One of the founding principles of the Agile Manifesto is

Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Scrum teams use the term sprint to refer to a work cycle (also known as an iteration).

However this doesn't make sense to me. According to Google a sprint is:

run at full speed over a short distance.

In other words it's not sustainable. Why do Scrum teams use the word sprint? It appears to me to conflict one of the basic principles of Agile.

  • 2
    My first thought is perhaps it's because we're meant to take breaks in between the sprints to reflect on the last one and plan the next one. And of course, both kinds of sprint should be relatively short (compared to a waterfall).
    – Ixrec
    Jun 4, 2015 at 18:39
  • 81
    Because Scrum methodology is all about buzzwords. In order to leverage the synergies for operational excellence, you need to skate to where the puck is going to be.
    – user22815
    Jun 4, 2015 at 18:44
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    @Snowman: You're working my side of the street. Quit it! :-)
    – Blrfl
    Jun 4, 2015 at 20:17
  • 1
    Perhaps it's because "amble", "stroll", "wander" and the like don't sound so good when reporting up to management.
    – Simon B
    Jul 9, 2015 at 8:28
  • 1
    I think it has to do more with the fact that it's uninterrupted. People are supposed to be focused on doing and the bulk of the overhead stuff waits for the end.
    – JimmyJames
    May 16, 2017 at 16:39

6 Answers 6


In other words it's not sustainable.


You don't run a sprint for months at a time in most Agile (well functioning ones, I'm sure some "we wanted buzzwords so we're an Agile waterfall shop" do), you have short sprints, followed by new planning/retros/etc.

That's the point.

Why do Scrum teams use the word "Sprint"? It appears to me to conflict one of the basic principals of Agile.

The basic principles of Agile are relatively broad, but the main point is to not run a "marathon" that's planned initially (ie waterfall), but to break it into very short pieces.

Hence, "sprint."

As for where the term came from within Agile, the SCRUM Development Process seminal work used the term. I suspect no one has changed it since.

For those of you curious about length, from that work:

A Sprint is a set of development activities conducted over a pre-defined period, usually one to four weeks. The interval is based on product complexity, risk assessment, and degree of oversight desired. Sprint speed and intensity are driven by the selected duration of the Sprint.

  • What's "short"? Apparently, "months" is too long, what's the balance then? Jun 4, 2015 at 18:48
  • @FlorianMargaine according to the initial work on Scrum, 1-4 weeks. Your mileage will vary greatly as to how frequently this is used... most developers will have opinions on the matter and it's nearly impossible to authoritatively prove one length is "right." But if you read through that paper (I edited in a link) you will find the criteria on how to define a sprint length.
    – enderland
    Jun 4, 2015 at 19:06
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    Anyway I think the point is you can't take the analogy too far. Or rather, you can all too easily take it too far but you shouldn't. It's just a jargon term. Literally speaking you can't sprint for 1-4 weeks (15-20 seconds is about my limit but then I'm out of shape), and also even in a series of sprints you can't sprint 90% of the time indefinitely. In particular, you should not be "working flat out" for the duration of the sprint. You're insulated from distractions and changes of course, but you still go home at night, goof around a bit, that sort of thing. Jun 4, 2015 at 22:57
  • 3
    The term they uses is still flawed. In Real Life a sprint is an exception. You don't sprint pause sprint pause. They should have named it stroll or jaunt. But then it wouldn't have been a good buzzword.
    – xanatos
    Jun 5, 2015 at 8:23
  • "not run a "marathon"" - or walk a death march...
    – mikołak
    Jun 5, 2015 at 14:06

The idea is that between sprints, you have meetings to communicate project status, fix pressing issues, and generally regroup. In Agile terminology's mixed metaphor, you can imagine sprints are separated by rests (meetings, planning, etc).

  • There are no meetings between Sprints in Scrum. Sprint Planning, Sprint Review, and the Retrospective are all part of the Sprint.
    – Cope
    May 17, 2017 at 13:41

One thing I have always associated with "sprint" is that it encourages the attitude of putting the head down and pushing to the end of the sprint without as much concern for what happens beyond the sprint, or for changing environments during the sprint.

It is my opinion that this mindset is actually more important for management than it is for the developers. The developers are exposed to the nitty-gritty reality of development. They know what has to be done and how to do it.

However, management is not always in tune with this part of the reality of the business. The word "sprint" is something they can hold in their mind which defends the explanation of why you can't change direction mid-sprint. The team is sprinting, committed to achieving the product in the shortest possible time. Consider the difference between a 100 yard sprint and a 100 yard hurdle.


The term is rooted more broadly in the metaphor established by Takeuchi and Nonaka in their HBR article, "The New New Product Development Game" based on a rugby metaphor. One forms a Scrum to move the other team off the ball and then "sprints" down the field to a goal.

The Scrum terms "sprint goal" and others borrow from this same metaphor.

Metaphors are metaphors and are not to be taken overly literally. That may be the problem here.


I would assume it's because in a sprint, you know where you are and you know where you need to get to, and it's a fairly linear path to get there. It's not sustainable over the long term, but sprints in software development are not very long before you plot out your next destination.

Similarly, you could run a short sprint each day (in workout terms, I mean). As long as you are taking rests and plotting out goals and destinations it is attainable.


The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

A sprint means... run at full speed over a short distance.

Using the term sprint is still compatible with the (Agile) ability to maintain a constant pace.

A whole group maintaining a constant pace does not necessarily mean that they are all moving at the same speed at any given moment. Consider, for example, that a relay team might run at a constant pace, collectively, while, individually, they may be either: sprinting, waiting, or recovering.

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