Thoughts on the 2020 Scrum Guide – Part 1: Definition, Theory, Values

With the release of a newly revised Scrum Guide ( I’d like to identify some of the key changes since the last release in 2017 and offer my thoughts on the changes that strike me as significant. Rather than writing the whole thing up in one probably quite long post, I decided to break it up into as many separate posts as needed to cover each thematic area in smaller, more easily digestible bites.

I’ve organized this journey through the 2020 Scrum Guide chronologically, covering topics in the order in which they appear in the new Guide. Fortunately, the Scrum Guide is organized thematically in general, which makes a chronological approach both convenient and effective. So, without further ado, here we go….

Scrum Definition and Theory

These introductory sections have not changed substantially in the new Guide, but there are some differences and clarifications of note. First off, the definition of Scrum on page 3 dives right into the major responsibilities of the Scrum Master in fostering an organizational environment in which the Scrum Team can successfully deliver value while collaborating with stakeholders to inspect and adapt every Sprint. This does not represent a substantive change from the previous Scrum Guide, but does state very clearly that the Scrum Master is a critical player in the organization’s success. I think (here’s my first interpretation) that placing the Scrum Master right up front as one of the keys to success using Scrum is both appropriate and clears up any confusion around the necessity of having a full-time, dedicated Scrum Master to serve each Scrum Team.

The Scrum Definition section wraps up with this extremely meaningful statement: “Scrum makes visible the relative efficacy of current management, environment, and work techniques, so that improvements can be made.” This means that everything within the organization is subject to change and improvement, management structures included. This refreshingly powerful statement makes clear that it’s not just the people doing the work who may need to change, management also must be accountable for improvement and change.

The brief section on Scrum Theory on page 3 now calls out that Scrum is based not only in Empirical Process Control and its three pillars of Transparency, Inspection, and Adaptation, but also Lean thinking with its emphasis on reducing waste and focusing on essentials. This is an important acknowledgement of the importance of Lean thinking in Scrum. Lean thinking was always implicit in Scrum practices, but not called out explicitly in the Scrum Guide. The remainder of this section describes how Scrum applies Transparency, Inspection, and Adaptation to enable Lean thinking.

Scrum Values

As with the 2017 edition, the 2020 Scrum Guide specifically calls out the five Scrum Values: Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect, and Courage. The definitions of the Scrum Values now focus more on how individuals come together as a team to achieve shared goals and build trust. I am especially gratified to see the emphasis on building trust both within the Scrum Team and between the Scrum Team and its stakeholders. I have long advocated that trust is critical to success so this is, in my opinion, an excellent addition to the formal philosophy and practice of Scrum.

That’s it for this installment. Next time we will examine the substantial changes to the definition of the Scrum Team and its players.