There is no point in Agile methodologies like Scrum when the work that teams deliver is of low quality. So it is important that teams develop a shared understanding of what high-quality means in their context. In Scrum, this shared understanding is captured in a “Definition of Done”.

If you were to capture the purpose of the Scrum framework in a single sentence, it would be to work empirically by delivering a Done Increment at least once every Sprint. This is also why it is so important that Scrum teams spend time clarifying what is involved in creating an increment that is Done. What work is required to do this? Which checks and tests are necessary to conform to our internal quality guidelines? Who needs to be involved in this? This shared understanding is called the Definition of Done, and it usually takes the form of a checklist.

If you would need to explain the importance of the Definition of Done to someone else, consider including the following:

The Scrum framework requires a useful, Done Increment at least once every Sprint. Only then can a Scrum team truly validate underlying assumptions with their stakeholders. Each Increment represents a step towards achieving the larger Product Goal;
The Definition of Done makes explicit what the state of the Increment should be when it meets the quality measures required for the product. The Definition of Done applies to the Increment as a whole and to each Product Backlog item that is a part of that Increment. Work that does not meet the Definition of Done is not considered part of the Increment;
As the Definition of Done becomes more comprehensive, the chance of problems popping up that require further time from the Scrum team decreases. This improves quality, predictability and lowers risks;
Scrum teams that are unable to deliver Done Increments every Sprint are unable to truly reduce the risks that are inherent to complex work. Although they may already benefit from the rules of Scrum, they are not doing Scrum yet.
When teams and organizations focus their efforts on delivering useful Done Increments every Sprint, they will rapidly discover what impedes their Agility. This can range from missing skills, obsolete technologies, dependencies to other organizational impediments;

As the ability of Scrum teams to deliver Done Increments moves to the right, the risk of un-done work decreases. And predictability increases.

Strategies to start improving

First, the best strategy is to start conversations in teams about quality:
🤔 When is your work of high quality?
🤔 How do we know we’re not gold-plating?
🤔 How does our understanding of quality matches the wider organization’s understanding of quality?
🤔 What can be done or automated to ensure that level of quality more consistently?
🤔 What practices and techniques can increase quality?

Second, actual stakeholders – like customers and users – play an important role here. They are often in the best position to evaluate the quality of the work that comes out of teams, so they should have a strong say in quality guidelines.


Potential improvements

Actions to start small and simple are:
1️⃣ Schedule a 60-minute workshop next Sprint to make sure that your Definition of Done captures what high-quality means to you. Anyone who cares about this can attend.
2️⃣ Investigate 3 critical bugs 🐞 that happened in recent Sprints/iterations and work together to identify a small step forward to prevent similar bugs in the future. Update your Definition of Done and work agreements as needed.
3️⃣ Interview 3 important stakeholders to learn from them how you could improve the quality of your product.

Closing notes

What is your experience with “concern for quality” ❓ What recommendations do you have to help a team start improving❓

Concern for quality is one of the 20+ factors we measure to determine Agile & Scrum team effectiveness. Based on the results, teams receive evidence-based feedback on how to start improving. Why don’t you give the Agile/Scrum Team Survey a try? We (Christiaan Verwijs and I) offer a free version focused on individual teams and a paid version that shows aggregated results of multiple teams. Check:

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