Done is a Moving Target

“You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life.”

What I love about this quote from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club is not the nihilistic and decidedly anti-capitalist overtones, but the light that it shines on our incessant, yet well intentioned, need as human beings to feel like something is “Done.”

While it’s perfectly natural and healthy to strive toward an objective, it can be equally dangerous and destructive to have an unreasonable expectation about that goal. And the easiest (“slash” most threatening) expectation one can have is that “Done” is a finite thing.

Moreover (and more usefully), though it often means breaking some widely held and deeply rooted communication patterns, re-shaping the dialogue around what “Done” is can lead to stronger projects, products, and partners.

Most Projects Are Never “Done”…

It’s an unnerving thought, but a reality. Let’s apply this idea to custom software and websites, though the principles extend to nearly any type of project. Have you ever experienced any of these scenarios following a project’s “completion”…?

  1. A product or service changes, requiring a complete overhaul of the app’s user experience workflow.
  2. An opportunity in the website’s competitive landscape necessitates the incorporation of a new user persona and, in kind, an entirely new marketing strategy to drive conversions.
  3. A great new widget, wiki or web integration is released that might really move the needle on customer interaction within the website.
  4. A security patch is strongly encouraged by the open-source community for the framework upon which your app is built.

…And Success is Almost Never “Achieved”…

If only(!) we could rest on our laurels after having reached our initial metrics of success… Unfortunately, the truth about success is far more complicated:

  1. Goals may need to change before they’re even reached.
  2. Goals may be have been set poorly in the first place, and are either too easily or unreasonably attained.
  3. And even when a goal is reached, a new objective must take its place for any business or team to keep moving.

So How Should We Speak About “Done”?

Though these are not striking or shocking ideas to anyone (especially those who have ever worked in technology), it’s easy to perpetuate the misleading idea that there is such a thing as capital-D “Done.”

Which is why re-framing the conversation, and the vocabulary, around these projects can lead to more honest and realistic collaboration.

Discuss “Iterations” and “Phases” Rather Than “Completion”

Though a launch date or other significant (and impending!) milestone exists, don’t let it become a watershed moment. Plot out phases, releases, and their relevant deliverables on a calendar in advance of “the big day."

This helps ensure more seamless deployment from an engineering perspective, while helping all of the stakeholders involved to distribute the communication of desired revisions and polishes — rather than trying to cram them all in during a mad scramble toward launch.

Use Prioritization and The Icebox

New features? Revised features? Nice-to-haves, but lacking the budget right now? Product owners and developers alike will likely come up with a slew of ideas throughout the development process: but that doesn’t mean they all share the same priority. Some ideas might even sit in The Icebox for a while until budget or business value allows for them to thaw out and get built.

The important thing is to have a dialogue around when (priority) and why (business value)rather than all or nothing (i.e. “Done”). Agile Scrum and Kanban methodologies are great ways to help rank the importance and order of what gets delivered and when, but they’re far from the only ways to accomplish this.

Display Evolving Indicators

Most importantly, how can you communicate phases of “Done” on a timeline? How can you visually indicate progress, anticipated delivery, and budget in a way that communicates which work is executed and when?

How can you display non-phase-critical tasks or features on a timeline? And what kind of mental and emotional relief might that help provide your stakeholders and product owner, to show that they’re all well accounted for and considered?

The right project dashboard and reports not only eliminate misconceptions of the mythical “Done”, they can help drive much more focused work and collaboration.


No project succeeds without goals, and these goals should be communicated and familiar to everyone involved. By taking the time, though, to re-align everyone to a common idea of “Done”, you and your team will be better equipped to reach them.

**Note: All of these thoughts subject to change.

Chris Walker is a Project Manager at Astonish Design in Austin. After several years of experience in the hotel and tourism industry, Chris brings a unique sense of service and hospitality to his role as a PM. Originally from Texas, his love for film and travel led him from small towns to larger cities (and their cinemas), eventually driving him to the University of Texas at Austin where he studied radio-television-film. Now he’s able to use those well-honed storytelling sensibilities — committed characters, epic quests, and happy endings — to help ensure successful project execution.