In July 2013, The Scrum Guide was updated and a reference to “commitment” was replaced with “forecast”. This was done to help remove confusion over what it meant when a team selected the PBIs that it planned to do for a Sprint. It was to better reflect the change and uncertainty which arguably should have been implicit, but in many cases wasn’t. Too many Scrum teams have held the belief that their Sprint Backlog couldn’t be changed after the Sprint had begun.
In essence the change was due to misinterpretation of the word “commitment” in this context.
In July 2016 the Scrum Guide was updated once more, this time with the addition of the five Scrum Values (Focus, Openness, Courage, Commitment and Respect). These values, along with the three pillars of empirical process underpin the Scrum framework. They are immutable principles that a team must embrace and uphold if they are to succeed (and probably not just in a Scrum environment…).
When a Scrum team makes their ‘forecast’ during Sprint Planning, they are making a professional promise (commitment) to each other and specifically to the Product Owner that they are going to do whatever they can to “do” these items. Of course, there is uncertainty, potential for a multitude of unknowns and other surprises on route, but that doesn’t prevent a commitment being made, because the commitment is made with mutual understanding of the risks. It also emphasises the significance of communication and the potential for re-ordering work when unanticipated difficulties arise.
An analogy… If I make dinner plans with a friend, it is ordinarily not acceptable for me to simply not to turn up, or to announce five minutes before we agreed to meet that I won’t be there. The same is true of work within a Sprint. However, if things outside of my control which could not have been anticipated delay me, or prevent me from attending, the friend would reasonably understand that. Things like ‘bad traffic’ if traffic is always bad at that time of day are simply poor planning or lack of respect on my part. Finding myself in hospital because the toaster malfunctioned and gave me an electric shock is probably a valid reason to renege on my commitment, but I should still communicate that as early as possible.
When the team agrees the work that they will bring into the Sprint, and the accompanying Sprint Goal, they aren’t making plans that are set in stone, but they are making a commitment none the less.
Of course, for a team to commit to doing anything, they need to understand what it means to do it, which means having agreed their definition of “done”.