The Minefield of Agile Terminology

Insights | 29 July 2015


Mention project management or projects and it isn’t long until the words agile, agility, iterations, timeboxing, sprints and Scrum come into the conversation. The list goes on!

Many organisations have developed their own project management methodologies, often a hybrid of standard approaches such as PRINCE2®, the Project Management Institute (PMI)®PMBOK® guide, AgilePM™ and SCRUM. Some projects are more suited to waterfall, yet the catch cry is that we need to be ‘agile!’

So… what do all these terms really mean?


Note depending upon who you ask you may receive a number of interpretations of the word ‘agile’, as it can be applied in many ways. Generally ‘agile’ encompasses the idea of iterative and incremental development, allowing detailed requirements to be defined later as the solution evolves.

Agile Manifesto

The original manifesto (think policy statement or declaration) for agile Software Development, (2001) was created as an alternative to what was seen as heavyweight document driven approaches (waterfall). By purest definition, the Agile Manifesto only applies to software development. Today agile is no longer seen as just for IT.


An agile approach, based on DSDM, that enables Project Managers to adopt a mature, scalable, corporate-strength agile approach within their organisations. It offers agility but retains the concepts of a project and project management. AgilePM is fully supported by APMG accreditation.


Ability of an organisation to adapt rapidly and cost efficiently to changes in the market.

Backlog/Product Backlog

A prioritised list of features of a product or service. The list may be made up of user stories which are structured in a way that describes who wants the feature and why.

Burn Charts

A technique for showing progress (e.g. for a timebox) where work that is completed and work still to be done are shown with one or more lines. This is updated regularly/daily.

Daily Stand-up

A short meeting to assess progress, typically lasting 15 minutes or less. Team members gather to report progress by answering:

  1. What did I complete yesterday?
  2. What will I complete today?
  3. Are there any impediments/obstacles?


Dynamic Systems Development Method. An agile project delivery framework, primarily used as a software development method.


General term for working in a cyclic way. Typically several attempts are made to achieve a more accurate/beneficial end result.


Partial delivery of the final product, preferably into actual operational use.


Meaning card or signal. Kanban is a way to improve flow by sending a sign to the next process step to indicate that certain parts/items are needed.

Kanban Board

A tool used in Kanban to visually display the work in the system (or timebox). It is usually made up of a series of columns and rows where work items move from left to right as they move through various states in order to be completed


Prioritisation method: ‘Must have’, ‘Should have’, ‘Could have’ and ‘Won’t’ have. For example, ‘Must have’ features are those without which the product will have no value.


An iterative timeboxed approach to product delivery based on the use of cross-functional, self-organised and empowered teams.   It is viewed as an agile framework for completing complex projects; originally designed for software development projects, it is now used in many environments.

PRINCE2 Agile™

PRINCE2 Agile configures and tunes the project management method of PRINCE2, so that PRINCE2 can be used in the most effective way when combining it with agile behaviours, concepts, frameworks and techniques. PRINCE2 Agile is an offering from AXELOS.


Regular event that looks at how the process of doing work can be improved (‘what went well, what didn’t’). In light of the agile concept of ‘inspect and adapt’, these events help teams to continually improve their working practices, little by little, over time.


Used in Scrum. A fixed timeframe (typically of 2 – 4 weeks) for creating selected features from the backlog.


A finite period of time where work is carried out to achieve a goal or meet an objective. The deadline should not be moved; work within a timebox should be prioritised. At a low level a timebox will be a matter of days or weeks (e.g. a sprint). Higher-level timeboxes act as aggregated timeboxes and contain lower-level timeboxes (e.g. stages).

User Story

A tool used to write a requirement in the form of who, what and why. The requirements expressed in user stories should be short, simple and easy to understand, meaning enhanced communications and improved estimations.

Waterfall method

A sequential process in which progress is seen as flowing steadily downwards (like a waterfall) through phases of concept/initiation, requirements, specification, analysis, design, development, testing and implementation.

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