Is it *done*?

A conversation that needs to happen

Amando Abreu


Customer: Is my engine done yet?

Mechanic: Yes

C: Great, then I’m gonna drive home

M: The engine is done, but it’s still not back in the car

C: But you said it was done

M: Yeah, but not “done done”

Raise your hand if you’ve had similar interaction when working in tech.

(but usually with a feedback loop of days or weeks, and maybe some awkward situations with customers or investors).

What often follows is an argument of what “done” means. And sometimes it’s fruitful. But other times it isn’t.

What’s the problem?

From a manager’s perspective:

1) You ask if someone is done

2) They say yes

3) But the feature they are working on isn’t actually on a server yet, and you can’t interact with it

After reading this you’ll know:

1) How to ask better questions

2) Why simply defining done isn’t enough

3) Why you don’t have to ever ask if something is done

If you’re asking questions

Maybe it doesn’t matter what done means if you’re asking the right questions.

Let’s see:

What just happened in the mechanic example above was shifting goal posts due to bad logic. The engine is indeed done, but that doesn’t imply that the car is ready to drive. The person asking the question, due to not knowing enough about the matter at hand, made the assumption that “if the engine is ready then I can drive the car”, which is incorrect.

The engine is a part in a complex system and it being done doesn’t necessarily mean it’s working together with the rest. Much like software.

If you don’t understand something, like managers often don’t understand software. Don’t try to ask questions that don’t directly answer what you actually want to know.