November 5, 2021

The Fascinating Origin of the Term 'Scrum Ceremony'

What is a Scrum Ceremony?

You may have heard of the phrase 'Scrum ceremony'. Which is odd because it's never appeared in the Scrum Guide. But clearly it exists and it's in common use. So, where did it come from? What does it mean? Let's find out.

A man thinking about where the term 'scrum ceremony' comes from.

Photo by Laurenz Kleinheider on Unsplash

What Does Scrum Ceremony mean?

Let's address the easy question first. A direct translation for the term 'Scrum ceremony' is 'Scrum event' and for Scrum ceremonies its the Scrum events. Even though the term was never mentioned in the official guide to Scrum, it's been in common usage for almost two decades. So where did it come from? I decided to do some research and discovered it was harder to pin down than I thought.

Where Did Scrum Ceremony Originate?

A couple of my PST colleagues, Ryan Ripley and Todd Miller, run a 'Your Daily Scrum' podcast that plays on YouTube. They have an episode with the title 'Why are the Scrum events sometimes called ceremonies'. Sounded promising. In the podcast, they revealed that they had researched many of the past publications on Scrum but they also could find no reference to the word ceremony. The mystery deepened.

I continued researching and stumbled across a common thread. The people most likely to use the term 'scrum ceremonies' were those that did a Scrum course before 2010. Which means the term likely pre-dated the Scrum Guide. That was one part of the mystery explained but I still had the main question to address. I followed the thread.

Scrum Training Before 2010

Between Scrum's formal introduction in 1995 and the publication of the first Scrum Guide in 2010, Ken Schwaber and Mike Cohn delivered most Scrum training courses. As part of their course, they gave their students access to a common set of powerpoint slides that they could share within their organizations.

Mystery Solved!

It appears that these slides were widely shared! It is these slides that refer to the Scrum ceremonies and likely explain the source of the term. I've reproduced one of the slides below. It comes from Mike Cohn's slide deck which he has made freely available on his website if you wanted a closer look for yourself.

A slide from Mike Cohn's reusable scrum presentation showing use of the word 'ceremony'

A Slide from Mike Cohn's Reusable Scrum Presentation

Scrum's Borrowed Terminology

Having found the root of the term in a Scrum publication, I couldn't help but keep digging. I then found references to the word ceremony within Crystal Methodology, a light methodology that was created in 1990 by Alastair Cockburn.

It's not uncommon that words from other light methodologies entered into use with Scrum. For example, the phrase 'Daily Standup' originated in Extreme Programming, another light methodology created in the 1990's.

Could it be that Scrum borrowed the word 'ceremony' from crystal methodology? In short, I don't know. I haven't been able to find a verifiable source. I'll keep looking though, and if I find the answer, you can be sure I'll update this article.

ps: I note that the slide also contains reference to the burndown chart and that the increment is absent! But that's an article for another time.

Conclusion

The term 'Scrum ceremony' is an anachronism. It lost recognition as an official term in 2010 with the publication of the Scrum Guide, when it was replaced by the term Scrum events.