One of the challenges of traditional project delivery approaches is that team members often treat the completion of their own tasks as proof of project progress. This perception gets reinforced by project managers or their people managers who will give these team members a pat on the back for getting their assigned tasks completed on time.
One of the original twelve principles of the Agile Manifesto is Working software is the primary measure of progress. Teams following an agile delivery approach look beyond their individual tasks to a feature or capability as a whole. It’s not enough that a component has been developed. Did it pass all of its acceptance criteria without regressing previously completed work and are all of its supporting elements equally ready for release?
To help an agile team gain perspective, it is common practice for a Definition of Done (DoD) to be developed by the team. This becomes the standard against which work items are assessed and ensures consistency of understanding between the team and key stakeholders.
But a team’s DoD could still provide the illusion of true progress.
Long lead times for setting up environments, or limited, shared environments are just two examples of blockers which could hamper deployment. In such cases, a deliverable might be ready to ship but customers are unable to realize business value as it can’t be deployed.
In other situations, it might not even be possible for teams to complete deliverables. Requirements for independent testing, lack of access to all testing environments, or an inability to incorporate all supporting elements (e.g. documentation, change management) into the deliverable could prevent the completion of shippable capabilities.
Such constraints are normal in organizations commencing the agile transformation journey, but leadership teams need to ensure that they continue to whittle away at the blockers which impede full delivery. Otherwise we’ve evolved our understanding of progress from an individual perspective to the team level but we still haven’t realized the true definition of done.