8 Important Changes to The Scrum Guide for 2021

I’ve loved Scrum since the beginning. In fact, the very first Scrum.org certification program was run in the SSW Sydney office back in 2009 when Scrum.org had just been formed. Back then, large companies thought Scrum and all forms of Agile was a bit crazy and not “enterprise”. Today everyone builds software incrementally.

I was lucky to be trained by the father of Scrum Ken Schwaber, and I have since enthusiastically taught Scrum to thousands of conference and classroom attendees. I have found memories of my trip to India with Damien Brady and Adam Stephensen, where we ran a Scrum course for General Electric who were teaching their outsourced development centre how to deliver software. We worked with a lot of great developers, testers, architects, and managers. It was a lot of fun and some still keep in touch today.

At SSW, we use it in all of our teams. Of course our software developers use it, but so does our Marketing Team, the SSW TV Team and I even use it for my family each Sunday! We do a Scrum, but don’t tell my girls that… It’s just called a family meeting with a Trello!

Scrum has been refined over the years to make it simpler, and easier to adopt.  

My Scrum videos on Youtube

My Scrum videos have been very popular:

#1 “What is the Scrum Master” (211k views)
#2 “What is the Product Owner” (89k views)
#3 “What is the Daily Scrum” (37k views)
#4 “The Development Team” (19k views)
#5 “The Sprint Retrospective” (12k views)

So, what’s changed in the Scrum Guide (November 2020)? 

In November 2020 the new version of the Scrum Guide made me do a double take. I expected incremental changes, but there are only a few sentences that remain the same from the 2017 version. Surprisingly, the Scrum Guide has decreased in size from 19 pages, to 13 pages. 

#1 👩🏻‍💻 There is 1 Team now

The term ‘’Development Team’’ has been replaced by “Developers”.

Why? There was reference to 2 different teams, and now it is a lot clearer. Before we had a “Scrum Team” and a “Development Team.” The aim of this change was to: 

  • Bring the focus to everyone delivering value
  • Make the whole Scrum Team accountable for the Sprint Goal, not just the Developers 
  • Avoid having a proxy Product Owner or Scrum Master, that needs to pass all info in and out of the Scrum Team. The Scrum Team should interact with stakeholders, not only the Product Owner and Scrum Master.
  • Put emphasis on working towards the Product Goal. This means the Developers are more likely to challenge the Product Owner’s decisions if they think they are not bringing them closer to the Product Goal 
  • Makes it less software centric to widen the field of people who can benefit from Scrum

#2 ⛹🏻‍♂️ No more 3 questions during the Daily Scrum 

In 2017 there were 3 optional questions: ”what did I do yesterday”, ”what will I do today” and ”are there any impediments”. In November 2020, they were completely removed! This was aimed at: 

  • Keeping the framework more open, and less prescriptive 
  • Giving the Developers greater freedom to shape their day
  • Encourage the Developers to inspect and adapt their progress to the Sprint Goal

This doesn’t mean you can’t use the 3 questions anymore; it just means the Scrum Team now has greater freedom to structure the Daily Scrum. You can use the 3 standard questions, or you can use something that works better for you.

#3 📈 The introduction of a Product Goal 

This is a whole new term in Scrum. So what is it, and what was the goal? 

  • The Product Goal is a commitment to the Product Backlog, just like the Sprint Goal is a commitment to the Sprint Backlog 
  • It’s what all our Sprints should lead to – it describes the Product Backlog, and gives direction to the Scrum Team 
  • It helps give meaning to the work the Scrum Team will do 
  • It’s recommended to stick to 1 Product Goal at a time. This is going to be hard but it is time to say *no* (to more than 1 Product Goal)! *One goal to rule them all*

#4 💍 3 Commitments  

In the 2017 version of the Scrum Guide, we only had 1 mention of a commitment and it was represented by 1 of the Scrum values. There was a Sprint Goal, and a Definition of Done, but they weren’t clearly defined and didn’t really fit in anywhere. Were they artifacts, or maybe they were they addendums? We really didn’t know.

In the 2020 version, they now have a place (artifacts) and they have a name (commitments). In fact there are 3 clear commitments, each covering 1 artifact:  

  • The Product Goal is the commitment for the Product Backlog  
  • The Sprint Goal is the commitment for the Sprint Backlog 
  • The Definition of Done is the commitment for the increment 

These are designed to bring transparency and focus to all 3 artifacts. 

#5 📈 Sprint Planning, Re-planned 

The 2017 guide focused on the what, and the how. We now have 3 equally important questions: 

  • Why is the Sprint valuable? *New*
    The Product Owner shows how this Sprint could increase the product’s value, and again this is where the whole Scrum Team defines the Sprint Goal 
  • What can be done this Sprint?
    This is where the Product Owner and the Developers pull items from the Product Backlog to be done in this Sprint 
  • How will the chosen work get done? 
    The Developers decide on how they will implement the work to be done, and break it into smaller pieces  

#6 👨🏻‍🏫 No more Servant Leader 

There is a huge change to the Scrum Master role in the November 2020 Scrum Guide. So, study-up Scrum Masters of old! Your role has been updated – you are now a true leader that serves.

In the 2017 Guide the word “accountability” only pops up once – where the Product Owner is responsible for the Backlog. It jumps up to 8 mentions in the 2020 Guide, and 2 of them are now directly related to the Scrum Master!  

  • 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!  

Scrum Masters are a catalyst for organisational change – so they need to manage up and manage down. 

A Scrum Master is now known as a true leader who serves. I think this change makes it a lot clearer what the Scrum Master role is. It’s a change in emphasis towards the *leading* part of the role, over the *serving* part of the role. It is a lot like the role of a Rugby captain, whose role is not to tell players what to do, but to inject a sense of mission and inspiration. In the same way, the Scrum Master will take the blows for the team, and that is why people will follow them. I like to think of it this way because it fits nicely into the way Ben Darwin described it to me (and I’ve described to many others), the feeling of being in a true team.

#7 The term role was replaced by accountability

The Scrum Master 2020 Scrum Guide also replaced the term “role” with “accountability”. This was to put greater emphasis on it not being a job description, but something that needs to be done in order to execute Scrum. The accountabilities are split into 3 groups:

  • Scrum Master
  • Product Owner
  • Developer 

I still think Scrum Master is the coolest job title. ⭐

#8 🤗 Scrum is made for Everyone!  

The language has been simplified to open Scrum to more people than software developers. It has moved away from terminology that is directly related to the I.T. industry; like system, testing, and requirements, making it more inclusive. For example, “developers” could refer to developing a marketing campaign as opposed to developing a product!

In summary, we now have 3,5,3,3. You have 3 roles, 5 events (including the Sprint itself), 3 artifacts and 3 commitments (being Product Goal *new*, Sprint Goal and Definition of Done). So, that’s the 14 commandments of Scrum!
Note: You might be wondering about the important activity of Product Backlog Refinement (aka Backlog Grooming), this refinement is an activity, not an event. It can be done as part of other events, or other meetings, or whatever the Scrum Team decides.

What do you think?

Phew! That was a lot to go through, but I think the changes are for the better. How have these changes impacted you? Has your role been made harder, or simpler now as a Scrum Master? Let me know! 

Haven’t read the updated 2020 version of the Scrum Guide yet? Here is a link to get you started:
2020-Scrum-Guide-US.pdf (scrumguides.org)

Need help with Scrum? SSW have a bunch of certified Scrum Masters available for your projects, and we have created this great guide to help you get started: