Scrum Guide – what has changed? 2020 November update

With all the events that happened in 2020 worldwide it’s not difficult to miss the latest update to the guidelines of the most popular agile framework – the Scrum Guide. In this article I outline the most important changes and assess their impact on teams’ everyday work.

1. Shorter and more prescriptive

Perhaps the biggest overall change is making the Scrum Guide simpler and more condensed. As a result, it’s only 13 pages now (19 in 2017 version). In other words, contains only what is essential for Scrum to work – and nothing else. Over the years the guidelines started to include some best practices and recommendations from Scrum creators Jeff Sutherlad and Ken Schwaber. We no longer have those included – and it looks like the newest Guide describes only the Minimum Viable Scrum. Seeking more widespread Scrum adoption, the authors also removed references to IT projects and simplified the language.

2. The Three Questions of Daily Scrum are gone

The Scrum Guide used to structure the Daily Scrum around answering three main questions:

  • What did I do yesterday to help the team meet the Sprint Goal?
  • What will I do today to help the team meet the Sprint Goal?
  • Is there anything that’s preventing me or the team from meeting the Sprint Goal?

Scrum Guide 2020- 3 daily scrum questions
In 2017 Scrum Guide edition those are provided as a mere example of how to run Daily Scrum. However in practice it has become a de-facto standard for most software teams.
The new guide no longer suggests any particular way to handle daily meetings. The team can choose whatever structure and techniques works for them. As long as their Daily Scrum allows for inspecting progress and adaptation. This is a step towards self-organization and creativity that have always been encouraged by the Agile movement.
Does it mean you should stop using the 3 Questions? If they work for you and your team, no – they are absolutely fine! But keep in mind that they are not the only way to go and be open to changes and new ideas. Experiment!

Above all, remember, that a good Daily Scrum is not just another status meeting. It should promote collaboration, planning and quick decision making. Let the team can choose the best way to achieve it, don’t enforce a rigid structure.

3. Commitments

Scrum has long been defining three main Artifacts: Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog and an Increment. Those are described as ‘work or value to provide transparency and opportunities for inspection and adaptation’. The new Scrum Guide now makes it more precise by introducing Commitments for each of those.

  • The commitment for an Increment is Definition of Done.
  • The commitment for a Sprint Backlog is Sprint Goal.
  • The commitment for the Product Backlog is Product Goal.

The Definition of Done and Sprint Goal has been a part of the Scrum Guide. However the real-life practice of many teams showed lack of good understanding of those. Most Scrum teams had some kind of Definition of Done in place, but fewer have successfully implemented using Sprint Goals. The people behind Scrum recognized it too. As a result, the newest Guide brings those elements of the framework into the spotlight while introducing the Product Goal.

4. Product Goal

With November 2020 update, Scrum officially recognizes the term Product Goal defined as
a future state of the product which can serve as a target for the Scrum Team to plan against.” To put it simpler it is basically a way to answer the question “Why are we actually doing all this work in the first place?”. It’s a valuable addition to the guide because it gets Scrum teams to think about the bigger picture. Rather than just a set of sprint goals to meet over multiple sprints.

Therefore, the work done during sprints should now be evaluated in context of both the Sprint Goal AND the Product Goal. It is the Product owner who is accountable for developing the Product Goal and communicating it.
While a Product Goal is a fresh addition to the Guide, it isn’t something completely new. Many successful teams have been using Product Goals for at least several years. This change helps spread good practices to the wider audience.

5. More authority to the Scrum Master

Most importantly, in the newest Scrum Guide version, it is easy to notice the increased importance of the Scrum Master. The 2017 version of the Guide stated that SM “is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum”, which is still true, but the 2020 edition grants more power and accountability to the Scrum Master.

The Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness. They do it by enabling the Scrum Team to improve its practices, within the Scrum framework.
What also got removed from the newest Guide is the term “servant-leader” that tried to describe the style of leadership that works for agile teams. The idea behind it is still relevant, however the authors probably recognized the fact that this term was ambiguous for some people. Without digging into details, it was easy to misunderstand it and think that Scrum Masters are servants first and leaders second.
Now the Guide explicitly says:
Scrum Masters are true leaders who serve the Scrum Team and the larger organization.

The impact of changes

Scrum has often been described as “easy to start, but hard to master“. The recent changes introduce more room for flexibility and innovation. While placing focus on clear commitments and accountabilities. On the contrary, less direct guidelines could mean that the implementation part of Scrum in teams may have got a little harder now. That’s why it’s important to not limit ourselves to the Scrum Guide. For instance look for valuable books and pieces of training to further grow as Agile professional.

As with many changes in software industry, it will take some time before the changes to the Guide are widely adopted – just like with a new version of a programming language or a popular library. In conclusion, Scrum is still Scrum and the basic principles are here to stay.

Action points

What should I do as a Scrum Team member about the changes to the Scrum Guide?

  • Grab your copy of the newest Scrum Guide at Scrum Guide website
  • Make sure you know and understand the Product Goal. Don’t be afraid to ask “how does this action bring us closer to meeting the Product Goal?
  • Work with the team to help define Sprint Goals during planning sessions
  • Talk with your team to establish the best way to run Daily Scrum
  • As a Scrum Master – be prepared to ‘own’ the effectiveness of your team and be accountable for it.

Scrum Guide 2020- action plan

Scrum at TTPSC

At Transition Technologies PSC we have long been using Scrum to maximize the value delivered by software teams. The recent changes to the Scrum Guide are step towards empowering teams to be more flexible and innovative, especially when dealing with activities like rapid software prototyping.
If working in an agile environment is important for you, consider looking at our open positions on Career page.
If you are in a need of a qualified team that focuses on delivering business value, check our software development offering.

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