Disciplined Agile Terminology


This brief article explains our thinking around our terminology choices in the Disciplined Agile (DA) framework. It overviews the terminology principles that we follow, discusses why Scrum terminology isn’t appropriate, and maps common Scrum terms to DA terms.


Our Principles Around Terminology

The following three 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 method neutral. Every team is unique and owns its own process. Part of owning your process is choosing the overall method, or lifecycle, that you’re following. Because the DA framework 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 lifecycle. For example, Scrum terminology makes sense if you’re following the Scrum-based Agile/Basic lifecycle but not the Lean Continuous Delivery lifecycle.
  3. Terms should already be in use elsewhere. We are not in the business of creating new terms when existing ones are perfectly fine.


The Problem with Scrum Terminology

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 three 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 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 up our game as software professionals.
  3. 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 that we can apply.


Mapping Scrum 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.


Scrum Term DA Term DA Source Observations
Backlog refinement/grooming Look-ahead modeling
  • “Modeling” is common IT terminology.
  • “Look-ahead modeling” is an existing Agile Modeling practice
  • Not all teams have backlogs.
  • The term isn’t clear (one reason why it evolved from backlog grooming to backlog refinement a few years ago)
Mapping Modeling
  • Common IT terminology
  • Agilists really 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 instead of modeling
Scrum Master Team Lead
  • Common IT terminology
  • Only Scrum teams have Scrum Masters
  • The term “Scrum Master” isn’t descriptive of what someone in that role does
  • The responsibilities of a Team Lead are a bit more robust than those of a Scrum Master, so this mapping isn’t perfect
Scrum meeting Coordination meeting
  • Common terminology
  • Coordination meeting is a much clearer term
Sprint Iteration
  • Iteration is used as a term in 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 IT terminology
  • You can hold a demo at any time, not just at the end of a sprint
Sprint Retrospective Retrospective
  • Original term for the technique
  • You can hold a retrospective at any time, not just at the end of a sprint


Parting Thoughts

There is no standard terminology in the agile world, nor will their ever be. Your team, as part of owning your process, 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 and as always our advice is for a team to do what they believe to be right for the situation that they find themselves in.

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