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For quite some time now, project managers see defining targets as smart goals (Specific – Measurable – Achievable – Realistic – Timebound) and objectives and key results (OKRs) as the golden standard. Thus, managing a project effectively is the result of having measurable tasks. In our view, this is not the full story – as it often creates the illusion of certainty and clarity. The key to turning a project and any larger task into a successful delivery is to have a Definition of Done (DoD).

What is a DoD?

The Definition of Done is a framework for completing the task. It originates from agile methodologies and does not change during a project. ‘Task done” means the meeting of predefined conditions. Such conditions typically include elements of the project governance like documentation requirements and also quality aspects.

Good Examples

For instance, you want to have a new company website. You choose to work with a team on it (e.g. an external agency and a content editor). The Definition of Done in this example should serve as your quality gate for the successful launch; it should state:

  1. A four-eye principle is implemented to ensure all text elements are appropriately controlled and corrected, if necessary.
  2. All text elements are mistake free.
  3. All text elements follow the brand message and are easy to read for a potential customer.
  4. You must acquire appropriate licences for all the images on the website.
  5. The content map is updated.
  6. The website page contains and links to all the other company channels (e.g. social media).
  7. The text is uploaded onto the new server, all links are checked, and no hyphenation is copied.
  8. Tracking pixels are integrated.
  9. A project drive stores all the texts and assets.
  10. You (the director) sign off formally the text.
  11. The pages loading time is under 2 seconds.
  12. The task backlog records all identified follow up tasks.
  13. You can mark the associated task complete.

This example helps to define appropriately key quality drivers. In contrast to a smart goal, this Definition of Done is much richer and drives quality in the long-run. It prevents quick and dirty completion of pieces of work, which might spoil the overall project success.

Another example is the launching of a new app. The Definition of Done for your company is to have the app available for download in the app stores and your app to have the functions you defined and needed for your customers. In this case, you can benefit from having the marketing campaign included in your definition of done. For own experience, more often than now this “launching a new app” fell far short of this definition – some thought “done” meant finishing writing the code for the app.

Why you should use a Definition of Done

In short, a thoughtful Definition of Done prevents late surprises, time and budget overruns. It allows you to keep smart goals short while ensuring a common understanding of what means “done” for everyone on the team. Imagine a review session in such a project – nobody can hide behind partial completions.

Read more about Project Challenges. We also recommend reading about project audits and the key success factor ‘timing’.

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