So what’s in a name … ? Does it matter what you call your chunks of work ?

In many ways it doesn’t – different people use the terms inter-changeably. Sprint is specifically a Scrum term, XP tends to use Iteration, each different Agile approach has different ways of defining and using the terms. However the common ground is that they are regular, repeated timeboxes used to manage the work to be done so that there are regular checkpoints and feedback as part of the project process.

However there are some important differences between the processes of iterating versus incrementing.

Jeff Paton has posted a nice summary of the difference, along with some pictures that help to make it clear:

Iterating: Starting with an idea of what is wanted and refining that idea to get the desired result

Iterating (thanks to Jeff Paton)

Incrementing: Starting with a much more definite understanding and building piece by piece

Incrementing (thanks to Jeff Paton)

Both still have the benefit of regular feedback and both can still deliver usable software at the end of the timebox. Incrementing is probably more useful when requirements are more stable or better understood, whilst iterating allows a more agile response to changing or unclear requirements. There’s no reason why a project can’t use both, at different times and for different features – in fact most projects probably should.

So – whatever you call your timebox periods, make sure you understand whether you want to iterate or increment.

One comment

  1. For me you have to always start off with the Step 1 of Iterating as shown, which is proving and overcoming
    1 – End to end all technical risks and creating a thin “happy path” through the system.
    2 – Overall framework to work within.

    On the basis of this framework (Iterate Step 1) you then move to an incremental approach as shown in the second example 1,2,3.

    Skipping the first “big picture” step is a real recipe for disaster. For example, in the pictures shown, just say the commissioning client looks at the Incremental Step 2 and says “Errr, it was a full length portrait I was after, not a 3/4 length. Can u turn it into a full sized one?” At which point you throw everything out as Mona Lisas head has been painted too big!

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