Scrum Commitments: Tying Loose Ends and Shoehorning the Definition of Done

TL; DR: Scrum Commitments

While the new Scrum Guide is less prescriptive and more inclusive, it also ties loose ends by including elements better, namely the previously free-floating Sprint Goal and the Definition of Done with the creation of Scrum commitments. This inclusion works remarkably well in the former’s case; regarding the latter, we need a shoehorn, though.

Read more on how you can use the Scrum Guide 2020 Reordered to spot patterns quickly.

Scrum Commitments: Tying Loose Ends and Shoehorning the Definition of Done

The Scrum Guide 2020

Foremost, the new Scrum Guide is less prescriptive, eliminating many suggestions such as the Daily Scrum questions, at least one mandatory action item from the Retrospective becoming a part of the Sprint Backlog or the advice on why Sprint cancelations are rare events.

The Sprint Review lost its detailed recipe on how to run the event. Also, the obvious is no longer stated: Scrum is indeed not trivial to master. Interestingly, the authors also axed other elements of the 2017 edition of the Scrum Guide that I thought less contested, for example, the magnitude of work allocated to Product Backlog refinement and servant-leadership.

There are two changes in the Scrum Guide 2020 that stand out in my eyes:

  • Scrum Commitments: “Each artifact contains a commitment to ensure it provides information that enhances transparency and focus against which progress can be measured.” (There is now a home for the Sprint Goal, the Definition of Done—now without quotation marks—, and the newly introduced Product Goal as all of them are linked to one of the three Scrum artifacts as commitments.)
  • The Product Goal: “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 the long-term objective for the Scrum Team.” (I have never encountered a Scrum Team lacking an overarching goal, but probably that is a welcome clarification.)

Source for all quotes: The Scrum Guide 2020.

What are Scrum Commitments?

Let us start with the commitments:

Each artifact contains a commitment to ensure it provides information that enhances transparency and focus against which progress can be measured:

  • For the Product Backlog it is the Product Goal.
  • For the Sprint Backlog it is the Sprint Goal.
  • For the Increment it is the Definition of Done.

These commitments exist to reinforce empiricism and the Scrum values for the Scrum Team and their stakeholders.

Generally, this makes a lot of sense, particularly regarding the Product Goal and the Sprint Goal. If you consider the Definition of Done, though, the notion that commitments create “focus against which progress can be measured” is challenging. It is self-explanatory that any Increment needs to adhere to the quality standard defined by the Definition of Done. However, mere compliance with the Definition of Done is not sufficient to create value for our customers. No matter how well-executed an Increment is, how DoD-compliant it is, it does not guarantee that shipping this Increment will create value in our customers’ hands.

Commitment I: Product Goal

Let’s have a look at the Scrum commitment of the Product Goal:

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.

[The Scrum Team] is a cohesive unit of professionals focused on one objective at a time, the Product Goal.

The Scrum Team presents the results of their work to key stakeholders and progress toward the Product Goal is discussed.

The Product Goal is the long-term objective for the Scrum Team. They must fulfill (or abandon) one objective before taking on the next.

An Increment is a concrete stepping stone toward the Product Goal.

The Product Goal finally “codifies” what many Scrum Teams have been practicing in the past anyway. Hence it is a handy addition to the Scrum Guide 2020, particularly in the Product Owner’s hands, to help create a shared understanding among all team members on where the Scrum Team is heading.

Scrum Commitment II: Sprint Goal

The next commitment is the Sprint Goal:

The Sprint Backlog is composed of the Sprint Goal (why), the set of Product Backlog items selected for the Sprint (what), as well as an actionable plan for delivering the Increment (how).

The Sprint Goal is the single objective for the Sprint. Although the Sprint Goal is a commitment by the Developers, it provides flexibility in terms of the exact work needed to achieve it. The Sprint Goal also creates coherence and focus, encouraging the Scrum Team to work together rather than on separate initiatives.

The Sprint Goal is created during the Sprint Planning event and then added to the Sprint Backlog. As the Developers work during the Sprint, they keep the Sprint Goal in mind. If the work turns out to be different than they expected, they collaborate with the Product Owner to negotiate the scope of the Sprint Backlog within the Sprint without affecting the Sprint Goal.

While the Product Goal addresses the strategic or tactical level, the Sprint Goal is an operational commitment. And finally, it has a conceptual home in the bigger (Scrum) picture. This leaves us with the Definition of Done.

Commitment III: Definition of Done

The third Scrum commitment is the Definition of Done:

The Definition of Done is a formal description of the state of the Increment when it meets the quality measures required for the product.

The moment a Product Backlog item meets the Definition of Done, an Increment is born.

The Definition of Done creates transparency by providing everyone a shared understanding of what work was completed as part of the Increment. If a Product Backlog item does not meet the Definition of Done, it cannot be released or even presented at the Sprint Review. Instead, it returns to the Product Backlog for future consideration.

If you flip the original perspective—“each artifact contains a commitment to ensure it provides information that enhances transparency and focus against which progress can be measured”—to the purpose of the artifact regarding the commitment, the inclusion of the Definition of Done again feels somewhat unround:

  • The purpose of the Product Backlog is to support the Scrum Team to achieve the Product Goal.
  • The purpose of the Sprint Backlog is to support the Scrum Team to achieve the Sprint Goal.
  • However, the purpose of the Increment is not to support the Scrum Team to meet the Definition of Done. Its purpose is to provide value to the customer of the product or service.

So, from my perspective, the new Scrum commitments’ purpose has been achieved in two and a half cases. It works well for the Product Goal and the Sprint Goal. In the case of the Definition of Done, however, we need to shoehorn it into the Scrum commitment concept.

Conclusion—The Scrum Guide Edition 2020

The Scrum Guide 2020 includes significant changes to the framework to broaden its appeal to applications beyond software development. In my opinion, the Scrum Guide 2020 is a bold step in the right direction.

Download the free Scrum Guide 2020 Reordered to spot patterns quickly yourself.

What is your opinion on the Scrum Guide 2020? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments.

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Author: Stefan Wolpers

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