Agile Development: What is the difference between “Ready” and “Done”?

When working with Agile, you will always hear the terms ready and done; they are an essential part of all agile projects. Unfortunately, some people try to use these two terms interchangeably . On this blog post, I plan to explain the difference between these two, and also try to guide you on how to make the most of them.

In one sentence, the difference between ready and done is that ready is a state that will eventually help you get to done.

So what is Done?

Let’s start by defining done. When applied to a sprint, done is what must be true for all user stories to be considered complete at the end of the sprint. In other words, it is an agreement between the Product Owner and the team about what constitutes a potentially shippable increment; or in other words, setting a definition of done. This helps ensure that  the quality and intended value are delivered at the end of a sprint.

One example of done is: a cohesive product that is well designed, well coded, tested, integrated, documented, and that hopefully delivers value.

So what is Ready?

Ready is the state of a backlog item should have before it is eligible to be pulled into a sprint. In order for a backlog item to be ready, it needs to be valuable, actionable, feasible, and most importantly, everyone must have a shared understanding of it.

Effects of a non-ready backlog item being pulled into a sprint

If a backlog item is pulled into a sprint before it is actually ready, the result of the sprint will be affected. The following are some of the most common effects:

  • Traveling user stories: these user stories are usually the ones that end up being carried over sprints, and sometimes even over different releases.
  • Wrong product: since there’s no shared understanding of the user story, then the work is done under wrong assumptions, resulting in a wrong product.
  • Rework: not having a shared understanding of the user story means that there will be difficulties in estimating, planning and team alignment

Benefits of Ready

Getting backlog items to ready is essential for a successful sprint, but there are other benefits to be considered:

  • Optimizes collaboration: getting backlog items to ready encourages collaboration because it requires everyone to focus on the product when creating user stories, and ensures a share understanding of them.
  • Prevents waste: when creating a user story, the team focuses on what it should be and what it shouldn’t, preventing waste from assumptions.
  • Enables a smooth flow: by increasing understandability of a user story, then the variability is reduced; this means a smooth flow of work and progress.
  • Increases team domain knowledge: the more the team understands what the product should be, the more likely they will contribute to innovation and value creation, and therefore the more the team conversations are more productive.

Ready to get to Done

So again, the difference between ready and done is that we want backlog items to be ready to get to done.

If you want to learn more about how to ensure that your backlog items get to done, I suggest reading about the 7 Product Dimension for User Stories.



Ellen Gottesdiener. (Producer). (2017). Making Your User Stories “Ready” to Get to “Done” [Video webinar].  Retrieved from Scrum Alliance