Scrum Guide 2020 — what’s changed?

What changed in the latest Scrum guide — a review of the changes and the global launch event.

On November the 18th 2020 at approximately 10:00 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada) the 2020 version of the Scrum guide was published, replacing the previous 2016 version. I know this because 10:00AM EST works out to 4AM New Zealand time. So it was very early in the morning for me when I launched zoom to join the global launch event. There’s not too much that gets me up at 4 in the morning, aside from taking the dog out so he can do his business, but this launch was a big deal, a birthday for Scrum, which turned 25 years old and one of the most major revisions to the Scrum Guide for a while.

So I staggered out of bed, fired up my laptop, clicked the link … and was disappointed to receive a message that I could not join the virtual event as the meeting had reached the maximum 1000 participants ☹. The issue was quickly sorted though and I was in 😊 I don’t know how many people joined the virtual launch in the end but the moderator mentioned they received a thousand questions online, so a total guess at the questions to attendees ratio of 5:1 would put attendees at 5,000 at a (complete) guess.

The quality of the online chat was abysmal, with many attendees spamming the chat window multiple times with their linked in profiles. The chat flowed at a massive rate, random Scrum-related comments and questions and even some very authoritative sounding pronouncements on the exact meaning of the changes which was impressive given the changes were only half an hour old at that point! In the end webinar chat was disabled entirely. I pictured Ken Schwaber face-palming…. If this is the quality of thought leadership we can expect from next generation of Scrum Masters the future does not look bright for Scrum.

However lets not some online chatter (which let’s face it is never the most enlightening experience no matter how good the event) spoil what was a significant milestone in Scrum’s history. It was evident a lot of research and thought over the last four years has gone into this new guide. Onwards then — lets have a look at what’s new.

The below points are taken from my reading of the 2020 Scrum Guide, the speeches and interviews at the launch event, which included pieces from Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber (co-creators of the Scrum Guide) as well my own experience as a full time Scrum Master and agile practitioner.

If less is more then this Scrum guide is more than the last one, being considerably shorter. The reduction in length has been achieved partly by focusing on what is essential and discarding what is not. For example, the section on cancelling a sprint was four paragraphs in the old guide and is now down to two very short sentences.

Also, the new guide has a more open feel, there has been a change in tone throughout. A specific example: the Daily Scrum “three questions” are now gone entirely.

This was a huge emphasis in the launch event. It seems many if not most of Scrum inc. (the commercial arm of Scrum) recent clients are not software companies. The previous guide referenced product development in a general way but contained a few references that had their roots in the software world (e.g. references to testing and to releases) — the new guide has gone all in and can now offered as is to all kinds of teams (marketing teams were mentioned several times in the launch event) and within all kinds of companies.

“Scrum is founded on empiricism and lean thinking” is the first sentence in the “Scrum Theory” section. When discussing this Jeff Sutherland the original 1986 HBR article The New New Product Development Game by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka, and their connection to Japanese Lean culture. This is a big topic — for more on Lean generally take a look at my post Lean in a nutshell.

The previous guide had sprint goal as a mention, but not linked specifically to an event or artifact and Definition of Done was the single entry under an ‘Artifact Transparency’ section. This rather clumsy structure has been cleaned up, with the three artifacts each having a corresponding commitment

  • Product Backlog has a new commitment Product Goal (more on this in the next section)
  • Sprint Backlog has the commitment of the Sprint Goal
  • The Increment has the commitment of the Definition of Done

This is arguably the most major change in terms of the 2020 guide content. The rationale for this change is that many teams were “doing Scrum”, with Scrum boards, product and sprint backlogs, and even an impressive velocity. However, on too many occasions teams were in fact working on features that did not connect with organizational goals. Velocity may have been high, but value was low. To combat this the concept of a Product Goal has been introduced; a value-driven outcome that the sprint goals roll up to. Only one goal should be worked on at a time, maximizing focus and limiting Work in Progress.

The “team within a team” wording of the previous guide is gone, the Scrum team — developers Product Owner and Scrum Master — is one team. This team is also called out as self-managing replacing the self-organizing wording of the previous guide.

The word role does not appear at all in this new guide. Instead each of Scrum Master, Product Owner and Development Team have accountabilities. For more on the “roles as hats” concept see my blog Team Roles — not what they used to be

The role of the Scrum Master has had a serious upgrade and according to the 2020 guide this role is one of a true leader and is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness. No longer a servant leader the Scrum Master is now a leader who serves.

The anti-pattern this change seeks to address is the case where the Scrum Master becomes a team secretary — taking and distributing meeting notes but not able to challenge effectively. I can hear the rejoicing of Scrum Masters all over the world excited by this change — time will tell if this new piece in the guide alone is able to affect meaningful change in this important area.

The last point I’ll make is more about what wasn’t included in the launch event than what was included. There was no mention of how to scale Scrum, no reference to Ken Schwaber’s Nexus or Jeff Sutherland’s Scrum at Scale

This was interesting to me, given the commercial success of the SAFe scaled agile framework. There was a comment (made by Ken or Jeff I can’t remember who) about a team framework being the key to organizational success — but the comment stopped short of saying that Scrum was all you need by way of frameworks. Jeff Sutherland in his end piece made reference to Intel and their lack of success with scaled frameworks, but if there was a point in there I missed it.

So folks, there you have it, Scrum is 25 years old, there is a new Scrum Guide — its leaner but not meaner — a more open and empowering framework for the Scrummers out there to head into 2021 with.

Agile coach. Ways of Working researcher. I live in beautiful New Zealand and work for Fraedom — part of Visa. I am also the founder of a start up — voyzu.com

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