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Scrum Guide Changes in 2020 (What’s New?)

On November 18th, the 2020 updates to the Scrum Guide were released by Jeff Sutherland of Scrum Inc. and Ken Schwaber of that include changes to the way Scrum is defined and implemented, so we would like to provide a rundown of these changes and how it might impact your Scrum Team.

The 2020 Scrum Guide has been updated with simplified language to be less prescriptive and more focused on self-managed, unified teams. There is a new Sprint Planning topic, “Why,” and the three artifacts all received new commitments (Product Goal for the Product Backlog, Sprint Goal for the Sprint Backlog, and Definition of Done for the Increment).

Although the language and implementation have been streamlined and simplified, there are still many changes that active Scrum Teams will need to understand to update their own processes. Let’s go over the changes.

What changed in the 2020 Scrum Guide

While significant, it is important to understand that the changes to the Scrum Guide in 2020 do not deviate from the core principles of Scrum.

Rather, these changes are meant to standardize certain trends within the Scrum community, build upon Scrum’s rampant success within organizations, and make it more approachable for businesses that sit outside the IT-related fields that Scrum has historically dominated.

If we had to pick an overarching theme for the 2020 Scrum Guide update, it would be simplicity. More simplified language, more clarity around purpose, and fewer obstacles in the way of implementation.

Let’s check out the main changes to the Scrum Guide in 2020.

Less prescriptive than before

Scrum has always been a methodology rather than a structured system.

In fact, that’s part of the beauty of Scrum – it is an outline for a process that any business can use to both make better decisions about what they are working on and constantly improve how they are doing it.

Unfortunately, it has seemed in recent years that Scrum has gotten more prescriptive rather than less so.

With this update, however, Scrum is dialing back specific instruction in favor of providing a minimally sufficient framework that can be more easily adapted to fit the needs of new and different businesses.

Here are the most notable changes in this area:

  • Removed Daily Scrum questions
  • PBI attributes are handled more loosely
  • Retro items in the Sprint Backlog are handled more loosely
  • Fewer rules around Sprint cancellation

Resetting the team mindset – one team, one product

Scrum has always focused on empowered, self-organizing Scrum Teams to produce the best work possible.

Sometimes, however, the goals of the Product Owner and Developers can diverge and create a division within the Scrum Team. This ‘us vs. them’ mentality prevents the team from working on the right thing and causes them to do poorer work at the same time.

The 2020 Scrum Guide realigns the team’s effort around a new concept – the Product Goal – to help mitigate the divisiveness between the PO, SM, and Developers.

The new Product Goal

The best way to allow a team to focus on the same goal is to push it out far enough that everyone can see it.

With the introduction of the Product Goal, the entire Scrum Team can focus on a large, valuable objective in the distance and the primary mission of each Sprint becomes bringing the product one step closer to the Product Goal.

The benefit of this approach is that it shifts the focus away from the smaller details of a project and forces alignment around a larger vision.

The new Artifact commitments

Over the years, many terms and ideas central to the Scrum framework have been implemented despite the fact that they haven’t been formally defined.

Two examples of this are the Sprint Goal and the Definition of Done.

Although the Sprint Goal and Definition of Done are not new, the Scrum Guide has been updated to give them, along with the new Product Goal, a stronger identity within the Scrum framework by transforming them into commitments for the three artifacts.

Here is how they match up with the artifacts:

  • Product Backlog – Product Goal
  • Sprint Backlog – Sprint Goal
  • Increment – Definition of Done

By linking these ideas together more tightly, they provide more transparency and focus toward each artifact’s progress.

Self-managing vs. self-organizing

Scrum has always relied on the value that self-organized and empowered teams can provide to an organization.

In fact, it’s been demonstrated time and time again that teams perform better when they can choose who is doing the work and the best way to get it done.

With the 2020 update, the Scrum Guide takes self-organized teams a step further but allowing them to choose what to work on as well. This creates a team that not only organizes itself but also manages itself.

It also specifically changes the term ‘Development Team’ with simply ‘Developers’ to help eliminate this ‘team within a team’ phenomenon.

Another big note in the area of teams involves the Scrum Master.

While the 2017 Scrum Guide never mentioned accountability for the Scrum Master, the 2020 guide mentions it twice:

  • The Scrum Master is accountable for establishing Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide
  • The Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness.

The message is clear here – the Scrum Master is in service to the organization as a whole and they must manage both up and down as ‘true leaders who serve’ rather than ‘servant leaders’ in their role.

In action, a self-managing team should be able to autocorrect itself and make constant improvements to what they work on, how they do it, and who is involved.

Introducing a new Sprint Planning topic

Sprint Planning has always included the “What” and “How” topics to determine the work that will be done within the Sprint.

In the 2020 update, emphasis is placed on a third topic, “Why,” which refers back to the Sprint Goal and reminds the team that they should always be asking themselves how the current Sprint will create progress on their overall Product Goal.

Along with the idea of self-managed teams, the new Sprint Planning topic reinforces the concept of doing the ‘right’ work.

Allowing Scrum to reach a wider audience

The 2017 Scrum Guide still contained many references to the IT-related fields that were crucial to the creation of Scrum, as well as a few redundant or complex statements that made the framework less approachable for some businesses.

With the 2020 update, the Scrum Guide has removed the redundant language and simplified the message of the Scrum framework so that it is easier to understand and implement within a wider audience. In fact, it’s about 30% shorter than the previous version and provides clearer and more actionable information for readers.

By changing up the tone and context of the Scrum framework, more and different businesses will be able to take advantage of a methodology that has proven to get twice the work done in half the time.

How is Sigao Studios handling these changes?

At Sigao, we’ve trained hundreds of students over the years on how to practice “good Scrum” and avoid “bad Scrum” using the principles and framework included within the Scrum Guide. We’ve also consulted with and worked alongside dozens of companies that depend on us to improve their business through Agile transformation and Scrum implementation.

With the 2020 Scrum Guide update, nothing changes – we will always provide the most up-to-date and relevant information for all of our clients and students.

Remember that Scrum is all about pivoting to adapt to the changing landscape, and these updates are just that – a pivot.

We look forward to bringing these changes into the real world so that we can test their effectiveness, continue to improve, and show everyone the value of Scrum.