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Updates to the Scrum Guide 2020

Fewer strict directives, more emphasis on teams and values.

Category: Agile scrum scrumorg
Category: Agile scrum scrumorg

Updates to the Scrum Guide 2020

The Scrum Guide has been updated on November 18, 2020. The new version brings in quite a few changes to the framework. In this blogpost, we looked at three significant changes and pondered about their implications.

Less Prescriptive

Scrum Guide 2020 is less prescriptive than the previous versions. Instead of giving people step by step instructions to follow, the 2020 version talks more about principles and the reasoning behind Scrum’s components. Very notably, the three questions that most teams ask in their daily Scrum meetings - what did you accomplish / what are you planning to do / what is blocking you - are no longer a part of the Scrum Guide. Events like Sprint Retrospectives and Planning are also less prescriptive. 

Implications: We feel that removal of some prescriptive steps is beneficial. There are so many teams that successfully run with Scrum and they do things very differently (see Melissa Perri’s tweet) Removal of these details may make it slightly harder to start using Scrum in freshly-formed teams. Yet at the same time, fewer details will eliminate the useless discussions around “omg you are not doing Scrum!”

Emphasis on the Single Team

Scrum was born as a way to build software products in large enterprises. This origin was reflected in the language of the Scrum Guide, where the people who are working on the software were called the Development Team. This naming caused a criticism. If the Scrum team is made of a product owner, a Scrum master and the Development team, doesn’t that imply teams within teams? Scrum Guide 2020 addresses this by renaming the Development team to “developers” to clarify that there is only one Scrum team.

Implications: This is a positive change as it emphasizes the importance of working as a single team, whether you are planning, reviewing or building software. However, the word choice “developer” still ties Scrum closely to software development. Authors explicitly call out that Scrum has been successfully outside of software development, yet it is curious why they still chose “developer” over something more generic, maybe like “builder” or “worker bee.”

Commitments and Product Goal 

Scrum Guide 2020 defines commitments for different cycles. The Scrum team now works towards a product goal - an overarching outcome to aim for. With this addition, we see a hierarchy of goals trickling down planning and execution. Product goal drives the product backlog, sprint goal drives the sprint, and the definition of done is the commitment for stories.

The biggest change about commitments is about how the team comes up with them and uses them during development. Teams are encouraged to think about why they are working on the product and the reasoning behind each sprint. This practice emphasizes the importance of thinking about outcomes and not just blindly producing software packages on a cadence.

Implications: We think that this is a big change, if the teams are willing to adopt it. Many Scrum teams, unfortunately, work as software factories that just churn out code without giving too much consideration about why they are writing that code. Being more opinionated about why they are doing what they are doing will create better products more efficiently.

Conclusion: Scrum is still Scrum

The updates may look as if Scrum has abandoned some of the best practices, and that they no longer are valuable to Scrum teams. That is not an accurate assessment. The fact that the guide has stopped recommending a practice does not mean that you should abandon it, especially if it has worked for you in the past. For example, Scrum Guide no longer recommends having a process improvement goal in each sprint, but that is a great practice. If you have been doing it and it works for you, there is no need to drop it just because Scrum Guide 2020 does not have it as a recommendation. There are so many good practices that Scrum teams use and none of them are in the Scrum Guide. Following them does not necessarily mean you are not doing Scrum; you are probably adding on to it.

We want to share two documents that we found quite useful while creating this post. One is a very nice illustration of the updated framework
( and the other one is a side-by-side comparison between the 2017 version.

It is great to see updates to major reference documents like the Scrum Guide and we are excited to see its impact on the world!

Aras Bilgen

Digital transition consultant at kloia