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Completed != Validated

Published: January 10, 2017

Change your ticket statuses to beat the feature factory

Words matter.

When we discuss “definition of done” we often forget the needs and goals of our customers, users, and business (the true arbiters of done-ness). Closed (or Completed in some companies) is a status value that effectively removes the item from the team’s plate, records a completed-by date, and contributes to the sprint’s story-point goal. Sure the story may be done and ready to ship, but have we validated that the work is having the desired effect? Accepted is no better. It is still not validated.

But the story is part of a bigger epic! The story is done, even if the Epic is not done. Actually, it can’t even really be shipped independently. Unless we mark it done, and give it a narrow definition of done, it will muddy up our dashboards!If this is the case, you are missing the I in INVEST. The story cannot be released independently of other stories. It is not Valuable unto itself (the V). Teams often run into this issue when they 1) are afraid to assign multiple people to a single story, and 2) force the splitting of stories to obey the S in Invest (Small), but do so at the expense of the integrity and user-focus of their stories.

That still doesn’t really cut to the root of the problem. Our definitions of done are not usually stated as desired outcomes. They are fancy specs. Shipping is the goal, and the words we use (like Closed and Completed for stories) only reinforce that. The desired outcome is lost somewhere in a PM’s slides (or head).

To beat the factory factory, you need to change your mindset. You have to stop configuring your tools to reinforce the idea of a feature factory, and adherence to Scrum “rules” that are often way too prescriptive. Yes, dev-focused “tasks” are easier to grok than user-focused stories, but that’s what ticket hierarchies are for. Most tools give you the power to rename your status values.

How about Ready to Validate and Validated? Don’t let your tools and words mold you. Need to show more logical nesting, and the validation cycle? Then show it! Need longer sprints to actually deliver customer value. Lengthen them. Think about the behavior you want — delivering validated customer value, not feature bloat — and mold your tools and words around that.

So much process. So little indication of the work working …