Maybe It’s Time to Stop Using the Word “Sprint”

Any agilest worth their salt will tell you that culture matters, especially when you are trying to transition to an Agile methodology. Since culture is merely a reflection of an organization’s values and values come from ideas and words are how ideas are expressed, the words we use can often be critical. There is one word used Agile and Scrum that has bothered me for some time, “sprint”, and I propose eliminating the word from Scrum. In fact, I hope Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland agree to incorporate this change in the next version of The Scrum Guide.

rugby scrumThe Scrum Guide states, “the heart of Scrum is a Sprint”. This is one reason why I haven’t written this blog sooner. I believe in Scrum as an excellent way for teams to embody the Agile philosophy so I am hesitant to criticize. Who am I to criticize and will my criticism be misinterpreted? It took a long time for me to have the confidence to propose something that others may view as heretical (I know how strident some can be about Agile and Scrum), but I truly believe it is the right thing to do.

I acknowledge that I might not be the first to propose such a change. In fact, I had one gig where the company decided to refer to “sprints” as “iterations”. They insisted I do the same and I found it difficult to make the change. I thought this was just another example of “scrum but” (which in this case may have been true), but even though I do so begrudgingly, I now believe this company was on to something worthwhile. I also acknowledge that my opinion might not carry the requisite weight, but I feel it is necessary to add whatever weight it might hold to this effort.

sprintingAnd why would I propose something as radical as changing the very word referred to as the heartbeat of scrum? Simply this. The word itself carries a connotation that I find at odds with the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto. Therefore, I need to make this proposal in order to preserve my integrity. As a coach I often say, “The philosophy behind Agile provides a basis for making decisions when there is doubt on which option to pursue. The Scrum framework contains ceremonies that make the philosophy come alive in our daily practice. If you cannot trace something you are doing to the original philosophy then you probably should not be doing it.” It is for this reason that I no longer can use the word “sprint” and instead choose to use the word “iteration.” Of course, until the Scrum Guide is changed to reflect the more accurate term, I often say “iteration or sprint”.

There is an Agile principle which states, “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely”. It has become obvious to me, the word “sprint”, which, although it may have a specific meaning in scrum, generally is understood to mean “an act or short spell of running at full speed.” I jog to stay in shape. As I have stated previously it is obvious that sprinting is something that cannot be sustained over a long period of time. Therefore, I prefer the word “iterating” and hope that someday the Scrum Guide, as the official word of what constitutes Scrum, will agree with me and change the word.

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2 Comments

  • Curtis Reed says:

    Hi Larry, you’re currently coaching the company for which I work as a Scrum Master consultant.
    At any rate, I fully agree with you and had come to the same conclusion, for the same reasons, some time ago. So you’re not off base at all.
    The decision to refer to a “sprint” as an “iteration” was made easy for me when I worked for a company that used Rally. Their application uses “Iteration” for the sprints, so we naturally referred to each “iteration” to refer to the scope of work grouped into a two-week cycle.
    There is another reason to call it an “iteration”. One of the driving principles of agile and scrum is to deliver working software frequently, and ideally at the end of every “sprint”. That means you should be creating a new “iteration” of the product every two weeks. In that sense, iteration is a perfect description of what the team is accomplishing.

  • joe says:

    Sprint and Scrum are both mindless word for escape. Effective for Rugby but used in marketing, has very short-term and limiting results to the bottom line.

    If you practice a plan with your team, they are “Scrimmaging” … The more “Scim-time” “Practice-time” or “Scrimmage Games” you play the better the team becomes. And ultimately changes outcomes.

    I completely agree! Scrum is dumb! Scrim is in!

    Thank you for your thoughts!

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