Sprint is a four-letter word

Finish Line
I’ve always been uncomfortable with the term sprint. It’s a short word, easy to say and quick to type, but the connotations can be misleading, especially for people new to Scrum. I used to run track in high school, and I have a pretty vivid body memory of what it felt like to sprint – an all-out blast of energy expenditure that left me panting, heaving, and, sometimes, if I’d pushed hard enough, even nauseated. I was no Usain Bolt, but I wasn’t a slug either. I was a regular person, reasonably able to run pretty well. It left me in no condition to do anything but sit there recuperating until my muscles and lungs stopped screaming and returned to functioning normally.

You can’t sprint your ass off, pause for a minute, and then do it all over again. It’s not sustainable. And yet one of the most important benefits of the Scrum framework is that it provides a sustainable rhythm for work. It’s meant to be the opposite of a death march or a self-destructive series of Jolt-fueled all-nighters followed by days of hibernation and recovery.

There’s always the argument that after enough use, the word itself becomes a signifier for the concept and its connotations become less relevant. Who, after all, thinks about chitinous little bugs when talking about John, Paul, George, and Ringo? But words do matter, otherwise we’d refer to everything with algebraic letters, symbols, or glyphs. So, no, I’m not proposing that we start referring to sprints with Σ (even though that would be awfully cool), but language being what it is, the other commonly used terms are each fraught in their own ways. I tried using iteration for a while, but Nathan found that made people think about dozens of tiny, obsessive refinements towards a specific ideal. Sprints are about getting shit done and perfect being the enemy of good, most definitely not about obsessiveness or idealism. Timebox, another common-ish term, feels cold, bureaucratic, and constricting. So, in the spirit of Scrum, we continue to try out different words, getting a sense of how well they do or don’t work, and we iterate our way forward. We may never have the definitive word, there certainly isn’t a perfect one, but in the meantime we’ll keep talking, training, coaching, and working.

UPDATE: Sasha Magee offered some interesting proposals from the sport of cycling: