The over capitalization of Scrum

Should key terms be written with leading capitals or in sentence case? Should someone be known as a Product Owner or product owner? We are used to so many of the terms we encounter and use day-to-day being capitalized. Articles, courses, and books all scream them. Why is this? Are these really proper nouns or is it just marketing hype?

While there could be a case made for words like Scrum and Kanban being capitalized, as the titles of a framework or technique, it seems that every other word in the lean/agile space has become capitalized.

Those who have worked with me know my views on the use of the term Agile instead of agile. This goes to the heart of the over-commercialization and hype that has caused so many to view this area as an annoying fad rather than an effective response to turbulent times. It is not a proper noun, though it is often treated as a deity. It describes a mindset and a way of being that is best supported by the adjective agile or the noun agility.

As I have written before, this was the topic of my master’s thesis (The Paradox of Agile Transformation – Why trying to be Agile stops organisations from becoming agile).

Some time ago, I contributed to a major review of the Wikipedia article on Agile software development. We worked through every occurrence of the term Agile, and determined whether it should be with a leading capital or in sentence case. In most instances it became sentence case.

Having recently completed my book, ‘Scrum in easy steps‘, I was again drawn to this concern with the elements of the Scrum framework.

Every core element of Scrum is capitalized. The roles of Scrum Master, Developer, and Product Owner. The artifacts of Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, and Product Increment. The Sprint and its events: Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective. Some authors have even written Scrum in all-caps as ‘SCRUM’, and while that is definitely incorrect (as it is not an initialism), it is partly down to the original 2004 white paper ‘SCRUM Software Development’, by Ken Schwaber.

In fact this is so contagious, that many other terms have become capitalized as well: Backlog Refinement, Release Planning, etc. etc.

In my final round of editing the book, I removed capitalization from all terms that were not a core part of Scrum, as defined in the Scrum Guide. I would have gone on to remove all capitalization, but ran out of time before publication was due. I will address that when it comes to the second edition.

Motivated by this, I have recently worked with others to edit Scrum (software development) over at Wikipedia. We discussed the merits of capitalization vs sentence case, and finally agreed that the term Scrum itself and any recognized trademarks (like the Scrum Alliance or Certified Scrum Master) should retain their leading capitals, but all other terms should be formatted in sentence case. So now Scrum Master and Sprint Planning are scrum master and sprint planning.

I can still see the merits of either case, so I would be interested  to hear your thoughts. Which is better or does it even matter?

Edit: The term Development Team was superseded by the simpler term Developers in the 2020 update of the Scrum Guide.


  • Colleen

    As a technical editor and proofreader, the overuse of capitalization makes me want to scream. It’s one of my biggest challenges as there is no consistency. Unless something is a proper noun and/or trademarked, it should be lowercase.

  • Derek Bell

    I agree with your entire article re over capitalisation of terms. Just one thing – one proper noun you should get right is Ken’s surname! 😉

    • David Morris

      Oh my word. 😯 Slightly red-faced at that. Thanks for the catch. Now corrected. At least it is spelt correctly in my book. 😎

  • Peter Bowles

    Agreed. Job titles are generally not capitalized, so Scrum Master goes against to rules of English capitalization.

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