A shorter, simplified, rewritten Scrum Guide arrives today. The bottom line is that Scrum remains fundamentally the same, but there are a few things that leaders may note:

  • A greater emphasis on cross-functional teams independently capable of delivering high quality product increments 
  • An improved description of events
  • A new alignment of artifacts to goals and a clear Definition of Done 

Don’t get distracted by debates over minor changes. The best use of the latest Scrum Guide is to inspect your organization’s current use of Scrum, make the necessary adaptations, and improve your business results.

What’s Changed in Scrum Guide 2020

I admit that I’m a digital hoarder. I found all seven prior Scrum Guides and compared them to the latest version. While some details have changed over the years, the fundamental roles, events and artifacts of Scrum have not. The 2020 version reflects an evolution to crisp, clear writing that is shorter, simpler and more readable. For me, this version of the Scrum Guide is akin to a rules change in your favorite sport.

Here is a summary of the most positive changes:

  • The new Scrum Guide is even less software-specific to support the wide usage of Scrum to address complex problems across multiple domains, from marketing to manufacturing.
  • There is a consistent emphasis on cross-functional teams of people who have the skills and expertise to do the work and share or acquire new skills as needed.
  • Multiple teams working on the same product share the same Product Goal, the same Product Backlog and the same Product Owner. This may have an impact on how you want to structure your organization.
  • Scrum events minimize the need for meetings not defined in Scrum. As a leader, you have a responsibility to remove any non-essential meetings. Leverage the Sprint Review as a working session to replace all other status meetings.
  • Sprint Planning is now focused on why, what, and how, with an emphasis on decomposing Product Backlog items into smaller work items of one day or less. Leaders need to provide teams enough time to plan their work relative to the Sprint Goal.
  • The Daily Scrum is for the people doing the work to plan their day. The status-oriented three questions are gone — a huge improvement in my opinion.
  • Increments must be usable, and multiple Increments may be created within a Sprint.
  • Definition of Done is much more clearly defined as a formal description of the state of the Increment when it meets the quality measures required for the product.
  • The definitions for Increment, Definition of Done and Product Backlog items are harmonized. “The moment a Product Backlog item meets the Definition of Done, an Increment is born.” In addition, the updated Scrum Guide recognizes multiple Increments can be created during a Sprint. I expect this clarity to enable leaders to focus on the delivery of value.

Business Impact: Teams, Roles, and Artifacts

A fraction of the changes in Scrum Guide 2020 may challenge your current understanding of concepts, and will likely generate many debates. 

  • The Scrum Team now consists of the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Developers, a “…cohesive unit of professionals focused on one objective at a time, the Product Goal.”  The whole Scrum Team is “typically 10 or fewer.” 
  • The entire Scrum Team is accountable for creating a valuable, useful Increment every Sprint. 
  • The Product Owner and Scrum Master may also be Developers. This statement is not necessarily new to the Scrum Guide, but removes some of the murky interpretations.

For leaders, this significant clarification of the Scrum Team presents an opportunity to create, and recognize, cohesive teams while removing stress from individuals. I interpret these changes as useful to simplify and clarify important concepts. However, misinterpretations may create unnecessary friction. 

Additionally, the Scrum Guide 2020 update introduces a subtle shift from self-organization to self-managing. With a redefined Scrum Team, the change from self-organizing to self-managing reinforces that it is the Scrum Team that decides who does what, when, and how.  In addition, each role includes defined accountabilities:

  • The Product Owner remains accountable for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team. Leaders must create the conditions for Product Owners to succeed.
  • The Scrum Master is accountable for establishing Scrum and for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness by enabling the Scrum Team to improve its way of working and technical practices. Given this accountability, be on the lookout for overly exuberant Scrum Masters seeking to dominate the Scrum Team at the expense of their self-management.
  • Developers are “committed to creating any aspect of a usable Increment each Sprint” and are to hold each other accountable as professionals.  

Each artifact correlates to a commitment:

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

These helpful changes synchronize previously unrelated terms and will likely lead to improved focus on the Sprint Goal and Definition of Done. 

New for 2020: Product Goal

Lastly, there is a new term introduced in this version of the Scrum Guide — Product Goal. The Product Goal is a “long term objective” and is similar to product vision. From a leadership perspective, the most helpful guidance is the recommendation that the Scrum Team “must fulfill (or abandon) one objective before taking on the next.” In my experience, far too many of our clients waste time and  money on work that should be abandoned and reallocated to teams and funding for more promising alternatives. Consider each Sprint Review an opportunity for business leaders and stakeholders to decide whether to continue, or abandon, the Product Goal.


I predict the Scrum Guide 2020 update will be more accessible and understandable for new Scrum practitioners. Current practitioners will likely appreciate additional clarity and may find some useful adaptations to fine tune how they leverage Scrum to deliver valuable products and services. 

I also expect hundreds of comments, critiques and complaints, coupled with ample praise for shorter, simpler, less prescriptive rules for “the game” of Scrum. My advice to leaders is to avoid the distractions. Scrum remains a fundamental framework that can accommodate a wide variety of patterns, processes and practices that work best for your organization to address complex problems.

If you’d like more assistance in implementing Scrum and Agile at your organization, or sustaining your Agile Adoption, contact us to discuss your questions or problems with one of our experts.   

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