The Agile methodology for project management is a powerful and highly effective framework. Teams implementing Agile methods like Scrum can see as much as a 250% increase in performance across certain metrics—that’s a number that should be taken seriously. However, the world of Agile is also full of jargon, and Agile terms can be confusing for those new to the methods.
Whether you need help navigating your own team’s Agile transformation, or you just want to know what the heck a daily Scrum is, we’ve got you covered. Here are 26 of the most common Agile terms explained.
Agile terminology every project management team should know
Agile is a project management approach that helps increase efficiency and focus team effort. It’s most common in project management and software development, but it can be applied to many different areas of an organization. Agile focuses on breaking down large projects into smaller and more manageable segments and then prioritizing these segments to efficiently deliver maximum value.
The Agile Manifesto is a document that presents the Agile philosophy. It was written in 2001 by a group of 17 software developers that wanted an alternative to the traditional and clunky development process. The Manifesto outlines the processes and procedures for the Agile methodology.
The Agile mindset is the group of attitudes that an Agile team has (or tries to develop) towards their work. It’s a combination of values, traditions, and work habits that help ensure the success of the Agile method in fast-paced environments. It focuses on collaboration, continuous improvement, and treating failures as learning opportunities.
An “Agile transformation” is a process of aligning an organization with Agile principles. The goal is to bring a fresh perspective and energy to the team and empower them in a collaborative and proactive environment.
A backlog is the to-do list of tasks for a current project that has not been started yet. Typically, these are arranged by priority order. This helps Agile teams get a better idea of the volume of unfinished work while still knowing clearly what to do next.
Bottlenecks are issues that slow down or stop the development process of a project. For instance, if your workflow involves several steps, and tasks are getting stuck at a particular step, that step is the bottleneck. Examples include the review or revision stages. Determining and working to eliminate bottlenecks in your process can significantly enhance production.
A chart that helps project managers track the amount of work remaining in a project and how much time it’ll take to complete. It’s a great way to get a feel for the progress a team has made and how far they have to go. Burndown charts are a key tool for staying on schedule.
The burnup chart shows project managers how much work the team has completed so far in a sprint, as well as the total amount of work in the project. Combined with a burndown chart, the burnup chart is a powerful tool for project managers looking to optimize their sprints.
The cadence is the rhythm of the Agile team’s development cycle. In the Agile world, cadence is essentially the duration of each Sprint cycle—usually between one and four weeks.
The daily Scrum is a short, 15-minute meeting to discuss the day ahead. The Scrum Master leads the Scrum team by discussing what they did yesterday, what they plan to do today, and any issues they’ve run into. Typically, the team stands for this meeting to help improve focus.
An epic is a large project (for example, a major software feature) that is broken down into smaller chunks called user stories. Epics help Agile teams organize work into logical hierarchies and determine what needs to be done next.
A Gantt chart is a horizontal visual diagram that lays out the work to be done and the schedule for its completion. Gantt charts are ideal for project planning because they provide easy visualization of how a project flows over time and who’ll be working on what task at any given time.
Kanban is a workflow management method that was originally developed by an engineer at Toyota to improve manufacturing efficiency. It worked so well that it’s since been adopted by project managers in numerous other industries. Kanban is based on a visual reference (the Kanban board) that helps showcase what needs to be done, locate the source of bottlenecks, and limit work in progress.
The Kanban board is one of the primary tools of the Kanban method. It’s a board, divided into columns, with each column typically representing a stage in a workflow. The most basic workflow setup for a kanban board is “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done”.
The board makes it easy to get a visual overview of all work in progress and focus on bottlenecks. Kanban boards can be either physical, literal boards (like a whiteboard), or they can be digital (we might be biased, but Trello makes a fantastic Kanban board).
Lean is a work management philosophy focused on minimizing wasted resources (while still maximizing value to the customer). Lean, like Kanban, was inspired by Toyota’s manufacturing processes and has since been adapted to other industries and teams.
Product managers are responsible for assisting the Agile team as they work through a project. They help identify the customer need or business objective of a project and support the team in accomplishing these objectives. This can include addressing problems in a development process, keeping the team on track to meet deadlines, and interfacing with other departments.
Scrum is a project management method that falls under the larger Agile umbrella. In other words, if Agile is a project management philosophy, Scrum is a specific Agile methodology. It encompasses a group of tools (like Trello), roles, and specific meetings designed to help teams get more done in a more efficient manner.
The Scrum Master is the facilitator who keeps the Scrum team on track. The Scrum Master’s job is to ensure the team follows Agile principles and values and that the work environment is conducive to those values. They’re also responsible for facilitating communication between team members and running the daily Scrum and other meetings.
The Scrum team is the team working on a project using the Scrum framework. These are often smaller teams (under 10 people) with varied backgrounds (design, UX, coding, etc.) that come together to develop a product.
A sprint is a specific time period during which Scrum teams tackle predefined objectives. Sprints are laid out in advance and have very specific goals. During the Sprint, all work by the Scrum team focuses on reaching these Sprint goals.
The Sprint Goal is the end point of the Sprint—the point at which the Sprint has been successfully completed. It’s defined in advance and broken up into tasks that are placed in the Sprint’s backlog. The goal is to complete them all during the allotted Sprint duration.
The Sprint Retrospective is a special Scrum meeting where the Scrum team reviews their performance during the Sprint. Using Agile metrics, they look for opportunities to improve during the next Sprint—and, most importantly, consider how to implement them. As such, Sprint retrospectives can be a powerful tool for team improvement.
Stakeholders are anyone outside the Agile team who has a connection to the project. Examples include investors, account managers, and clients. This term is commonly used in all sorts of frameworks and isn’t exclusive to Agile, though it does play an important role in the framework.
Story points are a measuring tool to help define the difficulty of implementing a user story. In other words, story points make it easier to see, at a glance, how much time, effort, and risk is involved in each user story, enabling more informed decisions.
A user story is a specific product feature that customers would find useful or helpful (hence, user story). These are the building blocks of epics. User stories are worked on during Sprints.
In the Agile world, “work items” are the various types of work that need to be done to complete a project. These could be large, overarching items such as epics or user stories, or they could be individual tasks that need to be done.
Embrace the agility
The Agile method is a powerful way to supercharge productivity. There’s something here for everyone, whether your team is going all-in on Agile, or you’re just trying to make your day-to-day role as a project manager easier.
That said, you’re not alone if you find the terminology a little confusing. This glossary of common Agile terms should help make sure everyone’s on the same page at your next standup.
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