The importance of defining “done” in agile marketing

It might be time to consider adopting a formal Definition of Done

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“Are we done with the work? Are we really done? What else needs to happen? Who else needs to approve it?”

If you’re hearing a lot of this type of talk from your agile marketing team, it may be time to consider adding a formal Definition of Done (DoD), a practice that comes directly from the Scrum framework.

While the DoD isn’t commonly practiced by agile marketers, it can help a team that has been agile for a while better refine their practice and gain a better understanding of the work, improve the level of quality and set achievements that can be accomplished within the team.

What is Definition of Done?

In agile marketing, work is broken down into bite size pieces or stories, and DoD applies to each and every one of them, not just at the end of a project or campaign. The goal in agile is for the team to quickly move committed work to done, and in Scrum each story must be done within the sprint time box.

DoD is a living, breathing document created by the team and for the team, not by a manager or single team member.  This is because everyone on the team needs to understand and feel like the DoD is reasonable and achievable.

A Team’s DoD should balance the minimum process overhead with the maximum quality achieved. For example, getting a Brand Director to review all stories may improve quality, but at what cost? If it sits behind her desk for weeks at a time, the delay probably negates the benefit. However, implementing a peer review on all work may achieve the desired outcome of quality, but quick, delivery.

Ironically, the team’s DoD is never really done! The team should review it quarterly to see if they can improve how they are working to keep that balance of speed and quality in check.

Read Stacey Ackerman’s series on agile marketing here

How Definition of Done benefits agile marketing teams

DoD helps marketing teams deliver stories more efficiently because there’s a shared understanding on what needs to happen and when for the work to be considered done, which is a fundamental piece of agile marketing. The team needs to deliver small campaign slices that are usable, which means work should occur from strategy and research through any final approvals or quality checks.

Another benefit of DoD is ensuring that quality standards are set and adhered to, while balancing that need with speed. It’s a tricky one to balance, but the team should look for ways that they may be able to improve quality within their team, relying minimally on outside approvers.

By setting up a policy of peer reviews on all work that the team does, that’s one way to up the quality while minimizing outside dependencies.

Agile marketing teams can often get frustrated when they have too many external factors and their stories seem to sit idle forever, never really getting done. While the ultimate goal is for the team to have more control over its work, some teams may have to loosen the DoD in order to see any work get accomplished. In these cases where everything needs a million approvals, the DoD may stop at peer review, even though the other items will have to happen before work gets out to customers. This allows the team to achieve a level of success within its control.

Creating the team’s Definition of Done

To get started, find a time where all team members can be available. If you have a Scrum Master on your team, that person should facilitate a working session. Begin with thinking about what has to happen to be done with all types of work and what can easily be attainable by the team for every story.

A lot of teams keep it simple with items that might include, for instance, following brand guidelines, peer reviews and marketing owners accepting the story.

Agile teams often confuse DoD with acceptance criteria. Here’s the key difference: DoD applies universally to all stories, whereas acceptance criteria are requirements specific to one story.

Here’s what an example DoD on a marketing team looks like:


A team I was once coaching was running into a lot of confusion on what “Done” meant. They were working on a PowerPoint presentation and a newer team member thought the work had to go through a lot more levels of approval than it actually did. When the team discussed DoD they realized they could get by with fewer approvals and get to done much faster.

A shared understanding of what Done looks like can help your agile marketing team get to Done more quickly, improve the level of quality of work and feel happy that they can accomplish “Done” work within the team.

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About the author

Stacey Ackerman
Stacey knows what it’s like to be a marketer, after all, she’s one of the few agile coaches and trainers that got her start there. After graduating from journalism school, she worked as a content writer, strategist, director and adjunct marketing professor. She became passionate about agile as a better way to work in 2012 when she experimented with it for an ad agency client. Since then she has been a scrum master, agile coach and has helped with numerous agile transformations with teams across the globe. Stacey speaks at several agile conferences, has more certs to her name than she can remember and loves to practice agile at home with her family. As a lifelong Minnesotan, she recently relocated to North Carolina where she’s busy learning how to cook grits and say “y’all."

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