The scrum people got a lot of things right. This methodology reinforces Agile principles to make teams more efficient (doing more in the same amount of time) and effective (doing more of the right things). The time-box implementation is very unnatural, but amazingly useful. Even the estimation process is brilliant. But there was one huge mistake: their naming conventions were confusing.

I can’t blame them much. Those that gave birth to scrum were predominantly software developers. They weren’t marketers, advertising professionals or public relation wizards. The decided on the terms with which we’re stuck today. I’m relatively new to the Agile game so by this point I’ve only trained about 300 people, mostly in small groups or individually. Inevitably, the most difficult portion of the training is to explain what the scrum-specific words mean. Here are the issues:

  • Scrum: In my training experience in America, less than 25% have seen a rugby match, so they don’t know what a scrum really is. See the photo at the top of this post for reference. It’s where two rival teams of sweaty men interlock arms and push violently against the other in a battle for field position and ball possession. It’s an odd name choice for a single team of professionals trying to implement a creative methodology. Maybe the creators got this confused with a “huddle,” were American Football players gather to plan their next piece of work. There’s a second big problem: Scrum can refer to either the methodology or the team. I try to use the word “team” whenever I can to minimize the confusion. The person who facilitates the team’s work is sadly called the Scrum Master— the title I carry every day.
  • Daily scrum meeting: This is a daily meeting of the team. It forces us to use “scrum” too much. I prefer to use the nickname, “Standup” for this meeting, reminding all that the meeting should be short.
  • Sprint: The name implies running as fast as you can. That’s the opposite of what we are trying to do. They could have just kept the generic term, “time box,” or something like “segment.” I’m just glad that they didn’t create a word like “scrummester.”
  • Story: Depending on my mood, I can opine that “story” for a unit of work is either tolerable or terrible. Untrained people don’t understand what we’re talking about when we say that “we are working on our stories.” If you’re fond of story, then the official term,“epic,” is a pretty good name for a group of related stories.
  • Product Backlog & Sprint Backlog: Two backlogs? The first is for the stories that your team hasn’t got to yet. The second is for the stories that your team is doing now. If you’re doing it, how can it be a backlog? With my groups I use the shortened “backlog” for the work we haven’t pulled into a sprint, and “stories in the sprint” for the stories with which the team is currently working. It’s not creative, but it’s clear.

One can sound like a Smurf with a perfectly valid sentence of “Tell the Scrum Master to teach Scrum policies at the Daily Scrum to the Scrum.” To be fair, not all of the terms are confusing. Meetings names like Planning, Review and Retrospective do well at describing their purposes.

Here are some ideas I thought of this week while driving home from work. They are bad, but much better than scrum:

  • PRAP or PRAg: Loose acronyms for “policies reinforcing Agile principles.”
  • AgMeth: Short for Agile Methodology. Or to be brief, we could call it AM1. Revisions of it could be AM2 and so on.
  • APFFAT: An acrostic for Agile, planning, flexibility, focus, accountability, team. It doesn’t roll of the tongue, but the name would be a great outline for the training.
  • PDR: For Plan-Do-Report. Alternatively it could be Plan-Do-Deliver, or PDD.
  • E-Squared: Effective and Efficient
  • Barracuda: It was the mascot of my elementary school, and it sounds cool. Why not? More people can relate to that name than to scrum.

I’m sure you can be more creative than I. I’ll award copies of my book, Scrum Marketing, to the best suggestions for a good alternative name. Please submit below. Extra consideration will be given for humor.