More Clarity, Less Stress.

The Definition of Done

Building a company to 7 figures has given me a lot of practical lessons. I’m a big fan of learning from your own mistakes (and I have made a LOT of them), but I’m an even bigger fan of learning from other people’s mistakes.

Let me share some things that worked (or didn’t) for me, and hopefully, this can save you some serious time and money.

In today’s newsletter, I want to emphasize the concept of the “Definition of Done,” and how it has made my life at work, and home, much more peaceful.

Let me paint a picture - it’s 2020, COVID just hit, and all of our clients (restaurants) are pausing their subscriptions to our software since they are forced to temporarily close. We realize we need to pivot and not only focus on restaurants with full-service operations but also on restaurants that allow for pickup and takeout (i.e., QSRs).

In the pursuit of offering our solution to QSRs, we decide to focus on releasing a food portion of our software (as we were historically beverage-focused). The dev team works hard on this, and we release something. I am told it is ready to be sold, and if anything, we should have started selling even before it was ready.

I approach a client who is a perfect fit for the food side of our software, and everything is going smoothly - until they get to the recipe costing portion. They start asking about where all the different units of measurement are, like teaspoons, cups, etc.

I’m super embarrassed and now frustrated because the dev team told me it was done, but clearly, to me (or the client), it was not done. Well, let me introduce you to the concept of “Definition of Done” and how this could have been avoided.

What is ‘done’ for the dev team, is different from what is considered ‘done’ for me, and different from what might be considered ‘done’ for the client.

Perhaps ‘done’ for the dev team was binary. We could not support food; now we technically can, and so, it’s done. For the client, done might have meant that it was easy to use, that any type of Unit of Measurement could be used, and that yields could be accounted for.

In this case, no one is wrong - it’s just that they literally have two different definitions of done. So much stress can be avoided if you spend the time defining what is done. It allows you to be in agreement on the end goal by making the end goal really clear.

I’ll give you another example I see in the restaurant world, since we work with so many of them. A manager might walk into a restaurant and realize that the “opening” was not done to their standards. “You forgot to start this or that; you didn’t turn these lights on, etc.” All things that can be easily avoidable if you had a definition of done.

In this case, an opening checklist would have made a great Definition of Done because you would be able to say when points 1-10 are completed, then the opening is “done.”

So, what makes a good Definition of Done, and how can you create one? Simple, use the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. method:

S.M.A.R.T.E.R. Method

  • Specific - Clarity is key. Define completion with no room for ambiguity.

  • Measurable - If you can’t measure it, you can’t confirm it’s done. Set tangible criteria.

  • Achievable - Set realistic standards that can be met with available resources.

  • Relevant - Ensure every criterion directly contributes to task completion and quality.

  • Transparent - Keep the definition visible and understandable for all team members.

  • Evolving - Be flexible and update your criteria as projects or teams change.

  • Reviewed - Regularly revisit and gain consensus on the definition from all stakeholders.

Think back to a recent time you felt stressed, upset, angry, etc., and how it could have been avoided if you had a clear Definition of Done.

Try it out the next time you can, and you will see, the work required upfront to set a clear definition of done will pay dividends in peace of mind.