Agile Glossary of Terms

In my journey as a writer and a speaker, I often find myself referring to terms that people are unfamiliar with. I think these terms can sometimes be obstacles to people understanding Agile fully. I want the principles of Agile to be accessible to everyone, even the beginner. So I have been compiling a list of common terms and updating them as I continue to share my knowledge and experience. It is updated as I learn more, so please refer back, and contact me if you think of one that’s not here!

Term What is it?
Burn up chart A visual map of how the project is progressing.  It is visible at all times on the team wall.This chart allows a Sponsor, Project Manager, Team and stakeholders to understand progress of the project, so they can make timely and informed decisions throughout the project.
Epic Sometimes called a large user story that is too high level to be worked on but needs to be broken into smaller chunks – or user stories.
Estimation sessions A meeting organised within the project team with representatives from everyone taking part in the work. The team work together to apply relative weightings on each user story to represent effort required to deliver the functionality in the user story. Differences in estimations are discussed with agreement reached. Sometimes called Planning Poker.
Iteration / Sprint “Sprint” a pre-agreed set time (between 2-4 weeks) where a pre-agreed list of user stories are developed, tested and showcased to stakeholders. A mini-project cycle.
Iteration Manager / Scrum Master A person who manages the day-to-day activities of the project team. As the team is mostly self-managing, this role guides the team and ensures good Agile practices are being followed, team members feel supported and the visual management is kept up to date. They also remove impediments so the team can run effectively, and will escalate where required to resolve issues and blockers.
Jira System used to track user stories at a more detailed level than a project wall, and their progress
Kanban/ Lean Kanban is Japanese for “visual signal” or “card.” The concept is used extensively in manufacturing and was inspired by W. Edwards Deming. Often project walls are called ‘Kanban Walls’ as they visually represent the flow of work being done. It also standardises cues and refines processes, which helps to reduce waste and maximize value for a project team.
Product Backlog Estimated, prioritised collection of work items (represented by user stories). The backlog evolves regularly (often referred to as ‘backlog grooming’) to ensure priorities are always represented and any changes are reflected.
Product Owner Someone (usually someone from the business) who is accountable for:

  • Setting direction and priorities
  • Representing the commercial aspects of the project (i.e. benefits realisation)
  • Ensuring the Product Backlog is up-to-date and prioritised according to business value
  • Ensuring all business stakeholders are represented
Retrospective Session organised after every iteration/sprint or release, to provide the team and sometimes stakeholders with the opportunity to share what they felt went well, did not go well and could do better in the following sprints. Every retrospective will end with actions and time frames assigned with the team and stakeholders agreeing on what to focus on to improve.
Scrum A framework that means iterative development of mostly software. It is the most widely recognised term and what most organisations adopt, at least in part. It is from Scrum that the term ‘sprint’ or ‘iteration’ comes from, and also uses daily stand-ups, retrospectives and showcases. Sometimes Scrum is used interchangeably with Agile. This is not correct. Scrum is a specific framework under the Agile umbrella.
Shippable product A term often heard in the development of software, and refers to an outcome that is ready for release to the customer. The focus in Agile is in completing shippable products as much as possible no matter how small.
Showcase A session used to demo the working functionality delivered during the last Iteration/sprint and present the latest burn-up chart.  The Sponsor and any other interested stakeholders are usually in attendance and direction is adjusted if needed.  This is an information and decision making forum.
Spike A task or story aimed at gathering information prior to an actual story being written and developed. Ideally a spike to find information or answer a question will happen in the sprint prior to this information being required. A spike does not directly contribute to a shippable product but is still estimated and taken into account.
Stand ups Short (usually 15 minutes), daily get together where all members from the project team stand around the physical story board/ wall displaying the user stories and tasks that are being worked on. Everyone gives a brief update on: what they did yesterday, what they will be doing today, any issues or blockers and what help they need if there are issues/blockers.
Story Wall/ board A visual display of User Stories / task cards which shows project progress.  You should be able to easily see what cards are in the backlog, what are in progress and what have been completed.
Super showcase

Similar to “Showcase above” however a super showcase can demo the working functionality delivered over a number of Iterations, to present a bigger picture of what has been delivered.  Usually at the end of a release.
Task In Scrum, user stories are broken into tasks that can be completed within a day or two. The team works together to break stories down and ensures tasks are allocated to each other based on availability and experience. The idea is that the tasks ‘flow’ easily across the story board to show continuous progress.
User Story Similar to a requirement. A story is a piece of work that describes the work that needs to be done. Every story will have a clear outcome as well as a definition of ‘done’ – the universal term that defines the work being complete.
Values Formalised by a group of software development experts in 2001:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan
Velocity The rate at which work is completed. Critical in measuring the team’s capacity so future planning can be accurate. Generally, velocity starts off slowly as the team start working together, especially if they are new to working with Agile, but it is expected to increase. Generally, the average of the first three iterations is a good prediction of future velocity.
Waterfall The traditional method for developing and implementing software. It breaks down the project into distinct phases where all of the requirements are gathered first, then a complete design phase, followed by testing and implementation. The key issue with this approach is that there is no flexibility to change and no opportunity to check in regularly. It also means that all value is delivered at the end, as opposed to opportunities to deliver value along the way.