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The Scrum Guide for 2021

Arul Raju

Published November 26, 2021

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The Scrum Framework is the leading Agile Development method in software development and non-technical areas where the term ‘Scrum’ has its roots. The makers of Scrum, Ken Schwaber, and Jeff Sutherland, borrowed the term “scrum” from a 1986 research paper where the authors compare high performing, cross-functional product development teams to that of the Scrum formation in a Rugby game!

What Is Scrum?

Scrum ensures that the most prioritized part of the complex problem is completed by the time the project ends. Scrum also ensures that its scope is restricted to the software development industry and any industry solving a difficult problem or fostering innovation. But how does Scrum manage to do so? 

Scrum is a lightweight framework adopted by Fortune 500 companies and small-scale organizations all over the world. It acts as a helping agent in the complete pipeline of people, teams, and organizations by delivering value to the customer. 

Scrum is defined just in parts to implement the Scrum theory into practice. However, this theory may take a flexible shape in your team, and the scope often depends on the collective intelligence and communication of the team members using the framework daily.

A Scrum Master (alternatively known as Agile Coach), similar to the analogy of a team facilitator, is needed to encourage and cultivate the Scrum environment where:

  1. A Product Owner is responsible to the stakeholders and breaks down a complex problem into multiple small chunks forming a Product Backlog. 
  2. The Scrum Team, consisting of developers and Scrum Master, with no hierarchy or sub-teams among them. The team turns a selection of the work into an Increment of value during a Sprint.
  3. The Scrum Team and its stakeholders inspect the results and adjust for the next Sprint or iteration of the work cycle.
  4. Repeat the process.

Scrum gives you the power to merge various other techniques and methodologies in the whole process of developing and delivering valuable products. The Scrum framework rests on the principle to retain the best strategies and discard the unnecessary ones. Thus, scrum enables us to visualize what is going wrong and how improvements can be made on an iterative basis. 

However, adapting parts of Scrum is not Scrum. 

Instead, Scrum itself can be thought of as a container that allows several other techniques and processes in addition to it. Scrum Theory is often based on a lean and agile mindset. The notion of developing quickly and satisfying customers is not only limited to Scrum. Additionally, Xtreme Programming, Lean Software Development, etc., are other Agile frameworks in practice today. 

Which Agile framework best fits your team and organization at large depends on many influencing factors such as:

  • Team Composition
  • Company Size and Structure
  • Stakeholders Expectations
  • Resources available
  • Scope and size of your Product/Services offered, etc.

The framework that suits your development team may not serve the marketing team, or the sales team may incorporate additional flavors to suit their needs and customer satisfaction. Thus, with time and practical experimentation, you will figure out what works best for you, your team, and your organization!

In 2015, a report by Scrum Alliance stated that more than 95% of the Agile companies worldwide had adopted Scrum and its variants as their best-practiced framework. 

Hence, owing to the enormous popularity, the authors of Scrum, Ken, and Jeff, get together to revise and release updated versions of the official Scrum documentation, known as the Scrum Guide. 

What Is A Scrum Guide?

The Scrum Guide is an official rule book to implement the Scrum values and principles and has gone through many iterations since its first publication in 2010. Ken and Jeff presented their learnings and ideas regarding the iterative software development lifecycle at the OOPSLA Conference in 1995. These ideas were subsequently represented to the public years later in the form of consolidated formal documentation known as Scrum Guide.

The Scrum Guide captures the values, core principles, insights, and the definition of Scrum. Throughout the decade, the guide has seen several revisions to match the current functional needs in response to the received feedback for older prescriptive versions.

So should we follow word by word as mentioned in the Scrum Guide for a year? Or take what is necessary and leave the rest? Or rather, something in between?

Purpose of Scrum Guide

The Scrum Guide defines Scrum, its core values, and principles. Each concept described in the guide symbolizes an indispensable part of Scrum that serves a specific purpose. Here, the aim is to simply deliver value and improve results incrementally. Thus, modifying the core values, or wiping out the Scrum rules, limits the overall Scrum benefits with useless results at the end of the project deadline.

Today, various businesses and personalities use Scrum, including researchers, analysts, scientists, and developers. The use-case domains of Scrum have unleashed new potentials apart from the IT industry.   

Thus, only the basic rules and processes related to Scrum can be found in this guide. However, they are context-sensitive and can be applied or devised according to varying organizational requirements. 

Lastly, Scrum is free to use. The overall values of the Scrum framework written in the guide are immutable. The guide’s goal is to simply put forward the framework lucidly and reduce the unnecessary portions, making it understandable to a larger audience. 

Scrum Guide for 2021

As we discussed, the Scrum Guide witnessed several revisions over a decade. The latest update was in November 2020, when Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, the Scrum's authors, released the Scrum Guide 2020.

The Scrum Guide 2020 revises the 2017 version of the guide, reducing the number of pages to two-thirds of that of the previous edition. Yes, now the Scrum Guide is just 13 pages!

Several other changes are made in the newer version, some of which are worth discussing in this article. Hence, here we will talk about the top 6 changes made to the Scrum Guide for 2021. 

But first, let’s focus on what has not changed.

What Remains Same?

In a nutshell, the concept of Scrum as a lightweight framework is still intact. Scrum still helps to solve complex problems and deliver value. Scrum is even now about a cross-functional team collaborating and their stakeholders. They work together to create and deliver these valuable Increments at the end of each Sprint.

Top 6 Changes in the Scrum Guide for 2021

The Scrum Guide 2020 addresses the common misinterpretations and confusions, thereby presenting the guide to its million users in a less prescriptive manner with just 13 pages.

Below are a few of the top changes, with their “WHY” and “WHAT.” We also decided to include their detailed description along with an “INSIGHT” of how it may impact your team.

  1. No More Development Team

REVISION: There is no longer a separate Development Team within a Scrum Team. 

DETAILED DESCRIPTION: A Scrum team now consists of a Product Owner, a Scrum Master, and developers. There is no longer a notion of a team within a team. Hence, the Development Team is now simply ‘Developers.’ The Scrum Roles are replaced with various accountabilities to focus on one team with the same objective. The Scrum team now collectively shares responsibilities to create high-value products, instead of the Development Team or the Product Owner, in context.

WHY: Making Scrum more accessible and understandable to the non-technical world has always been the goal. Hence, this change was fundamental to reduce the notion of Scrum as software-centric. With this change, now the whole team consisting of the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and the Developers are accountable to the Sprint Goal, and not only the Developers. Moreover, when only the Product Owner or the Scrum Master is involved in passing information to and from stakeholders, instructing developers what to do is against the notion of Agile and Scrum. 

Therefore, the 2020 Scrum Guide eliminates the confusing ideas of sub-teams or hierarchy within the Scrum team. The spotlight is more inclined towards people challenging the decisions and continuously delivering value. It also emphasizes the critical fact that even developers are a part of effective communication with project stakeholders.

IMPACT: The strange relationship between the Product Owner and Developers is resolved. For experienced teams, this change is to highlight the “one team” concept. For new teams, the idea is simply that there is one Scrum team with three different accountabilities - Product Owner, Scrum Master, and developers. However, the terms like ‘Developers,’ ‘Scrum Master’ are still connected to the software world. In future revisions of the Scrum Guide, we may hope to replace the terms with more generalized ones like ‘Producers’ or ‘Creators’ or simply “Team Players”!

Check out: Is Scrum Right For Your Team?

  1. No More Three Questions in Daily Scrum

REVISION: The three optional questions “What did I do yesterday?”, “What will I do today?” and “Are there any impediments?” are entirely removed from the daily scrum.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION: In the 2017 Scrum Guide, there was a mention of three optional questions to be part of daily Scrum. These were "What did I do yesterday?”, “What will I do today?” and “Are there any impediments?”. With due time, the developers may find this monotonous and with no scope of asking additional questions based on their daily work. This change encourages the developers to inspect and adapt their progress towards the Sprint Goal effectively. The parking lot approach is also removed in the new version.

WHY: The motivation behind the change is to keep the Scrum framework simple and less prescriptive. It means that the team members can propose any structure of the Daily Sync they want, provided that it focuses on the progress towards the Sprint Goal and fixes a plan for the daily work.

IMPACT: This change doesn’t mean you cannot use the above three questions anymore. This change is just to give more flexibility to the Scrum Team to structure their Daily Scrum as long as it aligns towards the progress of the Sprint goal.

  1. Spring Planning - Replanned!

REVISION: The 2017 Scrum Guide focused on the 'What' and 'How.’ Now, we have three equally important topics to cover - “Why,” “What,” and “How”

DETAILED DESCRIPTION: The three essential questions proposed in Scrum Guide, 2020 concerning Sprint Planning are as follows:

  1. Why is this Sprint valuable? — Product Owner proposes how this Sprint could increase the product’s value. The whole Scrum Team defines the Sprint Goal at this stage before finishing the Sprint planning.
  2. What can be done this Sprint? — through a discussion with the Product Owner, the developers select items from the Product Backlog to include in the current Sprint to work on.
  3. How will the chosen work get done? The Developers decide how they will implement the Product Backlog Items and divide them into smaller lists or tasks to proceed upon.

WHY: Discussion of the ‘why’ gives the Scrum Team a definite context that may otherwise have been lacking. Scrum Teams who understand the intent of the Product Owner deliver better results and higher quality. It just boils down to understanding the true business value behind the lens of your code and to understanding the big picture here!

IMPACT: Asking two questions or three likely makes no difference to how Scrum teams plan their sprints. So, there is no impact as such on the functioning of the teams.   

4. Introduction of Product Goal

REVISION: Product Goal is a whole new term introduced in Scrum Guide 2020. Let’s see what it is.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION: The Product Goal is to the Product Backlog, what a Sprint Goal is to Sprint Backlog. It simply describes what all your Sprints goals should sum up to. It also describes your Product Backlog and gives more dedication directly to the Scrum team.

WHY: This new addition is meant to help the teams help define a target with Scrum, not just to adopt Scrum for its own sake, but to deliver value derived from the Product Goal itself. It also helps to frame the Sprint Goal, Sprint Reviews, and give meaning to what Scrum chore you’re doing daily.

IMPACT: We all know how difficult it is to choose one concrete goal, even for an iteration. So for your teams, according to the new Scrum Guide, you should stick to one single Product Goal at a time. It is high time we learn to say “NO” to multiple product goals at a particular instance of time.

5. Three Commitments

REVISION: There are now three clearly defined commitments covering one artifact in the recent Scrum Guide update.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION: Three commitments covering one artifact are designed and clearly stated in the Scrum Guide 2020. 

Commitment Artifact
Product GoalProduct Backlog
Sprint GoalSprint Backlog
Definition of DoneIncrement

WHY: In contrast to the 2017 version, where these commitments and artifacts weren’t clearly stated, the 2020 version has stated them as commitments covering one important scrum artifact. This change has shifted the focus and introduced transparency to all the three artifacts listed above.

IMPACT: For experienced teams - This change should not impact your team, provided you’ve already been working with a Product Vision in mind. For new teams - You will hear less about a Product Vision and more about a Product Goal in your Scrum. They, however, seem to be generally synonymous.

6. No More Servant Leader

REVISION: A Scrum Master is now a ‘True Leader that serves.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION: The 2020 Scrum Guide advances a broader view of the Scrum Master’s role by spelling out some of the ways the Scrum Master serves the organization. This includes: 

  • The Scrum Master is accountable for establishing Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide to their team and organization.
  • The Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness! That means acting upon to improve the Scrum practices. 

The Scrum Guide update in 2020 lists the various situations where a Scrum Master serves the Scrum team, Product Owner, and the organization in several ways.

WHY: Scrum Masters are a catalyst for the adoption of Scrum across the organization. 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. Additionally, Scrum Masters are no longer responsible for removing impediments. They're accountable for triggering their removal instead. 

IMPACT: A change from 'servant leader' to 'leaders who serve,’ we’ve emphasized the leadership aspects of a Scrum Master. Effective Scrum Masters do more than just facilitate Scrum Events. They are active and do what must be done to help the Scrum Team and organization achieve great results. 

Thank you for reading the article. Lastly, the only thing to keep in mind for all readers is to keep doing what you are doing—if it’s working for you. If not, inspect and adapt.

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