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What is un-done work and why is it harmful?

The phrase “un-done work” refers to work that is not finished by the end of the Sprint, according to the Scrum Team’s Definition of Done.  Un-done work is, simply put, waste. It adds no value to the product Increment and may even reduce its value. Ultimately, un-done work represents time that the Scrum Team spent working on something that delivered no value, and possibly prevented them from working on more valuable work, or prevented them from delivering other more valuable work sooner.

Some Scrum Teams view un-done work as no big deal, considering it as simply work that they will carry over into the next Sprint. However, this approach to work overlooks several important aspects of Scrum and poses several risks:

  • Ignoring the possibility that the work may never be valuable. Delivering working product Increments is worthwhile because customers may get value from work the Scrum Team has done, but also because the Scrum Team may learn things that cause them to change course. The sooner they learn this, the sooner they can eliminate valueless work. Delaying feedback increases the investment the Scrum Team makes in potentially valueless work. 
  • Missing inspection and adaptation of the Increment. When work carries over from Sprint to Sprint, Sprint Reviews become arbitrary demonstrations of whatever is ready at that point in time, and Sprint Planning likely turns into updating a rolling plan. Sprint time-boxes help the team to inspect the results of their work and adapt based on feedback by compelling the Scrum Team to stop their current work and make time for inspection and adaptation. Rolling plans and periodic demos of work in progress do not produce the same results. 
  • Not forming effective Sprint Goals. A Scrum Team that consistently falls short of achieving their Sprint Goal and continually  carries  it forward may have a Sprint Goal that is too ambitious, or perhaps, unattainable. If the team consistently fails to achieve their Sprint Goal, they should reassess and set a more realistic objective by scaling back . It’s possible that the team  does not fully understand the focusing purpose of a Sprint Goal and may need some help in setting effective goals.



Learning Series
The Definition of Done describes the quality standards for the Increment. Learn why getting to Done is so important, what undone work is, if it’s okay to show work that isn’t done to stakeholders, can you present undone work at the Sprint Review and what’s the difference between the DoD and Definition of Ready or acceptance criteria.





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Learning Series
Un-done work is work that does not conform to the Definition of Done and is therefore unfinished. It represents time the Scrum Team spent creating something that delivered no value. Learn what un-done work is, what causes it and techniques for eliminating it.