Agility jargon buster: Decoding the words we use to describe agile working
Agile working is top of mind for most businesses now. Especially since lots of organisations are still using a hybrid model, with teams both in and out of office, requiring extra flexibility and adaptability. At Avado, as we were working on launching our new Agility Academy earlier this year, we quickly realised that a lot of words and phrases associated with agile working are confusing. Of course, working in an agile way is more than just using the right language. But, you can get there faster with the help of this handy guide. If you think something is missing from our list, feel free to reach out and we’ll update it.
A backlog, or product backlog, is a list of new elements, changes to existing elements, bug fixes, infrastructure changes or any other work a team might be doing to achieve a particular outcome. It should be the go-to resource for all the things that team is working on, and if something isn’t in the backlog, there should be no expectation that it’ll get done.
This is like triage for your backlog (see above). You don’t want your backlog to get too cluttered, out of order or filled with things that aren’t important. So you should structure it, organise it and focus on the most important things first.
Continuous improvement should be part of your retrospective meetings (more on that below), and it should involve keeping your processes flexible so you can make them better as you move forward.
An agile epic is a body of work that can be broken down into specific tasks (called user stories, see more on that below). Each task is based on the needs and requests of customers.
This is a strategy that involves executing an idea quickly, gathering either positive or negative feedback on it and then using that feedback to improve the initial idea. The mindset that should be applied to this process is that failing quickly is better than dragging things out and failing slowly.
Just as epics are made up of stories, initiatives are made up of epics. Initiatives are a level of organisation above epics, and they often compile epics from multiple teams to reach a much broader goal than any one epic on its own. You might complete an epic in a month or a quarter, but initiatives can take up to a year.
This is a framework for implementing Agile that involves designing, managing and improving flow systems for knowledge work. It allows organisations to start from their current workflow and build towards big changes. That can happen by visualising workflow while cutting back on work in progress (WIP), which can help a team fully complete those tasks rather than just starting new ones.
MVP (Minimum Viable Product)
MVP is a concept that focuses on the impact learning can have while you’re developing a new product. Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, created this acronym and defined it as “that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” A key part of MVP is creating a real product for your customers that you can give to them and then observe how they interact with it. This is a much more valuable exercise than just asking your customers how they would use a product.
These should be ongoing meetings that reflect on the work done since the last sprint (more on that below). You should talk about milestones and significant events, as well as identifying opportunities to improve as you move forward.
A scrum is a process framework for implementing Agile a team can use to manage both product development and any other knowledge work. It’s especially useful because it provides a method for a team to create a hypothesis, test that hypothesis, reflect on outcomes and then make any necessary adjustments.
A sprint is a short period during which a team works to complete a set amount of tasks. This method of working is at the core of agile working because getting sprints right will help you work quickly and more effectively.
A stand up is a daily meeting that works like a status check. A stand up should be an opportunity for quick updates and to make sure everyone on your team is on the same page.
In a way, stories in agile are similar to stories in a film or book. It’s a simple narrative, and a series of related stories makes up an epic. For work management, the completion of related stories leads to the completion of an epic. Stories will tell the arc of the work while the epic gives a higher-level view of the objective.
Themes are organisational tools that help label backlog items, epics, and initiatives so everyone can understand what work contributes to what goals. Although themes don’t need to have a rigid relationship to epics and initiatives, they should still inspire them. For a rocket ship company, for example, a theme might be “Safety First.”
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