What the Heck Is the “Scrum Guide”?

In my last post I wrote about an important change in the Scrum Guide concerning the Daily Scrum.

After I received some questions about the Scrum Guide itself, I decided to dedicate a post to this topic: what is the Scrum Guide, who writes it, and why has it changed.

The Beginning

If you want to understand why the Scrum Guide exists, you have to go a few years back. In 2008, it was quite unclear what “Scrum” actually meant. There was little orientation besides the book “Agile Project Management With Scrum”, which dated back to 2004 and was obviously outdated and incomplete in some respects.

After their certification, Scrum Trainers could convey whatever concepts they deemed appropriate. This lead to increasingly diverging interpretations and descriptions of Scrum. Some people used Scrum to mean any kind of incremental process. Others continued to use the waterfall-approach enhanced by a 15-minute status meeting every morning – and called this “Scrum”. Still others did analysis sprints, followed by development sprints, followed by testing sprints – and also called this Scrum. Those who knew better cried “Oh no, but that’s not Scrum!” But there was no reference they could point to.

In this situation the two creators of Scrum, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland got together, and during the year 2009, they wrote a document that contained a concise definition of Scrum – the so-called “Scrum Guide”. And even though they decided to follow separate paths in the years to come – Jeff is still Certified Scrum Trainer in the Scrum Alliance, while Ken has founded a new organization to spread Scrum called scrum.org – the Scrum Guide is still the definite, official source for what is meant by Scrum, for both organizations.

In the following years severeal new versions of the Scrum Guide have been published that contained new insights, improvements and adaptations of Scrum to market needs. Each time the Scrum Guide got a little “lighter” and focussed even more on its essentials as a framework to successfully create products in a complex world. For example, in 2011 they removed the necessity of creating a Sprint-Burndown. Instead the Scrum Guide now mandates that the Development Team should make their progress clearly visible on a daily basis.

Latest Changes to the Scrum Guide

After the release of July 2016, surprisingly there was another release after not even 1½  years. So, what has changed? The good news is: not much, but enough to have a closer look:

  • First of all: Content and participants of the Daily Scrum have changed. The details I have already described in my previous post Daily Scrum News: Beyond the Three Questions.
  • In addition, a section about the Scrum Master has changed, creating more clarity about his role. Now, his job is to promote and support Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. And he helps everyone understand Scrum theory, practice, rules, and values.
  • It is made explicit that Product Backlog Items typically contain test descriptions that will prove its completeness when done. This is an abstraction of the acceptance criteria or conditions of satisfaction of XP user stories.
  • The concept “Sprint increment” is explained in a way that gives additional support when Scrum is used for hardware development: it is a described as a body of inspectable, done work that supports empiricism at the end of the Sprint.
  • Now, the Sprint Backlog contains at least one high priority process improvement identified during the previous Retrospective.
  • The Scrum team can define the Sprint Goal before or after selecting Product Backlog Items during Sprint planning. It is enough that the Goal is defined during the event.

Even though you may call these changes fine-tuning maybe with the exception of the changes to the Daily Scrum, it still makes sense to read new release with care, especially if you took  your CSM course some years ago, or if you only got to know Scrum in a version that has been “adapted to the local context”.

The current version of the Scrum Guide can be found on this website:


Or have a look at these explicit versions:

November 2017 version of the Scrum Guide: https://www.scrumguides.org/docs/scrumguide/v2017/2017-Scrum-Guide-US.pdf

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