Scrum Commitment or Forecast

I’ve been training, talking, coaching, and writing recently on the topic of commitment and realized that anytime that comes up, it reminds me of the old (seems old – but not really that old!) discussion on commitment or forecast. I still find there are many questions on this topic. It certainly has not been put to bed. The approach I like to take is to step back and ask “what is the real problem?”  Is a word stopping you from succeeding or is something else causing the problem?  What am I talking about? — I’m talking about when the Scrum Guide was updated to change commit to forecast.

Super Simple Scrum Overview (if you don’t know Scrum)

“When we are using the Scrum framework to get work done, each team commits to deliver features/items based on a ranked list of work. The commitment is focused on one sprint or iteration (typically 2 weeks). This ranked list of work is typically in order by value and there can ONLY be one #1 item and one #2 item and so on. Crazy concept, I know — someone has to actually decide what is most important, and next most important, and… so on! 

So the team selects the work they feel they can commit to over the next two weeks (sprint), starting at the top of the ranked list of work and moving down until they are “full”. The team can commit knowing they can focus on these items without being disturbed for that two week time period. This allows teams to work on and deliver iteratively and incrementally. Learning, improving, and delivering value to customers. There is MUCH more to it and if you want to learn more, take a look at our Intro to Agile, read the free Scrum Guide. Want to learn a lot more, read Essential Scrum by Ken Rubin.”

When Did Commit Change to Forecast?

The 2009 and 2010 versions of the Scrum Guide use the word “commit” a few times and does not mention forecast. One example: “Done defines what the Team means when it commits to “doing” a Product Backlog item in a Sprint.” The old versions actually included the original Pig & Chicken cartoon as well – which has some issues.

The 2011 Scrum Guide made the change from commit to forecast.

The current Scrum Guide (via Scrum Alliance and maintains this change, saying: “The Development Team works to forecast the functionality that will be developed during the Sprint.”

Is Commitment the Wrong Word?

Many people have opinions on this — as you might guess! There are a lot of articles out there. I always hesitate to link to any one article, since I feel like it calls out a person and that is really not that interesting to me. I am also not writing this from a standpoint of someone is wrong and someone is correct — so with that said, if you are interested, Google “scrum

Do we have the wrong word or a different problem?

Do we have the wrong word or a different problem?


commitment vs forecasting” and read away! So why did it change? My understanding is that one reason for the change is that people outside the team (may or may not be management) were holding that word commit[ment] to mean an absolute that could not be changed. This then causes some teams to lower quality in order to “deliver” what they committed to — which of course means that they did NOT actually deliver. So the logic is that by changing the word to ‘forecast’ it better represents what people are doing.

The idea that the definition of the word itself is the issue is a bit confusing to me. When I look up the word commitment on the trusty Internet. 🙂 I find that while some of these talk about a promise, others talk about an attitude or dedication. So the word itself does not appear to be that big of an issue to me.


1. the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc;
2. an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action;
3. an agreement or pledge to do something in the future;
4. a promise to do or give something; a promise to be loyal to someone or something;
5. the attitude of someone who works very hard to do or support something;

Additionally, if the point is to change some words around in Scrum to add clarity, I know there is a list of a “few” other words that need-a-changin’! 🙂

Should You Use Commit or Forecast

I still use the word commit because I feel it better represents the attitude the team and organization needs to have to succeed with agile. If you want to use forecast, party on! At the end of the day perhaps that will not cause you major issues — there are certainly a lot of people who seem to prefer the new word. Ironically, given we now have two words, it might actually be more confusing, but who knows!

I guess you could always commit to the forecast or forecast your commitment — ah, fun with words!

As I said, I don’t know that there is a right or wrong word. In fact you may have been using forecast and are considering moving back to commit!

However, I point out the following items if you are considering a change:

  • If people are using a word (commit or forecast) as a way to attack people and teams, limit conversations, or limit innovation — you have a different problem.
  • If people believe that changing this word (one way or another) will magically cause people to act differently — you have a different problem.
  • If people are using the definition of words to treat people poorly, drive them, and control them — you have a different problem.
  • If everyone is working together, things are going fabulously, the real problems are actually being addressed — AND you just don’t like the word — then changing might make you feel better!

The bottom line here is ultimately not about the definition of a word, it is about people, their relationships, and their ability to actually work together to deliver value to customers.

Find out what is really causing your problems and what is not being said before you change from commitment to forecast or from forecast back to commitment!!

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  1. Thanks for writing about this, Jake.

    One of the things I love about the Scrum Guide is it continues to evolves in even the little ways like the word choice you talk about. I understand the difference and I think most teams are truly doing more forecasting than making a commitment. The change in wording makes sense to me.

    And yet . . ., I find new teams really need to hear the more serious term, “commitment.” 

    Agile is different in so many ways, and the change from working individually with little accountability to a team with accountability is a big deal. I find the “c” word to be stronger and I encourage teams to think seriously about it when they plan their sprints. 

    • This is a very interesting conversation. One of the things that strikes me is how the word “commitment” gets used. When it’s used by managers, oftentimes it can feel like a weapon used to keep people in-line. When it’s used by team members, it’s a strong indicator that they are bought-in to the purpose and vision the organization has been attempting to articulate.

      It’s even tricker when coaches use it. Especially if the team hasn’t accepted the coach as someone they believe will empower them (i.e. is someone the leaders hired to “make them agile”), it can take on a dangerous edge.

      Thus, I think less about the word and more about the buy-in. Who feels like they’re on the “inside team” vs the “outside team?” Are leaders appropriately taking on a servant role, articulating the needs of the organization without attempting to exert any control or influence?

      So I guess what I’m saying is, the time to use “forecast” is the time when the systems enfolding the team are dysfunctional. The time to use “commitment” is when everybody is already lined up and firing on all cylinders. At that point, it supports everybody’s feeling that we’re all in this together, committed to delivering value with quality that will delight the customer.

  2. In language and law, there is a concept that “ambiguity is construed against the drafter.” Three of your five provided definitions of “commitment” are ones that can be used to chastise or shame a team using its best efforts to deliver ALL items in a sprint even if best efforts of everyone would not have completed them all despite their best intentions and their best efforts. In addition, three of these definitions can be used to encourage an unsustainable pace.

    Forecast, in contrast, is much less likely to lead to a “come hell or high water” perception of what the sprint plan means.

    Not all stakeholders have the same training on or the same understanding of Agile Scrum. So while there “other problems” if “commitment” is used in the manners you describe, switching to “forecast” can be a constant, ubiquitous, omnipresent rejoinder to those misuses. If not a firehose, “forecast” may at least be a fully opened garden hosed directed at the flames, which may be enough to retard and to reduce “commitment” abuse.

    • Stephen, thanks for your comment! I agree that either word can result in confusion. As I noted, if forecast works better for you and you experience less pressure with that word, that is great. In my experience, I have found that regardless of the word, the pressure will still be there, if the underlying issues are not addressed. But as you say, not everyone understands agile and Scrum in the same way. That is the core item to address, it points to those underlying issues.

Jake Calabrese

Jake Calabrese is a coach, trainer, and coach-consultant working to help organizations meet the promise of agile by going beyond agile practices to address culture challenges and help teams and leaders reach and maintain high performance. He has unique expertise as an Organization & Relationship Systems Certified Coach (ORSCC), a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST), Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC), and Professional Certified Coach (PCC), and as a trainer and coach for Agile Companies (helping non-software organizations use agile). Jake created the AgileSafari cartoon series to introduce humor into the more challenging issues we have to tackle. Jake uses ideas from various areas of thinking such as: Lean, professional coaching, neuroscience, psychology, facilitation, brain-based training, improvisation, agile, kanban, and scrum. Jake regularly speaks at local and national conferences including Mile High Agile, Scrum Gathering, and Agile Alliance Agile20xx conferences.

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