Refactoring the Scrum Lexicon

There has been much discussion lately regarding reforming some of the words in the Scrum Lexicon.

I welcome such long overdue discussion, for several reasons.

1) It obviously demonstrates that even the founders feel that modification is necessary, and thus Scrum is imperfect and in need of improvement

2) Moving towards more standard terminology is not only more professional, but allows one to clearly see how Scrum is a modification of, and similar to, traditional management, and not something completely different.

Here are my thoughts on how to refactor the Scrum Lexicon

1) Pig == > Developer/Team Member

Calling someone a pig is extremely unprofessional. In some languages, this is an incredibly hurtful insult. “Pigs” are developers or team members. Let’s call them that. The pedantic joke in the Scrum Guide is no reason to inflict this hurtful misnomer on a professional workforce.

2) Chicken == >Stakeholder

See above.

3) Daily Scrum ==> Daily Status, Daily Conversation, Standup Meeting

The fact that the “Daily Scrum” is a “Daily Meeting” cannot be denied. The fact that it is designed to facilitate status updates also cannot be denied. Therefore let us be honest about it. It takes up space, people, and time just like all other meetings. This cost is not zero. Pretending it is some holy part of the process and therefore deserve neologisms to hide that fact is disingenuous. This is a methodology that runs on ad hoc communication and the daily status is part of that. Let’s be honest about it shall we?

4) Scrum Master ==> Team Leader, Team Advocate

There is no more stupid term in the world of IT than “Scrum Master.” Derived from Dungeons and Dragons, and wildly misleading, this term has no use in a professional IT situation. Team Leader or Team Advocate is a much more appropriate title.

5) Sprint ==> Iteration, Phase

Sprint has many negative connotations. One cannot sprint through a marathon. Sustainable pace and sprint are mutually exclusive. Sprint implies a rush to get somewhere good, regardless of cost. This is nonsense. It is a phase or Iteration and should be discussed as such.

6) Backlog ==> Todo list, feature list

There is nothing special about the sprint backlog. It is a todo list, like everyone else has. Let’s be honest about it and call it what it is.

7) Commitment ==> Best effort, Projection

Often one cannot know how long something will take until one undertakes it. Noone should be blamed for this. Best effort or Reasonable Projection should be useful in this case.

I look forward to your thoughts on the matter; feel free to share them!

PostAgilist

PS It has come to my attention that this post http://www.scrumology.net/2010/07/05/our-divisive-scrum-terminology-needs-to-be-deprecated/ is similar in nature to my post and my prove interesting reading as well.

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About postagilist

Architect, Manager, Developer, Musician, Post-Agile thought leader
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6 Responses to Refactoring the Scrum Lexicon

  1. Sonja says:

    What I like most about your post is that you give us translations for Scrum terms into mainstream vocabulary that can be used when trying to explain Scrum and I agree that some of the Scrum terms may be in need of refactoring, especially the pigs and chickens part.

    However when somebody talks about a backlog I know he is talking about a list of prioritized user stories possibly already complete with estimates and definitions of done. If I hear them talk about a todo list or feature list I have a completely different image in mind.

    Just my 2c ๐Ÿ™‚

    • PostAgilist says:

      Hi Sonja

      Thanks for dropping by ๐Ÿ™‚

      I’m pretty sure that most Todo lists are in fact prioritized — there is nothing unique in that area.

      Certainly all bug tracking/feature tracking systems allow using a priority and so do old fashioned lists and spreadsheets.

      Also calling something a “backlog” is additionally harmful in that it makes people feel “always behind” even if they are progressing as fast as possible.

      This “there is no light at the end of the tunnel there is only an endless backlog” is also harmful in the same way that “sprint” is harmful.

      PostAgilist

  2. Pingback: In response to: Refactoring The Scrum Lexicon « Mike Pearce – blog

  3. Jay Conne says:

    Hi PostAgilist,

    I have done something like that for years. My goal is to be grounded, clear, useful, etc.

    If the issues of pigs and chickens arises, it’s done as a discussion of Scrum lore and the importance of treating it with humor and not literally. I do like to emphasize that all stakeholders should be committed, but having the dev. team have a daily, focused, quick meeting to sync-up is good practice. I’m not religious about the three questions as the limits of whats said. My teams quickly self-monitor to stay in the time box and choose to but topics on the parking lot, that often get’s discussed in a post-Scrum meeting (or conversation) where only the interested parties stay.

    Commitment is an important issue. To the extent sw dev is like R&D, how can one commit to delivering he results? I take the commitment as delivering business value at some level that may just be a time-boxed learning cycle. We talk about the commitment of a well functioning Scrum team as a commitment to swarm on the highest priority User Story to the extent practical, to drive it to a done state. And then the next and the next. Typically, a fraction of the team can swarm on the first story, so then the focus for others moves to the next one in priority order, etc. So the commitment is about focus and not guaranteed results of a discovery process. This is keeping it real.

    I generally use the Scrum jargon (w/o pigs & chickens) because the new and bazaar terminology can be used without carrying a lot of baggage from other contexts. We get to define the terms as we intend them. My teams usually like that reasoning. What makes this easier is that I expect no one to do anything out of blind obedience to a dogma. But rather, I want them to understand the selfish benefits their actions bring to their integrity, the team, the project, the company and their customer. That keeping it real too.

    Does that help?

  4. David Bland says:

    1st off thanks for the link back, otherwise I may not have found your post.

    As for your breakdown, here’s my take:

    1. Pig = Stop using this term entirely.

    2. Chicken = See #1

    3. Daily Scrum = Daily Standup. I would hesitate in calling it a Daily Status as that implies you are giving a status update. I think of it as a Daily Plan or Daily Goal. What do we want to accomplish today, what’s in our way? One of the more subtle approaches I’ve seen for the transition is to call it a “15 minute Daily Standup Meeting” and slowly remove words until its just called a Standup.

    4. ScrumMaster = I’ve yet to find another word, but it is a little hokey. I’m brave enough to put it on my business card, but I digress. I do think it has a role in IT but it can be hard to put it into words at times. ScrumMaster at its best is the glue for your team.

    5. Sprint = Iteration. Sprint does not make me think of sustainable pace. Phase makes me think of a long drawn out time box.

    6. Backlog = To Do, but an organized & prioritized To Do. I like my To Do Lists to relate to the context of what I’m working on.. could be minutes or much larger. Backlog just sounds.. bad. I admit I still use this term.

    7. Commitment = Commitment? I’m not sure I have an answer for this one. Most people I have met like to meet a commitment, however if your entire iteration is in flux well it cheapens it from my perspective. I think a stable team, velocity and understanding is required for this to have meaning.

    -David

  5. Tim says:

    I came by your site by searching for “is there another name for scrum master” – thanks for the article and I’m glad I’m not alone.

    Personally, as I’ve watched Agile take hold over the years, I’ve noticed the lexicon is ever more biased towards Agile “consultants” (usually with little to no Agile project experience) making a buck – new words for the same things make you sound good to the people with the money but very little clue about what it’s like at the coal face of building software in the last 10 years.

    A developer is a developer, a tester is a tester and a ‘Scrum Master’ is a ‘Scrum team lead(?)’ / Scrum project manager(?). There’s enough people in IT trying to talk themselves up to get the next job, but calling yourself a “Master” reminds me of where it came from, kids playing dungeons and dragons…

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