Definition of Done for Distributed Teams


In a distributed environment, the Definition of Done has to be more methodical than it would be in a co-located environment which sometimes results in a longer Definition of Done. This may be because effective communication is more difficult to maintain remotely, creating a necessity for bolstered confirmation. Information is not as evenly distributed in remote settings, leading to the possibility of members becoming confused or items being mismanaged.


Creating an extensive list of criteria that must be met for the team to move forward can create confidence in releases that may be lacking in many distributed teams. The co-located environment exposes members to more information than many of us realize, which may lead to members feeling uninformed once that casual information exposure is no longer available. These feelings of unease can translate to leadership and other members requiring stronger confirmation of work that is marked as complete.


An in-depth Definition of Done can relieve some of the anxiety relating to members keeping up and creating quality work. The Definition of Done can also act as a checklist for members to validate their work. Specifying which tests need to have included results or reminding members to place their work in the proper directories can give members confidence in their work as well. These common criteria can create a shared cognition where, even though members are encouraged to effectively communicate, if continuous communication is not viable, the work can still be checked and marked complete with confidence.


In the office, there can be visual cues to supplement the completion of work. I've always had a vision board so when code is dropped, you can see it. Many teams have certain rituals or practices that provide visual cues to those around them. However, when teams are remote, those visual cues are gone.

Whenever my household is going to have guests, I make sure to tell my children to clean their rooms. There was one time that my daughter came out and told me that her room was clean, however, when I went to check, her room was still relatively messy. When I asked her why her room was still unclean, she explained to me that she had cleaned her room by picking up her toys and closing the closet door. While this alone was not my definition of clean, I couldn’t get angry because I had not communicated my definition of clean properly. In her mind, she had done what was needed to consider her room clean.


This scenario can be applied to teams without a Definition of Done. Especially in a distributed environment, completion needs to have specific parameters to ensure the guests don’t arrive before anyone realizes that the "rooms" haven’t been cleaned.


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