What’s the difference between ‘measures of success’ and ‘definition of done’?

What’s the difference between ‘measures of success’ and ‘definition of done’?

Here’s a question I was asked recently:

Hi Jock,

How would you describe ‘measures of success’ versus the ‘definition of done’? I’m trying to explain the difference simply to my team.



For me at least, the definition of done is when the output of the delivery team is complete. However, simply being ‘done’ (code tested, checked in, other usual housekeeping / hygiene tasks completed) gives no indication of whether it was the right thing to build in the first place. Nor does it help you determine whether it will achieve a successful outcome for the intended users.

Definition of done is a bit like doing the quality checks on a newly-published book. You can check there are no spelling errors, the cover art is the right way up and the pages don’t fall out, but it doesn’t tell you whether anyone will enjoy reading the content.

In contrast, the measure of success is a metric for whether the right outcome was achieved with the intended users. Did the product have the desired effect on the people using it? Were the users able to achieve what they were trying to with the product, as simply and easily as possible? Did they enjoy using the product (or, at least, were they neutral about it)?

Oddly, part of the measures for success might include successfully completing the tasks needed to satisfy the definition of done. You don’t just want to build the right thing, you want to build the thing right. If you’ve written the next potential New York Times bestseller but the book’s a mess of typos, shonky illustrations and poor book-binding, it will distract the reader somewhat from their enjoyment of the content.

Is that helpful or more confusing? :-)

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The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a product management and leadership coach, product leader and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn.

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