Disciplined Agile

Disciplined Agile Terminology

This page explains our thinking around our terminology choices in the Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit. It overviews:

  1. The terminology principles that we follow
  2. Why Scrum terminology isn’t sufficient
  3. Mapping Scrum terms to DA terms
  4. Standard agile terminology 

Disciplined Agile Terminology Principles

The following principles drive our terminology decisions: 

  1. Terms must be clear. If you need to explain the term, it likely isn’t the best. For example, how many times have you had to explain what a Scrum meeting is? Call it a coordination meeting instead, and people have a much better idea of what’s going on.
  2. Terms must be agnostic. Every team is unique and owns its own process. Because the DA tool kit is a hybrid that leverages a variety of methods, were we to adopt one method’s terminology over another it would only make sense for people following that life cycle. For example, Scrum terminology makes sense if you’re following the Scrum-based Agile lifecycle but not the Lean Continuous Delivery lifecycle.
  3. Terms should already be in use elsewhere. We avoid creating new terms when existing ones are perfectly fine. 

Why Scrum Terminology Isn’t Sufficient 

Many people ask us why we don’t simply use Scrum terminology. We originally wanted to, because that would be the easy thing to do, but we quickly realized that Scrum terminology just doesn’t get the job done for several reasons:

  1. It doesn’t apply in all situations. For example, the term “sprint retrospective” doesn’t really make sense when you’re following a lean lifecycle that doesn’t have the concept of sprints/iterations. Furthermore, it breaks principle #3 above in that the Scrum folks tacked “sprint “onto the front of the existing term “retrospective” to brand it with Scrum marketing.
  2. It’s potentially holding back your improvement efforts. There is a lot of great material available to you that doesn’t use Scrum terminology.  But if all you know is Scrum terminology you’re unlikely to find it, which reduces your opportunities to learn new strategies which may be improvements over your current WoW.
  3. It was motivated by marketing reasons. The Scrum originators purposely chose unusual terms such as sprint, Scrum Master (later concatenated to ScrumMaster), and Scrum meeting to signal to people that Scrum was different. Well, in DA we’re purposely choosing pragmatic terminology to signal to people that it’s time to improve our game and move away from gimmicks.
  4. It reflects 1990s thinking. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, other than the fact that we have learned a lot the following decades.  Why limit yourself? 

Mapping Scrum Terms to Disciplined Agile Terms 

The following table maps common Scrum terms to the terms that we prefer in DA. As you can see, the mapping is very straightforward. If you currently prefer Scrum terminology over DA terminology then go ahead and use it, but just be aware that it’s very likely holding back your improvement efforts. 

Scrum Term

DA Term

DA Source

Observations

Backlog refinement/ grooming

Look-ahead modeling

  • Modeling is a more common term within industry
  • “Look-ahead modeling” is an existing Agile Modeling practice
  • Not all teams have backlogs
  • The term “grooming” has negative connotations associated with pedophilia
  • The term isn’t clear (which was one reason why it evolved from backlog grooming to backlog refinement a few years ago)

Mapping

Modeling

  • Common terminology
  • Agilists need to get over their cultural issues around modeling and documentation
  • There is a wealth of material about effective modeling strategies that many agilists are unaware of because they search on terms such as mapping or grooming

Scrum Master

Team Lead

  • Common terminology
  • Only Scrum teams have Scrum Masters
  • The term “Scrum Master” isn’t descriptive of what someone in that role does
  • The term “master” has sexist and controlling connotations
  • The responsibilities of a Team Lead are more robust than those of a Scrum Master, so this mapping isn’t perfect

Scrum meeting

Coordination meeting

  • Common industry terminology
  • Coordination meeting is a much clearer term

Sprint

Iteration

  • Iteration is used as a term in Extreme programming (XP), Agile Modeling, Unified Process and many others
  • The term sprint is ok, but it doesn’t reflect the agile principle of maintaining a steady pace (you don’t sprint through a long race)

Sprint demo

Demo

  • Common industry terminology
  • You can hold a demo at any time, not just at the end of an iteration

Sprint Retrospective

Retrospective

  • This is the original term for the technique
  • You can hold a retrospective at any time, not just at the end of an iteration

Standard Agile Terminology

There is no standard terminology for agile, nor will there ever be. Your team, as part of choosing your WoW, will need to decide which terms they prefer to use. We’ve seen many DA teams choose to use Scrum terminology (e.g., sprint instead of iteration) because they originally started with Scrum and that’s what they’re familiar with. That’s their decision. As always, our advice is for a team to do what they believe to be right for the situation that they find themselves in, and to be aware of the trade-offs associated with those decisions.