A Guide to Defeating Scrum: Definition of Done

You’re someone who wants this Scrum thing gone. It threatens your role and must be defeated. You’ve chosen to target the Definition of “Done,” the essential standard of quality and artifact transparency. With it a Development team might make more accurate forecasts, build trust with stakeholders, and establish a rigorous and reproducible standard for confident delivery of valuable work. I’m here to give you the tools you need to ensure Scrum teams divide their focus, rail against the Definition of Done, and eventually argue that, “Scrum just won’t work here.” This is the post you’ve been waiting for.

Process Kills Agility

The Agile Manifesto says that individuals and interactions are more important than processes and tools right? With a little creative interpretation, this can a powerful weapon against those agilistas in your organization. When the zealots call for a Definition of “Done,” point out to them that they’re relying on a now dusty framework — the 21 year old Scrum.  There’s no way this practice can apply here without pragmatic customizations for local concerns. Make them out to be sheep, blindly being led to the slaughter by a bunch of money hungry, certification mongers.

Rigor Removes Motivation

Agile fanatics love autonomy and self-organization — use that. You can twist their beloved Drive by Dan Pink to muddy the waters. In the book Pink shows how command and control of creative work stifles motivation and leads to worse results. Claim that establishing a rigorous adherence to the Definition of “Done” kills motivation, the joy of work or some other hippy bull shit like that.

Ownership Obliterates Efficiency

This one is a slam dunk. In general, gathering data may work against, but you might want to risk it here. Simply measure the amount of time a developer spends on task. If two or more of them are working on the same task, make sure to multiply the time taken to complete the task by however many of them it took to complete it. Point out that the experts could have done it faster. Extend your calculations over a year and show that, with a little expert oversight your DBA would be 10 times more efficient if he only did database work. That’s why you hired him, right?

You may hear a Scrum Master say Scrum isn’t designed for efficiency but rather effectiveness. They may say that it doesn’t matter if you get really good at making sausages if the market is demanding cupcakes. You can dismiss this as ridiculous by holding up a copy of “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time.” Point out with gusto that a co-creator of Scrum wrote a book with a title implying just the opposite. Never mind that the book emphasizes waste reduction and the gains to be made by focused effort through inspection and adaptation. You will have made your point and moved on.

Clients Create Reality

Those pushing for the Definition of “Done” will assert that it will establish a clear, reproducible pattern for rapidly creating releasable increments of the product. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter. Change is scary, and you can use that.  Find dissatisfied clients and ask them if they would go through the arduous task of accepting your yearly product updates every 2 weeks. Make sure to record those sessions! Chances are you’ll scare the bejeezus out of them on behalf of those calling for rapid release. Show those conversations to your CEO and relate the client unrest and outrage directly to those advocating the Definition of “Done.” Congratulations, you’ve just saved the CEO several, outraged phone calls by vocal clients. You may have just earned yourself a promotion :).


Do whatever you can to eliminate the wherewithal of the Scrum team to hold to a Definition of “Done.” Undercut the terminology your opponents are using. Tug against the heartstrings they rely on. Convince the upper ups that output is the only measure of value. Use loud-mouthed, visionless clients to pressure your executives; Henry Ford may have known how to run an efficient operation, but he only got lucky with that whole horses thing after all.

As with Sprint Planning the definition of “Done” is something you need to defeat if you’re to keep your role. Don’t for a moment be wooed by the promise of increased throughput, focused delivery of value or a more resilient team. These are pipe dreams perpetrated on the industry by charlatans. Many of them haven’t maintained a Gantt chart in their lives for crying out loud!


Jason is a developer, Scrum Master, writer, teacher, coach, husband, father, and community leader out of Tulsa Oklahoma. He's been delivering software since 2007 and absolutely loves the values and principles of agility especially as given form by the Scrum framework.