What is the difference between the Definition of Done (DoD) and the Definition of Ready (DoR) in Agile processes?

Nothing is ever done, only ready for the next step. In an Agile process, each Definition of Done (DoD) must match a Definition of Ready (DoR) somewhere downstream in the flow of value. The difference between the two definitions is only a matter of perspective.

Consider this: you’re at the office. Random people come up to you, and each of them dumps work onto your desk. Before you know it, you’ve got a backlog that’s 3 feet high and rising.

What can you do? Limit the work coming in by setting up a Definition of Ready: from now on, you will accept only items that comply with certain criteria – the most obvious being: “Is this in my job description?” Yes, that’s right, your DoR will consist of acceptance criteria.

Phew, that’s better! Now you can actually get some work done. But how do you determine when you’re actually “done”? Easy, you set up another set of criteria: a Definition of Done. Now you are ready to tackle the work one item at a time. You quickly get into the zone where work flows fast and smoothly. And what do you do when you’re done with an item? Pull the next work item, for as the ”Cult of Done” Manifesto so cleverly puts it:

The point of being done is not to finish, but to get other things done.

At the end of the day, you’ve done a whole load of work and you drive home satisfied.

The next day however, all hell breaks loose. Your co-workers, to whom you handed over your results yesterday, are outraged. “Your concept is incomplete!” they complain. “Your code is buggy!” they shout. “Your work is useless!” is their final verdict.

As it turns out, your Definition of Done hit a wall. Nobody cares about your acceptance criteria. To quote the “Cult of Done” Manifesto again:

Done is the engine of more.

And more is what the recipients of your work will do with it once they take it over for further processing. The concept you made will be implemented. The code you wrote will be released. The work you did will be used by people who only care about their acceptance criteria, because they don’t like doing things twice. And they certainly aren’t prepared to do your work. So you discover that they’ve set up their own Definition of Ready and rejected your input. All your work is now in no man’s land between your DoD and their DoR.

This sounds like a good time to have a chat with them. Wouldn’t it make more sense to match their Definition of Ready to your Definition of Done? Similarly, instead of dismissing any work coming your way simply because it doesn’t conform to your Definition of Ready, you could try to combine your Definition of Ready with the Definition of Done of the people who come before you, i.e. upstream in the flow of value.

Conclusion: Talk to your neighbors. You might find out you don’t need a Definition of Done at all, only a common Definition of Ready. Because …
Nothing is ever done, only ready for the next step.

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