Three Controversial Terms Associated with Scrum

controversial scrum terms

With how widespread Scrum is today, it’s hard to believe that the first Scrum Guide was only published in 2010. Not only that, but the Agile Manifesto itself was only signed in 2001. With practices this new, there are bound to be hiccups along the way. Let’s take a brief look at three controversial terms that are associated with Scrum – one icky term that was in the guide at one point, one unintentionally insensitive term used unofficially by many teams, and one term that I predict will one day be the focus of additional controversy.

Backlog “Grooming”

One of the tips given in the 2010 version of the Scrum Guide was that the Product Backlog would undergo “grooming”. In 2011, it was added as an official part of the guide. Backlog grooming was defined as adding more details to the product backlog items with the Product Owner and the Scrum Team. The goal of grooming was to ensure that work items were ready to work at the time they would be pulled into the Sprint Backlog. The thing that makes backlog “grooming” a controversial term?

The word “grooming” has a negative, icky connotation associated with it. The behavior of adults who befriend and create an emotional bond with an under age minor with bad or even illegal intentions is known today as grooming. It’s not something you want associated with your brand.

In 2013, the Scrum Guide replaced the controversial term with “Backlog Refinement,” a much more accurate and less icky way to say it. Some people still use the term “grooming” today, but they should really stop…

Daily “Stand-up” Meeting

While the Scrum Guide has never used the term “Daily Stand-up” to refer to the “Daily Scrum” – the planning meeting held by the Scrum Team every working day, there are still many people who use the two terms interchangeably. Even Jeff Sutherland, one of the authors of the Scrum Guide sometimes refers to the meeting as the “Daily Stand-up” meeting. So what makes this such a controversial term?

Not everybody can stand up. The term has been branded as ableist, discrimination in favor of able-bodied people. While I am certain that is not the intention of people who use the term, we have to remember to be careful about the words we use.

Personally, I like using the term “Daily Scrum” not just because it’s the proper term, but because I love the image that it evokes when saying it. A rugby team huddled closely together with high energy in a scrum is a much better image than a bunch of people standing around in place, after all. You want to energize your team and get ready to tackle the day’s work – simply standing up is a passive action. Not to mention that there’s a large amount of these meetings nowadays that are handled remotely and I can assure you that most people do not stand up in order to attend.

The Scrum Master

Here it is: my prediction for what controversial term will be debated and ultimately go away. Someday, we will no longer refer to the servant leader who rallies the team and the company on Scrum principles the Scrum Master.

How do I know? We only need to look as far as the changes that have been made to decades old terminology of “master” and “slave” used in computing. Even GitHub replaced the term “Master” in 2020 to “Main” when referring to the primary branch of the code. The fact that the role of “Scrum Master” still exists in the official Scrum Guide several years after the tech industry backed away from using the term “master” makes the role’s name stand out that much more.

So, what will the title of the role be in the future? Scrum Champion? Scrum Sherpa? Scrum Wizard? I don’t know. I just hope that it’s something really extravagant, because I love to see the looks on people’s faces when I tell them I am a Scrum Master. It makes me feel like I’m an incredible martial artist or something when I really think of it. But not everyone will feel the same way when they hear that word, and I think that will one day bring about the abandonment of the term. I could be wrong, though.

1 thought on “Three Controversial Terms Associated with Scrum”

  1. My opinion is that Master is just fine. There are plenty of other masters that I think there will be some pushback on getting rid of it.

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