Back in 2012 when I was on the path to becoming a Scrum.org Professional Scrum Trainer, I travelled to Boston to attend a PSM course run by Ken Schwaber (the co-creator of Scrum and Chairman/Founder of Scrum.org). It was a large class and people had flown in from all over the world. Everyone was excited to meet and learn from Ken.
On the morning of the 2nd day, one participant asked Ken the following question. “This Scrum thing sounds great, but there’s quite a lot to it. What is the most important part?”. Ken had clearly been asked the question many times before and had an answer ready. His answer was fascinating and has stuck in my mind all these years since.
Ken explained that the most important element of Scrum was the creation of Done Increments each Sprint. All the other good stuff that Scrum brings to product development starts and builds from this core concept. So why is this concept so powerful? In short, it is because it enables the empiricism and agility that underpins Scrum.
In Scrum, work is broken down into small units that can be completed within a month. The pieces of work that eventually meet a Definition of Done are called Increments. Increments must be usable by a customer. The Definition of Done sets out explicit quality measures that the Increment and each Product Backlog item within it must meet. Anything that falls short of these criteria is not considered part of the Increment.
The Definition of Done in Scrum is an example of an enabling constraint. This is a restriction that promotes creativity, innovation, or problem-solving by forcing individuals or teams to find novel solutions within given boundaries. Enabling constraints encourage resourcefulness, ingenuity, and the exploration of alternative approaches. The benefits that this brings to Scrum are as follows.
Done Increments enable Scrum Teams to deliver value to their customers early and often. This benefits the customer as they have something they can use which we hope will provide a beneficial outcome for them. It also benefits the producing organisation as the earlier you deliver something the sooner you can see a return on your investment.
Scrum Teams should seek feedback as early as possible, including while working during a Sprint. But feedback is easier to provide, more informed, and more reliable when the work is Done rather than in progress. This feedback can be used to improve the product.
Early and frequent feedback allows Scrum Teams to learn fast and change direction where necessary with reduced cost and risk. It may enable them to seize new opportunities that would not be possible if they were working in a more traditional way and taking on large batch sizes of work. Agility increases as a consequence.
By prioritising the delivery of useful Done Increments, Scrum Teams can quickly identify impediments to developing the product. These could include skill gaps, outdated technologies or excessive dependencies. By adapting to eliminate these impediments they can become better able to develop their product. Risk will reduce.
Traditional product development approaches typically defer testing to the end prior to a release. Quality is often sacrificed for speed and recovering the quality at the end is difficult and often impossible. The constraint in Scrum to create a Done Increment each Sprint is designed to prevent this. The intent is to enable a higher-quality product.
Delivering Done Increments each Sprint allows us to measure real progress and adjust our plans. Traditional reporting techniques such as detailing progress in terms of percentages or RAG statuses provide false certainty on progress. Most problems will remain hidden until deadlines are reached or budgets are exhausted.
With Scrum, “not Done” and “Done” are the only meaningful states to understand work progress for stakeholders outside of a Scrum Team. Progress is only judged through the delivery of Done Increments. Transparency increases. If the Scrum Team doesn’t deliver an Increment each Sprint, then the future will be more unpredictable and plans unreliable. Measuring progress via Done Increments increases predictability.
For teams and organisations new to Scrum, delivering a Done Increment at least each month is often very challenging. Where this is the case, it is not the constraint that is the problem. The constraint is helping reveal underlying issues that need attention. The focus now is to adapt your processes and practices to eliminate the factors that are preventing you from getting to Done regularly as Scrum requires. Everyone wants a smooth, predictable delivery of value. Done Increments are how you get there.
Ken shared that wisdom with me and the others in that class back in 2012. I had been using Scrum for many years at this point, but had not fully understood the importance of this aspect of the framework. It changed my whole approach to product development for the better. I hope this will help you too!
Hi, my name is Simon Kneafsey and I am a Professional Scrum Trainer with Scrum.org & TheScrumMaster.co.uk. I am on a mission to simplify Scrum for a million people. I have helped over 10,000 people so far and I can help you too.