In this Agile glossary, we explain 51 of the most prevailing Agile terms to help you understand Agile and expand your knowledge of the Agile approach to work management.
With the rising adoption of the Agile ways of managing work across industries, and business areas over the last 2 decades, we all need to keep our Agile vocabulary accurate and up-to-date. To rule out any misconceptions, such as Agile being a methodology instead of a mindset, we crafted a list of the key Agile terms to help you understand Agile.
Agile software development is a project management approach that helps development teams and organizations become more flexible, responsive, and adaptive to changes. The Agile way to software development is based on the 12 principles defined in the Agile Manifesto. Agile software development revolves around the frequent and continuous delivery of valuable software, the incessant flow of feedback, communication, and self-organizing teams.
Agile project management is an approach to managing work in various fields and professional domains. It is based on the Agile Manifesto’s 12 principles of Agile that help organizations become more inclined to satisfy the customers’ requirements, more adaptable to changes, deliver more cost-efficient value, and realize faster ROI. Agile project management is a modern-day approach applied equally to the knowledge work of engineering as well as production companies.
Agile portfolio management is the Agile way of managing multiple projects, products, or programs. The three main pillars of Agile portfolio management include:
Establishing a shared understanding of the strategic goals achieved through cross-organizational transparency;
Evaluating if projects and initiatives align with the strategic plans achieved through small experiments and fast feedback;
Aligning strategy with execution achieved through frequent feedback and learning.
Agile project management software is a digital supporting solution for companies undertaking Agile transformation. Agile project management tools are flexible so that they can adapt to organizational needs. They also need to be easily scalable to multiple teams, allow data collection, and measure goal completion. Among the market leaders are tools such as Kanbanize by Businessmap, JIRA, Smartsheet, Asana, and others.
The Agile Manifesto is the bible of the Agile ways of working, built on the basis of shared understanding, values, and principles. The Manifesto was signed in 2001 through a discussion between 17 prominent software engineers. The Agile Manifesto includes 4 values and 12 principles of software development established through mutual agreement.
Agile mindset refers to the cultural shift in thinking and leadership toward nurturing agility across all levels of an organization. The Agile mindset is rooted in the principles and values of Agile defined in the Agile Manifesto to software development. Cornerstones of the Agile mindset are individuals and interactions, collaboration with the customers, and the flexibility to respond to changes swiftly.
The Agile principles were outlined when the Agile Manifesto was created in 2001. Together with the 4 Agile values, they lie at the basis of the Agile approach. To adopt the Agile mindset, it is fundamental to understand well all 12 Agile principles.
Satisfy customers through early & continuous delivery;
Welcome changing requirements even late in the project;
Deliver value frequently;
Break the silos of your project;
Build projects around motivated individuals;
The most effective way of communication is face-to-face;
Working software is the primary measure of progress;
Maintain a sustainable working pace;
Continuous excellence enhances agility;
Simplicity is essential;
Self-organizing teams generate most value;
Regularly reflect and adjust your way of work to boost effectiveness.
The 4 Agile values are the other building unit of the Agile Manifesto, along with the 12 Agile principles.
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools;
Working software over comprehensive documentation;
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation;
Responding to change over following a plan.
Agile Transformation is an ongoing process of shifting a company’s current management methods from traditional to reactive or Agile ways of working. This transitional process requires building an organizational culture that adopts the Agile mindset of “being Agile” and embracing the Agile management principles. Agile transformations are meant to help teams and organizations to adapt to business changes faster, encourage open cross-team collaboration, and promotes innovation and creativity.
Agile transformation roadmaps outline the steps a company takes to embrace Agile way of working. There are 6 steps that are essential for a successful Agile transformation:
Identifying the problem;
Understanding the current processes;
Getting leadership support;
Defining clear goals of the transformation;
Starting with a pilot team or project;
Scaling agility across your organization.
Agile methodologies are work management methods and frameworks applied by organizations to maximize efficiency, eliminate waste from the work processes, and keep a productive delivery pace. Some of the most prominent Agile methodologies include Extreme Programming (XP), Scrum, Kanban, Feature-Driven Development (FDD), and Crystal.
An Agile organization is a people-centric organization capable of quickly adjusting and responding to new challenges and opportunities in the marketplace or clients’ switching requirements. Agile organizations operate as one ecosystem of interdependent services with a common purpose and vision. Rapid decisions and regular feedback cycles are key traits of Agile organizations.
An Agile team is a cross-functional group of people who work in a flexible manner, are adaptable to changing customer needs, and share a common goal. Agile teams are self-organized, collaborative, practice shared leadership, and are inclined toward mutually agreed-upon objectives.
Planning in Agile is an iterative approach to delivering customer value in the knowledge work domain. The process is highly adaptive to changes where detailed plans are only made for a short-term period. Agile planning is widely applied in modern-day project management.
Agile themes or initiatives are long-term objectives that impose a significant impact on business performance. Agile themes are a collection of epics. Their execution happens by breaking them down into smaller collections of work items (epics) and further specific tasks (user stories).
Epics are collections of work supporting higher level initiatives or projects. These large work items are divided into smaller and more manageable tasks or user stories. The series of work items all relate to the same goal of the epic. Agile epics improve the organization of the work, create clear priorities, and help to align all work with the strategic goals (themes).
User stories in Agile are small work assignments or tasks that drive the progress of each epic or project and contribute to the execution of greater themes and initiatives. They can contain multiple tasks and subtasks. Agile user stories are focused on creating value for the customer by considering their requirements.
Metrics in Agile are performance indicators that are linked to outcomes, enabling teams to evaluate their process and decide how to proceed. They are beneficial to analyze and understand how work flows in a system, discover flaws, and improve it. Some Agile metrics include lead/cycle time, throughput, work in progress, velocity, and planned capacity.
Agile estimation approximates the effort required to complete a specific work item (a project, epic, task, etc.). Teams following prescriptive frameworks such as Scrum normally use story points as a size measurement for the stories in their product backlog. Other methods, such as Kanban, rely on historical data to arrive at probabilistic forecasts for a work item’s duration.
Agile ceremonies or cadences are various types of meetings prescribed by a specific Agile methodology. Teams that follow the Scrum framework include the following events: Sprint with a fixed length, Sprint planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective. Other Agile methods, such as Kanban introduce team-level cadences (Team Replenishment, Team Retrospective) and service-oriented cadences (Workflow replenishment, Flow Review, Blocker Clustering). The goal of the Agile events is to ensure the team is delivering value in the most efficient way.
Retrospectives in Agile are team meetings that are held at the end of a sprint or at regular intervals. The goal of the Agile retrospective meeting is to inspect in detail the work process, solve existing problems, and identify improvement opportunities. A retrospective should be attended by the entire team, including the Agile coach, team leader/manager, and the product owner.
The Agile Coach is responsible for helping individuals, teams, and organizations to adopt the Agile mindset. Agile coaches have extensive practical experience as well as profound knowledge of Agile values, principles, and best practices. They're facilitators and experts in a certain methodology or framework as they aim to integrate it within the team's processes and scale its adoption.
Spike is a term used in Agile software development that refers to a supporting work item or a proof-of-concept such as technical research, building a prototype, or a design. Agile spikes can be in the form of user stories that aim to execute research to gather learning so that a problematic work item can be completed or a known risk - mitigated.
Agile swarming is a collaborative work process where team members "swarm around" a problematic work item to fix the issue as soon as possible.
Acceptance criteria are the conditions that a product or service must meet in order to be accepted by a customer or stakeholder. In software development, the acceptance criteria define what makes the work item, story, or task valuable for the customer.
Business or organizational agility is the state of adaptability to changes on a business level. The process of adopting the Agile thinking model is also referred to as an “Agile transformation.” The process entails a cultural shift toward flexibility, customer focus, and increased quality of the delivered value. Business agility is a continuous journey centered around learning and people.
Burndown charts are used by Scrum teams to track the amount of work done for a given period of time (iteration). The chart facilitates the tracking of how many story points have been completed based on the remaining time until the end of the iteration.
The Crystal methodology combines a few smaller Agile methodologies such as Crystal clear, Crystal yellow, Crystal red and etc. The Crystal family suggests that each project is unique and requires the application of different processes, practices, and policies. Each project is characterized by three main factors: team size, system criticality, and project priorities.
Daily stand-up meetings are one of the most popular and widely-spread Agile practices. The idea behind these short meetings is to gather everyone on the team and discuss any work roadblocks and keep the team aligned with the ongoing priorities. Ideally, the meetings are short and concise.
The term "definition of done” refers to agreed-upon evidence that a process, activity, or objective has been completed. It is also used as a checklist of conditions that must be present or activities that must be performed for an assignment to be finished. In software development, “definition of done” is perceived as meeting the quality measures required for releasing a product, feature, service, etc.
Definition of Ready is a term that refers to an agreed-upon list of criteria that a work item should meet before entering the actual working process.
Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) is an Agile framework for software development that helps teams to make simplified process decisions, deliver quality value faster, and enables scaling. It is a hybrid approach that combines practices of Lean software development, Scrum, Agile Modeling, XP, and Kanban. The determinants of success that DAD identifies are people-first, learning-, and goal-oriented mindset.
Enterprise Agile transformation is the process of scaling and evolving Agile practices across the entire enterprise. The goal is to shift organization thinking toward better adaptability, customer focus, and improved collaboration. The process can include the application of different Agile methodologies, techniques, processes, and tools. There are four key factors to every successful large-scale Agile transition:
Adopting and promoting the Agile mindset first;
Setting outcomes that align with your vision;
Defining interdependent services;
Learning and continuously improving.
Enterprise Agile methodologies are work management methods and frameworks that provide multiple teams and departments with essential techniques and practices to overcome business’ challenges, improve the delivery of value and bring agility to the enterprise level. Some of the most prominent enterprise Agile methodologies are: Kanban Maturity Model (KMM), SAFe, LeSS (Large Scale Scrum), Scrum@Scale (SaS).
Feature-Driven Development (FDD) is an Agile methodology that is customer-centric with focus on delivering products with features that meet customers’ expectations. The FDD involves strict operations such as domain walkthroughs, design, coding, and inspection.
An increment represents the work that has been completed within an iteration by a Scrum team. A product or a service is the sum of all increments.
Information radiators are means of visual representations of information in a single hub available to every team member. Information radiators, such as Kanban boards, help share critical data related to work progress, create transparency across the organizational levels, and boost team members’ self-organization and ownership.
An iteration in software development is a term used to indicate a period of time during which development activities take place. Agile teams determine how long an iteration should last.
Kanban is a Lean and Agile approach to workflow management for defining, managing, and improving services that deliver knowledge work. The method helps in visualizing work, maximizing efficiency, and improving continuously. Kanban is based on 6 main practices, including:
Mapping the workflow;
Limiting the work in progress;
Managing the flow;
Making work process policies explicit;
Implementing feedback loops;
Work in Kanban is represented on Kanban boards facilitating the work delivery across multiple teams and allowing to manage complex or multiple projects in a single environment.
LeSS (Large-Scale Scrum) is an Agile framework designed to help scale Scrum across multiple teams that work on a single service or product. The approach applies the ideas behind Scrum on a large-scale using clear rules and guidance. LeSS includes a basic LeSS framework for 2-8 teams and LeSS Huge framework for 8+ teams.
Minimum viable product (MVP) is a concept promoting the creation of a version of a product with minimum features that can be used by early customers in order to provide feedback. The MVP originates from the product development field, where the received customer feedback is applied to improve product development. MVP helps to test a product with minimal resources, accelerates the learning process, and is used as a foundation for other products.
Pair-programming is an Agile software development model where two programmers work at the same workstation. The two programmers have different roles – the “driver” writes the code while the “observer” reviews it. The two programmers switch their roles frequently. The approach improves the code quality, encourages knowledge sharing and the transfer of skills, and improves work coordination.
Product backlog is a list of prioritized work items such as new product features, changes to existing features, and any other activities that may be delivered by an Agile team. The product backlog represents all functional or non-functional customer requirements of a system, product, or service. In Scrum teams, the product backlog is prioritized by the Product Owner.
Product Owner is an Agile team role defined in the Scrum framework that ensures the team delivers the desired results. Product Owners are responsible for prioritizing and maintaining the product backlog according to the customers’ requirements.
Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is a framework for adopting Agile practices across an organization. Based on the Agile principles and values, the framework provides structured guidance on how to plan and manage work better, improve collaboration, and deliver products faster.
Scrum is a prescriptive framework used in Agile product development and other knowledge work. The four main principles of Scrum are empiricism, transparency, inspection, and adaptation. The Scrum teams work in short iterations called sprints with a fixed duration. At the end of each sprint, a product increment is delivered to the customers so they can provide feedback to the team.
Scrumban is an Agile methodology that combines practices from the Kanban method and the Scrum framework. Scrumban applies the Kanban practices of work visualization, limiting work in progress, and work prioritization. Unlike in Scrum, the Scrumban teams do not estimate work and eliminate the Sprint Planning event altogether. Scrum teams following the Scrumban hybrid approach integrate the principles of “pull” into their work process.
A story point is a measurement unit used by Agile software development to size a specific work item (user story). Story points are indicators of the work’s complexity and, therefore, how long it will take to be completed.
Velocity is a metric utilized by Scrum teams that represent the sum of estimated effort and completed user stories during a specific iteration. Story points and user stories are used as measurement units in velocity charts.
Test-driven development (TDD) is an Agile software development approach where all requirements are converted into unit tests and the solution is repeatedly tested against the created test cases. TDD promotes simple designs and it is related to the test-first concept of XP (extreme programming).
XP (Extreme Programming) is an Agile software development framework intended to produce higher quality software through frequent releases and to increase the team’s flexibility toward changing requirements. The five values of XP are communication, simplicity, feedback, courage, and respect. The framework is applied through 12 practices divided into 4 groups: fine-scale feedback, continuous process, shared understanding, and programmer welfare.
for outcome-driven enterprise agility.
Understanding the key Agile terms gives you a solid foundation on where to start and how to benefit the most by applying Agile and agility to managing work in every business domain.