Definition of Done & Organisational Standards

Last post 10:08 am July 30, 2022
by Ryan Kent
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05:03 pm July 29, 2022

Hello everyone!

I'm looking for clarity around the Definition of Done and how it relates to organisational standards and the idea of self-managed teams. The Scrum Guide says...

If the Definition of Done for an increment is part of the standards of the organization, all Scrum Teams must follow it as a minimum. If it is not an organizational standard, the Scrum Team must create a Definition of Done appropriate for the product.

At the same time the Scrum Guide says that the Scrum Team is self-managed which is stated in multiple ways:

They are also self-managing, meaning they internally decide who does what, when, and how... They are structured and empowered by the organization to manage their own work... No one tells [the Developers] how to turn Product Backlog items into Increments of value.

Am I correct in understanding that according to the Scrum Guide, the organisation may mandate that the Scrum Team adhere to whichever standards and use whichever tools it sees appropriate? If that's the case, I feel that there is a bit of a contradiction here - on one hand, the developers decide themselves how the work is done, and on another hand, someone in the organisation decides the standards that they have to adhere to (thus, how their work should be done). If that's the case, can the teams be truly self-managed and take full ownership and responsibility for their work if they are constrained by organisational standards? I can see how this may lead to various problems. For example, the organisational standards may be outdated and irrelevant. Or whoever defines the standards can micromanage the developers by getting involved in day-to-day discussions and making decisions for the team on the basis that they define the organisational standards and therefore must be listened to (they may adapt the standards after they make a decision for the team). Effectively, this leads to a situation where someone external to the team dictates how the work should be done which, to my mind, goes against the Agile philosophy and may hinder productivity and the team's sense of responsibility. In that situation, the team can always wash their hands and blame the standard or whoever defined it for their failures which seems more like a traditional project management approach where a manager has all the authority and accountability for the project. Shouldn't the teams be empowered to make their own decisions and take risks?

Am I missing something in this logic? How does the Scrum framework protect the team from such challenges?

Thank you.

08:41 pm July 29, 2022

I can see how this may lead to various problems. For example, the organisational standards may be outdated and irrelevant.

I understand that argument but if that is the case, why wouldn't the team work with the organization to update these since they could be seen as an impediment?  Also, let me flip your statement around a different way. 

Have you ever worked at an organization where every application, service, automated process was built with different technologies?  That can lead to some significant costs for the organization in license fees, infrastructure, and labor. 

What about a company that has to adhere to some specific rules or regulations such as being federally monitored?  The organization Definition of Done might have statements that require specific ISO rules or Government mandates be followed. 

If the Definition of Done for an increment is part of the standards of the organization, all Scrum Teams must follow it as a minimum.

Look at the last 3 words in that statement from the Scrum Guide.  "...as a minimum" leaves it open for each team to create a more stringent or robust Definition of Done for their team.  It has been a common practice at places where I worked that individual teams add extra conditions to a organizational definition.  Things that are specific to the product that they are support or that is a higher standard that the team wants to hold each other to.  

Just because there are some organizational standards that everyone must follow does not mean that a team can not be self-managing or self-organizing.  It just means that there are some boundaries that they should not cross. 

10:12 pm July 29, 2022

can the teams be truly self-managed and take full ownership and responsibility for their work if they are constrained by organisational standards?

Yes. A self-managed team does not have complete freedom to decide how it works, although it may gain some authority with maturity. The use of such enabling constraints can help to promote high probability outcomes in an organization.

I can see how this may lead to various problems

That's right, it is possible to abuse this and the rest of Scrum in all sorts of different ways.

10:08 am July 30, 2022

Definition of Done is about defining minimal quality measures required for the product. 

The Definition of Done is a formal description of the state of the Increment when it meets the quality measures required for the product.

"Standards of the organization" refers to those quality measures. How those quality measures are achieved belongs to the Scrum Team.

There is no indication of enforcement of tools, techniques or otherwise within the Scrum Guide.