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The Scrum Terms Need to Change

The Scrum Terms Need to Change

Anthony Mersino

April 28, 2023

11:34 AM

How did we end up in 2023 with a set of standard terms for agile ways of working that don’t really make any sense?

I’m talking about the language introduced in Scrum which has become the standard for most agile teams. Terms like Product, Product Owner, and Scrum Master. And backlogs.

Most of us have grown so familiar with these terms from Scrum that we don’t see the concern. However, when I am working with new agile teams, they always have questions about these odd-sounding terms. These terms mean other things to these people.

Could we please change to a more standard set of terms?

How The Scrum Terms Became Pervasive

Most people know that Scrum was created in 1995 by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. Though not the first agile framework, today it is the most popular agile framework with roughly 80% of respondents claiming to use Scrum or a Scrum hybrid.

Since 2010, Sutherland and Schwaber have co-authored the Scrum Guide, which is considered the definitive guide to the Scrum Framework. This is where you will find the terms that I think need to change. (Those of you who are using the ScrumBOK from ScrumStudy should stop reading now, this does not apply to you.)

The Scrum Framework came with a set of terms that have since become pervasive. The terms represent things that are different than what they sound.

I don’t blame Sutherland and Schwaber. The terms kinda work in Scrum. But they are terrible for teams using Kanban, Disciplined Agile, SAFe and other approaches who have adopted these terms.

Let’s roll through the ones that I find problematic.


Let’s start with Product. There are some teams using Scrum that are actually delivering a product. But there are just as many others who are building a solution, service, or maintaining an application. There are also teams using Scrum to deliver Marketing solutions or organize their sales teams.

So why do we use the word product rather than solution?

The term product is only slightly better than the word project. Thankfully Schwaber abandoned the earlier reference to “project” that he used in his 2004 book, Agile Project Management with Scrum.

The challenge is, once you start with the word product, you spawn other issues. Like Product Owner and Product Backlog.

Product Owner

The term Product Owner is problematic. Some people in the PO role actually do “own” a “product”. But most people with the title don’t. They are simply there to prioritize the feature list. They are not able to own anything at all.

And how is a Product Owner different or the same as the industry-standard term – Product Manager? Why should we have two terms that mean very similar things, setting up situations where they conflict in organizations?

Unfortunately, the term Product Owner is now widely adopted in other frameworks like Kanban. On the surface, Kanban doesn’t include any roles (Respect the current process, roles, responsibilities and titles). Most people who adopt Kanban find themselves using the Product Owner title. This even happens for teams that are providing operational support, fixing bugs, or doing anything other than building a product. It could be the department manager that is setting the priorities but we still call her a Product Owner. Why?

What should we call this role instead? The Prioritizer. The Decider. The Sponsor.

Product Backlog

Then there is the term Product Backlog. I have two issues with this term, Product and Backlog.

I already mentioned that product is a misnomer since many teams aren’t building products.

Why do we need to use the word backlog? It makes it sound like we are already behind.

Why not call it what it is – a list of desirable features? Or simply a Features List?

The term backlog just sounds negative.


Most of us have lived with this term for a while and don’t give it a second thought. But for someone new to agile, being told to “SPRINT” is not comforting. Oh no, here comes the Product Owner, we had better get sprinting.

Sprints and sprinting are not great terms for the timeboxed iteration. Sprinting and sustainable pace are incongruent. Full stop.

Why not simply use iteration? It was already a term used for this concept when Scrum was being dreamt up.

It’s like what Steve Martin said about the French – they have a different word for everything!

Boy, those French! They have a different word for everything.

– Steve Martin

We don’t need new words for the same old things. It only confuses.

Sprint Backlog

Yes I also have an issue with the term sprint backlog. As stated, I don’t like sprint.

Why is it a Sprint Backlog?

The sprint backlog is created during the Scrum event called Sprint Planning. So why the hell are we calling it a Sprint Backlog?

Why not just call it what it is – a sprint plan. It is a plan for the sprint. Drop the backlog!

Daily Scrum

Why call the daily meeting a daily Scrum? Why not just call it a daily meeting?

Have you ever heard someone refer to the scrums? Happens frequently with people new to Scrum. It always makes me cringe.

Sometimes when someone says “the scrums”, what they mean are the sprints. Sometimes they mean the scrum teams. Rarely has someone said the scrums to mean the daily meetings.

Scrum Master

Now let’s get right to the point on this. Calling the role a Scrum Master came with it all sorts of baggage. And the arms race of agile certifications hasn’t helped.

The Scrum Master is rarely a master of anything. Sure they could be after training and perhaps 10,000 hours of experience. But they certainly aren’t after a 2-day training course. So why continue to use the term Scrum Master?

Simply having “master” as part of the term also calls to mind an unfortunate history of slavery in the US. That’s why the main bedroom in a home is now called the “primary” or the “owners”, rather than Master Bedroom.

Why not simply call them a team guide or team coach?

If you don’t like coach, what term do you like? You could pick any of the 25 different terms people use to explain Scrum Master to others because on its surface, the term Scrum Master doesn’t mean anything to people. Do you like sheepdog, gardener, firefighter or race-car mechanic any better?

It gets even messier in Kanban. I already pointed out that there are no roles in Kanban. That said, most teams use the unhelpful term Scrum Master to refer to the person who coaches the team in Kanban. It doesn’t fit. Who cares if you are a Master of Scrum (whatever that means) if you are working with a Kanban Team? Do we need a Kanban Master instead? No.

This is why I feel that coach is a better word. It is more descriptive and it fits better with other agile approaches.

I think the Disciplined Agile guys really effed up when they decided to use Scrum Master for their certification. It started with Disciplined Agile Lean Scrum Master (DALSM), which is a mouthful. When I would drop that at cocktail parties, people would slowly walk away backwards.

PMI changed the term from Disciplined Agile Lean Scrum Master when they bought Disciplined Agile back in 2019. I don’t think it helped much since they created the Disciplined Agile Scrum Master and Disciplined Agile Senior Scrum Master designations.

[See my related post about Disciplined Agile – PMI is Quietly Killing Disciplined Agile]

My final requested change is to the name of the framework itself.


Yeah, Scrum. It should go even though it is pervasive and would be difficult to change.

Scrum is a term from a game called Rugby. What do modern agile teams have to do with Rugby? Is it because they both use teams? It couldn’t be since there are many other sports that include teams like baseball, football, hockey, and basketball.

So why did choose Scrum from Rugby?

My Proposal for Standard Scrum Terms

I am not one to criticize without offering a solution for relevant scrum terms. Neither Schwaber or Sutherland has asked for my input, but I am offering it just the same.

I would have the following three roles in Scrum (and yes I would revert back to role from accountabilities):

  • Decision-Maker
  • Coach or Guide
  • Developers

I would have the following 3 artifacts:

  • Features List
  • Iteration Plan
  • Increment

I would have the following Events:

  • Iteration Planning
  • Daily Meeting
  • Iteration Review
  • Retrospective
  • Feature List Refinement

These scrum terms can work if you are using Scrum, Kanban and even if you want to use Disciplined Agile.

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