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Defining "Done"

Hi everyone,

After a couple of years at Yahoo, my manager pulled me aside and said he really liked the way I went about my work. I gave good estimates, my work was typically done on time, and there were usually very few bugs once shipped. He asked me if I would help teach the rest of the team how to work like I do. I hadn't realized I was doing anything different than anyone else, but my manager had pointed out an important distinction: my definition of "done" was different from a lot of other people's.

Most will say that code is done when it has shipped. Most timing estimates focus on when something is pushed to production and users are able to interact with it. However, everything has bugs when first released, so can you really say the code is done if you're still fixing bugs week after week? That bug fixing prevents you from moving on to your next task and will push back all further tasks. Is that really done?

I believe that code is done when you no longer have to make changes to it (outside of enhancements). This might seem like a dream given today's agile methodologies, but it is possible. Keeping your files small and focused on specific tasks is a good way to create a bunch of code that doesn't need to be touched. Your goal in writing software is to move as much code as possible into this state of done. The less code that changes, the fewer bugs introduced.

So I'd encourage you to take more time up front for the development phase of your work. Adjust your estimates accordingly. Planning for one month of development but spending six months fixing bugs means it takes seven months for the code to be done; if you instead take some more upfront time and maybe use two months of planning and development, you might end up spending only two months fixing bugs (only four months for the code to be done). There are few managers who would argue with those results.

This is the software equivalent of the old addage, "measure twice, cut once." The more upfront planning you can do for your work, the fewer bugs you'll face when going to production, and the faster your code can reach "done."

Be well.

-N
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