rigorous testing to ensure its quality and functionality. This includes various types of testing, such as unit testing, integration testing, and user acceptance testing. The team collaborates with quality assurance specialists to identify and fix any bugs or issues that may arise during the testing phase.

Refinement is an essential part of completing a backlog item. It involves reviewing the item's functionality, design, and user experience to make any necessary improvements. The team seeks feedback from stakeholders, conducts usability tests, and iterates on the item to enhance its value and usability.

Throughout the completion phase, the team maintains a high level of communication and collaboration to ensure that the item meets the expected standards and aligns with the overall product vision. This involves continuous feedback loops, regular demonstrations, and constant refinement to deliver a high-quality product backlog item.

The Criteria for a 'Done' Product Backlog Item

Ensuring that a product backlog item meets the criteria for being considered 'Done' is critical for the success of a Scrum project. These criteria serve as quality gates, ensuring that the item is not only implemented but also tested, reviewed, and ready for release.

Quality Assurance for Backlog Items

One of the essential criteria for a 'Done' product backlog item is meeting the required quality standards. This involves rigorous testing, both automated and manual. The item should be free from defects, it should function as expected, and it should not negatively impact the existing features of the product.

Review and Acceptance of Backlog Items

Another key aspect of a 'Done' product backlog item is obtaining review and acceptance from the relevant stakeholders. This ensures that the item meets their expectations and aligns with the overall project goals. Review and acceptance may involve demonstrating the functionality, providing documentation, and addressing any concerns or feedback raised by the stakeholders.

The Impact of a 'Done' Backlog Item on the Scrum Team

The state of 'Done' not only has an impact on the product, but it also influences the Scrum team and their dynamics. Understanding this impact helps to foster a positive and collaborative environment that encourages the team to strive for excellence.

The Effect on Team Morale

Achieving the state of 'Done' provides a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction for the team members. It serves as a validation of their efforts and expertise. When the team consistently delivers 'Done' items, it boosts morale and creates a positive work culture, where everyone takes pride in their work and strives for continuous improvement.

The Effect on Product Development

A 'Done' backlog item has a direct impact on the progress of the product development. It signifies that a feature, enhancement, or fix is completed and can be released to the end-users or stakeholders. This enables the team to deliver value incrementally, gain feedback, and make improvements based on real-world usage.