agile agility lean scrum

What’s New in the 2020 Scrum Guide and Why did it change?

Scrum is the undisputed leader among all Agile approaches today, survey after survey confirms that it is the leading choice for organizations that want to improve their efficiency, and speed their time to market. 

However, despite their success Scrum still continues to revise and improve their own framework, their original authors Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland listen to Scrum practitioners, and customers for guidance on how to make it even better. Once agreement is reached a new Scrum Guide is published.

This time the new 2020 Scrum Guide coincided with the 25th Anniversary of Scrum, so on November 18 2020 a live online event was used to celebrate the occasion, and to introduce the new Scrum Guide to the world. The authors of the guide were present, and even better one of them Jeff Sutherland actually took questions from a live audience regarding the motivation behind the changes.

This summary goes over the changes between the 2017 Scrum Guide and the brand-new 2020 edition, but unlike other articles you may find online, it also goes over the reasons behind those changes, as explained by the authors of the Scrum Guide themselves.

Here are the main changes, and the reasons behind them grouped into four categories.

I. Wider Audience for Agile Transformation 

The typical market for Scrum has always been the technology sector, in particular software development firms. That is the reason behind the use of terms that come from the Technology, and Software Development areas.

However, increasingly Scrum is reaching beyond software development to areas such as Marketing, Product Development, HR and Finance. It was time then to revisit the Scrum Guide and make sure the jargon is more universal, and more welcoming to all areas of an organization. Ken and Jeff were quite proud of this achievement


Ken Schwaber Announcing the new Guide
Jeff Sutherland – Announcing the new Guide

The 2020 Guide accordingly has done their best to use words that would be easily understood by anyone in an organization, not just the “IT Crowd.” Also you will notice that the section previously called “Uses of Scrum” is gone, the expectation is that Scrum can be used in any organization. 

Furthermore the term “Development Team” role does not exist anymore, instead a “Developers” term is used to encompass “the people in the Scrum Team that are committed to creating any aspect of a usable Increment each Sprint.”

Another pleasant surprise was to find a direct reference to Scrum’s Japanese Lean heritage with this quote that summarizes a whole body of knowledge inside Toyota’s Production System, and Lean Manufacturing: “Lean Thinking reduces waste and focuses on the essentials.”

II. Scrum Event Changes

They are mostly geared to simplify, or empower the whole team in new ways to achieve the same goals. These are the main changes.

  1. Daily Scrum
  • The Daily Scrum no longer mandates the use of the traditional 3 questions, instead the Scrum Team or the Scrum Master can now decide how they invest those 15 daily minutes to achieve alignment and make progress towards the Sprint Goal:  “The Developers can select whatever structure and techniques they want, as long as their Daily Scrum focuses on progress toward the Sprint Goal and produces an actionable plan for the next day of work. This creates focus and improves self-management.”
  • I am certain this will be good news for most teams, since it will make the meeting far more useful than a status meeting.
  1. Simplification of the Sprint Review
  • Compared to the 2017 Guide the current Sprint Review guidance is far more straight forward, and to the point. The goal remains the same: inspecting the outcome of the Sprint, but the way this is done, and communicated is left mostly to the team, and the Product Owner. The Sprint Review is also now considered a good time to Refine the Backlog if necessary.
  1. Co-Leadership of the Sprint Retrospective
  • The event is now lead by the team who may designate anyone to lead it, not necessarily the Scrum Master as it was recommended before.

III. Enhancements to the Scrum Artifacts

The Product Backlog

It is no longer considered “an ordered list of everything that is known to be needed in the product” instead it is viewed as an emergent ordered list that guides the building of the product. 

The Sprint

The 2020 Guide now makes refinement an important part of the work, even inside the execution of the actual Sprint: “The Product Backlog is refined as needed”

Several approaches to forecasting are mentioned, but the emphasis is put in none, instead empiricism is recommended to focus on what actually works: “Various practices exist to forecast progress, like burn-downs, burn-ups, or cumulative flows. While proven useful, these do not replace the importance of empiricism. In complex environments, what will happen is unknown. Only what has already happened may be used for forward-looking decision making.”

Product Goals

Scrum now has three levels of commitments associated with the work the team delivers. As before we have Sprint Goal to guide the deliverables of the Sprint, and a Definition of Done to guide the individual items but now a new element is added: the Product Goal.

The Product Goal guides the overall building of the product, and it’s considered a long term commitment, not supposed to change unless it has been achieved or a major change is deemed necessary:

“The Product Goal describes a future state of the product which can serve as a target for the Scrum Team to plan against. The Product Goal is in the Product Backlog. The rest of the Product Backlog emerges to define “what” will fulfill the Product Goal.”

IV. Changes to the Scrum Roles

Role of the Scrum Team

Previously the Scrum Team was considered to be both self-organizing, and self-managing. The new guide removes the term self-organizing, keeping only the term self-managing. 

Why? On the surface this may seem like a minor difference, but as Jeff Sutherland explained the difference is significant. Previously some Scrum Teams abused the self-organizing, self-managing mandate to become disconnected from the urgent needs of management, and the company that hired them.

To correct this the current guide maintains self-management since the team is the one that can best decide the best course of action to deliver the work, however, organizing the way the team works is now squarely in the hands of upper management, since they are the organization’s leaders responsible to the rest of the organization and the customer.

Role of the Scrum Master

Gone is the term “Servant Leader” which led to much confusion. During the Q&A session of the launch event Jeff Sutherland was asked what was the reason behind this change. He explained that many Scrum Masters have mistaken the Servant Leader term, and had refrained to become true leaders for the team, with some even becoming close to note takers, or guides. 

The expectation now is for the Scrum Master to become a leader first, one who serves the Scrum Team as he did before removing impediments, and coaching the team to better use and master Scrum; but now a renewed emphasis is put into impacting the larger organization including upper management, and the Product Owners.


Overall I truly think we have the best Scrum Guide ever, with a wider appeal beyond technology, a more flexible approach to the Scrum Events, and a revitalized Scrum Master role. What about you, what do you think?

Enterprise Agile Coach, Agile Program Manager, Software Engineering Manager & Developer who is a fan of Kanban, Scrum, and SAFe. I am constantly pursuing leading edge technologies, and nowadays those are Crypto, Blockchain and decentralized applications which represent the future of software. On the personal side I am a seeker of truth, who loves freedom, people and nations. I firmly believe we live once, and we must make it a better journey for ourselves, and for others. Two quotes I admire: “Who is wise? One who learns from every man… Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations… Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot… Who is honorable? One who honors his fellows.” – Ben Zoma “Kites rise highest against the wind – not with it.” – Winston Churchill

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