The Words We Use - Sprint

Published on January 02, 2023

the words we use project management

1 min read

This post is part of The Words We Use series.

Sprint is commonly used in software engineering to describe a period of planned work, and frankly, it annoys me a bit. Let me explain.

I live in beautiful Boise, ID surrounded by hundreds of miles of foothill trails, like the one pictured above. When I venture out on my mountain bike, I know I have to pace myself according to the physical challenges of that specific trail. It’s rare that I find myself sprinting.

Setting aside how the software industry has co-opted the word, the definition of sprint is:

“to run or go at top speed especially for a short distance”


When I do find myself in an all-out exertion, typically climbing a steeper section of hill, my body demands a period of lower intensity rest if I’m going to be able to continue.

Neither in athletics, nor in knowledge work, can people sustain a 100% pace for an extended period of time. Only with rest comes growth. But if we expect our teams to constantly sprint towards deadlines, is it any wonder that people experience burn out?

If an unsustainable pace is not our intention, are there alternatives that add clarity? I believe there are.

  • When talking about a “sprint”, in a generalized discussion of a methodology, nothing is lost by using “work period.”
  • When talking about a team’s specific implementation of a methodology, we can say exactly what we mean. For example, “during the next sprint” might become “during the next two weeks.”

By dropping the jargon, clarity of communication is improved for all audiences.