image: © Richard Vignola (CC BY-NC-ND)

For some reason, there appears to be tension between speed of delivery and perceived (lack of) quality awareness of Scrum teams (e.g. 1, 2). Either they go fast, at the cost of poor quality, or they deliver a level of quality that is way beyond what is needed for the problem at hand; and deliver way slower than desired by the customers. Or so it seems.

In my opinion the true tension often lies in the fact that as a Development Team and as a development organization, we often fail to make our level of quality sufficiently visible to all.

Quality is value to someone.

Weinberg, Agile and Definition of Quality

To create a product at a certain level of quality, your Development Team has to do a certain amount of work. If there is a shared understanding of the level of quality required by your particular context, then it is clear which work must be done to deliver a Releasable Product Increment to your customers.

You don’t go fast by not doing work that is essential to meet the required level of quality. This partially done work is hiding work or deferring learning that at some point needs to be done. At best this is deliberate Technical Debt, taken on prudently and made visible to all. Often however, this is inadvertent Technical Debt, taken on recklessly, hanging round the neck of the Scrum Team as an invisible millstone, gradually grinding it to a halt (3).

You don’t go fast by doing more work than needed to meet the adopted level of quality. That’s building extra capabilities that are not of (sufficient) value to someone (important enough).

Number 1 on the list of seven wastes of our industry is partially done work. Number 2 on that list is building extra capabilities that are not really needed.

In Scrum the shared understanding of what needs to be done to transform Product Backlog into a Done Product Increment is the Definition of Done. As an organization and as a Development Team, you prevent neglecting work that actually should be done and prevent doing unnecessary work by collaboratively defining the level of quality appropriate for your particular context.

If you collaboratively and continuously adapt your Definition of Done to the situation at hand then you are actively reducing two of the most important forms of waste in your process.

Your Development Team will do the best job it can.

You’ll go as fast as you responsibly can go.

Speed is the absence of waste.

Mary and Tom Poppendieck: Implementing Lean Software Development, From Concept to Cash

Resources and Further Reading

These are the resources used in this post:

If you’d like to further explore the concept of quality in the context of (agile) software development, I strongly recommend Weinberg’s books on quality.

Another interesting exploration trail might the work of Mary and Tom Poppendieck on lean software development.


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