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Defining Agile Quality: Scrum versus DSDM

June 14, 2012

Defining Agile Quality: Scrum versus DSDM

Agile terminology may vary from method to method, but the principle and the practice are similar.  In DSDM, development work is termed the ‘engineering activity’, and the output of each iteration is called the ‘emerging solution’.  In Scrum the output is termed a ‘potentially releasable increment’.

Under both methods, each item developed, whether an item on a Scrum ‘Product Backlog’ or an entry on a DSDM ‘Prioritized Requirements List’ needs a tight completion definition to ensure that the correct quality is achieved. In Scrum an increment is described as “Done” when it meets a “Definition of Done” for the Scrum Team.  And it is a pre-condition before starting each increment that the ‘definition of done’ for the items subject to work for that increment must be agreed before the team can plan for the developed in the time available – the stricter the quality requirements the more time will be needed per product backlog item, and therefore less items should be attempted for that iteration.

But it is unclear (or at least not specified) in the Scrum Guide as to when this ‘definition of done’ is agreed, the implication should be that tight criteria should only be agreed where this adds value and does not delay a solution.  In practice one can use the rule of making the decision on the necessary quality at the ‘latest responsible moment’ (more on this in my forthcoming book) when the quality/time trade-offs can be understood in the light of progress to date and actual feedback from implementation.

In DSDM as this definition work is carried out during the Foundations phase of the project, there is the danger that over-specification of quality based on unfounded assumptions may take place.  The DSDM guidance does advise that any ‘definition of done’ work upfront during the Foundations phase should be reviewed regularly throughout the project lifecycle, but leadership is required to ensure that this does not encourage ‘Big Design Up-Front’ (BDUF), a signature feature of ‘waterfall’ approaches that are the antithesis of agile…

About Brian

Brian Wernham is author of “Agile Project Management for Government” to be published by Maitland and Strong on 31st July 2012.  (Pre-order at  or

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Wernham, Brian (2012): Agile Project Management for Government. Leadership Skills for Implementation of Large-scale Public Sector Projects in Months, Not Years. New York, London: Maitland and Strong

Schwaber, Ken (2011): The Scrum Guide. Available online at  updated on 18/10/2011, checked on 25/01/2012

Craddock, Andrew; Richards, Keith; Tudor, Dorothy; Roberts, Barbara; Godwin, Julia (2012): The DSDM Agile Project Framework for Scrum v1.1. DSDM Consortium. Available online at updated on 21/05/2012, checked on 6/07/2012

© Brian Wernham 2012 CC BY-NC-ND


From → Agile Governance

One Comment
  1. An interesting discussion developing over at Ken Schwaber’s blog: is Scrum enough?

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