Agile, Scrum Or Sprint – What’s The Difference?

by | Jan 10, 2016 | 0 comments

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One thing I see a lot in agile transformations is people mixing up their terms around all the different agile ideas. There’s nothing wrong in this, I used to do the same myself when I started out, but I think it’s important to know what the different terms mean, both so you can understand the ideas they contain, and so you can communicate clearly with others.

So then, here’s how I think of it.

Agile is a mindset and a philosophy, a way of seeing the world and approaching problems. If you want to see a good source for its ideas, then you could do worse than the agile manifesto, but it’s generally agreed by those who study it that there is no single agreed definition of what agile is and is not. Which is part of the reason it’s a philosophy, an art rather than a science. As people often say, don’t do agile, be agile. Agile is a state of being, not a thing you do.

That’d be pretty rubbish in and of itself though. How should you start to be agile unless you know what things to do and what not to do? Here’s where ideas like Scrum come in.

Scrum is one of many different approaches called agile frameworks. Each of these frameworks start to bring the ideas in agile to life, suggesting ways people should work together, tasks they should regularly undertake, types of meetings they should regularly hold. I think the easiest way of understanding this is to think of a religion like christianity. Christianity is a way of being and way of seeing the world, based around a manifesto called The Bible. Within Christianity though, you get lots of different types of Christian worship, like Catholicism, Anglicanism, Methodism and so on. Agile is like Christianity, and Scrum is like just one of the religions that exist under the Christian banner. Sadly this analogy also holds true in that like a religion, the different frameworks sometimes argue between each other and even amongst themselves over small details of right and wrong.

So what about things like sprints then? Well, sprints are just one of the elements of an agile framework like Scrum. A sprint is typically a fixed period of time, no longer than a month and often shorter, in which a team commits to deliver a certain number of things.

Basically, all of this is a hierarchy. The word agile is the top level of all of this, and describes a philosophy and a mindset that encompasses all the agile things within it. At the next level down, agile is brought to life using frameworks such as Scrum, and one level below that, within those frameworks you get different meetings, process and job roles, one of which is called a sprint.

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About The Author

Gez Smith is an agile communications coach, trainer, author and speaker, and is also the author of ‘Agile Marketing: The Incomplete Guide‘.