The Agile Alphabets

We all start our learning process from our own native-language alphabets. Similarly, I have attempted to create an Agile alphabet (in English) for helping new Agile enthusiasts begin their learning of the common vocabulary. This is not a bible or dictionary of Agile terms; it is a knowledge base. It can always be enhanced to achieve maximum satisfaction and an Agile match-up to the alphabet.

My initial set of words:

  • A: Acceptance criteria — Requirements that must be met in order for a solution to be considered acceptable to key stakeholders.
  • B: Burn-down chart — A graphic representation of work left to do versus time. The outstanding work (or backlog) is usually on the vertical axis, with time along the horizontal. It’s useful for predicting when all of the work will be completed. It’s often used in Agile software development practices such as Scrum. However, burn-down charts can be applied to any project containing measurable progress over time.
  • C: Customer collaboration — Working collaboratively with the customer. One value of Agile and Lean project management is the ability to constantly collaborate with the customer, whether that customer is internal or external. Using Agile tools to enhance the project will result in the elimination of unneeded work (waste), ensuring that the product vision is met and delivering the highest-value features first, to optimize return on investment.
  • D: Daily Scrum — A 15-minute daily team meeting to share progress, report impediments, and make commitments/forecasts.
  • E: Epic — A very large user story that is eventually broken down into smaller stories; epics are often used as placeholders for new ideas that haven’t been thought out fully. Also useful for low-priority requirements.
  • F: Face-to-face communication — Direct communication.
  • G: Grooming — A meeting that helps prepare the Scrum backlog for the sprint planning meeting. It usually includes adding new stories and epics, extracting stories from existing epics, and estimating effort for existing stories.
  • H: High-performing team — A group of people who work together for a common goal and are able to achieve extraordinary results because they have created a solid foundation for productive communication, innovative solutions, and great performance. In other words, they have equipped themselves with right high-performance team culture.
  • I: Impediment — An obstruction or hindrance to doing something; anything that prevents the team from meeting its potential. If it’s an organizational impediment, then it’s the responsibility of the ScrumMaster to eliminate it. If it’s internal to the team, they themselves should do away with it.
  • J: Just-in-time requirements — Requirements that need identifying, grooming, estimating, prioritizing, and implementing just for the current iteration or, at maximum, for the current release.
  • K: Kanban board — A visual indicator that shows when to execute an activity in a value stream. A version of a Kanban board may also be used as an information “radiator” to provide visibility into an Agile sprint backlog and work in process.
  • L: Lean development — A simple way of developing products by reducing waste, which means reduction of non-value-added activities and improved performance and productivity.
  • M: MMF (minimum marketable feature) — The minimum set of tasks that completes a feature implementation so that the feature can go to market and fulfill an end-user requirement.
  • N: Negotiable — Having a changeable status. User stories, up until they are part of a sprint, can always be changed and rewritten for clarification.
  • O: Osmotic communication — Indirect information transfer through overhearing conversations or simply noticing things happening around you.
  • P: Product owner — The person who represents the interests of all stakeholders, defines the features of the product, and prioritizes the product backlog.
  • Q: Quality — The continuous improvement of the effectiveness and efficiency of value-added work, while reducing or eliminating waste or non-value-added work.
  • R: Retrospective meeting — A meeting covering the concerns related to past work. It is usually timeboxed for three hours for a 30-day sprint (proportionately less for shorter sprints).
  • S: Sprint — A timeboxed iteration during which the team delivers a potentially shippable product increment to the customer. It usually varies from two to four weeks and does not go beyond four weeks.
  • T: Timeboxed — Every activity or event is set for a specific duration and lasts exactly that long.
  • U: User story — One or more sentences in the everyday or business language of the end user or user of a system (usually in software development and product management) that captures what the user does or needs to do as part of his or her job function. User stories are used in Agile software development as the basis for defining the functions a business system must provide and to facilitate requirements management. They explain the “who,” “what,” and “why” of a given requirement in a simple, concise way and are often limited in detail by what can be handwritten on a small notecard. User stories are written by or for the business user as that user’s primary way of influencing the functionality of the system being developed.
  • V: Velocity — A historical measure of the number of story points a team completes in a sprint.
  • W: Working software — Software that is fully integrated, tested, and ready to be shipped to customers or deployed into production. That doesn’t mean you tried it a couple of times and it ran without aborting; it means you created unit tests and QA tests and actually looked at output to prove it works. It isn’t as difficult as many people think. In fact, some teams deploy new software every single day.
  • X: XP practices — The set of development practices drawn from XP, including pair programming and test-first or test-driven and continuous refactoring. Many scrum teams find that these practices greatly improve productivity and team morale.
  • Y: Yesterday’s weather — The team’s updates of accomplishments since the last Daily Scrum. They help predict today’s work to some extent.
  • Z: Zero defects — A scenario of having no defects at the time of a sprint review or at release time. In Agile practices, the team tries to keep zero defects in sprints.

Agile alphabets usage

An alphabet like this one gives a learning opportunity to those who are new to Agile, Scrum, and other similar methods. It bridges the gap in understanding the vocabulary, and once an alphabet is known it’s easy to continue extending one’s knowledge.

My teams use this alphabet as a reference, and it helps in training new team members. Especially when a new team is forming, this is the building block for its understanding of the Agile framework. The alphabet sets the context and the key words help new team members better understand further Agile knowledge as opportunities arise.


I hope the attempt I made here proves useful to the larger audience, especially for those who are new to Agile. This is an open list for anyone who wants to enhance the alphabet with a meaningful word.


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