Why I’m going to stop saying agile ceremonies

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Many people use the term “Agile ceremonies” as a collective term for activities like standups, retrospectives, reviews and planning.

I’ve always felt uncomfortable with the word “ceremony” in this context. It’s never sat well with me and I don’t like using it with people who are new to agile ways of working.

I’ve been thinking about why that is.

A quick look for “Ceremony” on the Oxford dictionary says

“the ritual observances and procedures required or performed at grand and formal occasions”

A google image search mirrors the sentiment here.

Ceremony sounds formal. It sounds like going through a set of steps because it’s the way it’s always been done. It evokes visions of starched formal wear, legal documents, marching and rituals. And worst still, it can make people think agile is a bit of a cult.

This does not fit well with ideas of collaboration, trust, adaptability and learning. It takes away from the reasons for doing an activity and focuses on the process of doing it.

So I’m not going to use it anymore.

I’m going to use habits and patterns.

Simple definitions of these words are:

Habits: a routine behaviour repeated regularly until it happens without having to explicitly think about it.

Patterns: proven solutions to repeatable problems

Teams can use patterns when they are new to a concept; it helps them to work within some constraints and build habits. One habit could be daily communicating, using the standup pattern.

Building habits takes some mental energy. Once something is a habit, it takes less mental energy, and the team can build on top of it and create their own new patterns.

There is loads more out there about habits, and I recommend reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this below.


  1. Well indeed. I’ve long thought this terminology of “ceremonies” to be absurd & pretentious. And it’s not the only term that our profession needs to change, IMO:


  2. RT @ewebber: New blog post: Why I’m going to stop saying “agile ceremonies” https://t.co/Id8gRBcpvO – comments welcome

  3. RT @ewebber: New blog post: Why I’m going to stop saying “agile ceremonies” https://t.co/Id8gRBcpvO – comments welcome

  4. You might enjoy chapter 3 in, The Path, by Professor Michael Piety & Christine Gross-Loh.
    It’s about customs and rituals. Just read it this morning and was thinking about agile/my team/how we work/personal growth.
    You can read my copy.

  5. RT @ewebber: New blog post: Why I’m going to stop saying “agile ceremonies” https://t.co/Id8gRBcpvO – comments welcome

  6. And something that’s a ‘ceremonial role’: “A position, function, or event that is ceremonial is considered to be representative of an institution, but has very little authority or influence” https://dictionary.reverso.net/english-cobuild/ceremonial+role

    That last bit ‘has very little authority or influence’ worries me about a thing you repeatedly do.


  7. Funny, I’ve always though that using “ceremonies” was pejorative, when you were talking about agility circus / shallow agile / cargo culting. I didn’t realise people used it with a straight face.

    I tend to say “dances”, but I like habits and patterns. I’m going to start playing with those.

    • ewebber

      1 July 2018 at 1:58 pm

      I hear it everywhere, completely straight face. But I won’t be using it anymore.

  8. I don’t know where the word “ceremony” came from in this context. So far as I can tell, it was never in the Scrum Guide though people seem to think it comes from there. And it makes me twitch whenever I hear it used this way because the events it’s used for are not symbolic or ritualistic – they’re WORKING MEETINGS. I get why folks don’t like the word ‘meeting’ either as most of us find the idea of a ‘working meeting’ oxymoronic based on previous experience. I do like the sound of ‘habits’ and ‘patterns’ and will try those on for size.

  9. Habit is a great word. We often use it instead of behaviours which can have condescending aspect.

  10. Damon Davison

    29 June 2018 at 11:53 am

    I use the term “agile practices”.

    I think “agile ceremonies” sounds pejorative, as for many people—perhaps most—a ceremony is something that you do for social or religious reasons. I often hear it used this way.

    It’s well possible that many people haven’t internalized these practices and /are/ doing them because everyone else is. Maybe they feel like they’ve joined the one true religion, but that’s not what being agile is about.

    I work using agile practices because it’s largely a combination of reasonable, time-tested, and scientific approaches to help make us/me better at building things. Like many, I think these can be divided into “developer practices”, such as XP, and “team practices”, such as Scrum.

    “Habits” and “patterns” for me are too neutral. Agile may in part be about forming /good/ habits and identifying /useful/ patterns, but I feel that for the most part, it’s just a set of *best practices*.

    That’s why I say “agile practices”.

    • ewebber

      1 July 2018 at 2:03 pm

      I like to use practices as a collective term – “as a team we follow agile practices”. For me habits is a really useful way to think of specific things because of the implicit / explicit memory aspect and reduced mental power needed once something becomes a habit. I did a talk on something similar a few years back (even though that slide deck says ceremonies in it!)

      • Damon Davison

        1 July 2018 at 2:52 pm

        I feel quite strongly that we should be conscious of the practices we apply, so “habit” is not what I’m looking for.

  11. Duncan Garmonsway

    1 July 2018 at 1:29 pm

    Bucking the trend here, but I don’t think this is a fair case against the word ‘ceremony’. There are other definitions in the dictionary, and many more more familiar examples, like the blowing out of candles, leavers drinks, after-match handshakes. They aren’t reasonable but they are important. Same as agile ceremonies like a retrospectives are easily devalued on reasonable grounds but if you ignored them then eventually the team stops working so well. Habits can be good and bad, but we don’t give them the same value as ceremonies.

  12. We don’t use the word, but I have heard the term “scrum artifacts” used by people who’ve gone through the course. The main problem is that his term is never really explained to anyone else, or described in terms of why any particular aspect is useful, or what it aims to do.

    Personally I think anything not in plain English is doomed to be taken as something “fancy” or external. “Guidance” is one thing. “Best practice” can be ok, if you can say why. But for quick introductions to habit, etc, a simple intro of “something that we do as part of our process” is possibly more approachable when talking to people who don’t have a massive background in agile/scrum/dev processes.

    “Every day we [do something] as it helps us to [achieve something]. If we don’t, then we often find that [something happens].”

    Otherwise, for a slightly shorter, more linguistic list, just “as part of our scrum process, we employ…” followed by a list of meetings, roles, etc. But this would be more for people that would understand the basics.

    Would be interested to know why certain words are used and are useful though. Contexts differ… 🙂

  13. James Mitchell

    2 July 2018 at 2:46 pm

    I’m not sure why the term “Habitual Encounters” is so prominent in my mind personally but I like to think of it exactly in the sense you described the term habit referring to “a routine behaviour repeated regularly until it happens without having to explicitly think about it.” and encounter being described as “an unexpected or casual meeting with someone or something.” clearly encounter could use some tweaks but I like it.

    “Meetings” are generally the place where we plan to share knowledge on an individual level about the day to day stuff, future ideas, plans to accomplish goals, where we might be running into some barrier and if there might be other perspectives around that could share some knowledge on how we might solve these complex or simple problems and then we go back to our regular days. not communicating this stuff until the next “meeting”

    So this is based on the idea of flattening the hierarchical systems to create communication through all individuals and really allowing collaboration to inspire innovation to challenge these complex problems we will begin to face.

    But by creating the norm and making “habit” of sharing information with everyone, taking the time when you actually encounter another employee to have a conversation and discuss issues you might be facing whether that employee be front line or c-suite level, once we realize that every individual has a unique perspective to things and that all these perspectives are neither right or wrong (with some exceptions) but rather just different takes towards the same things. That is when like you spoke of we will see a real change in culture.

    I guess that’s just my condensed version of my perspective more fueled by the idea of culture change than anything I believe. Having your own unique perspective is important but when you are open minded enough to realize that when you start to mold diverse perspectives is when you get the truly powerful outcomes.

    Fueled from this wonderful blog post, of a very intelligent and different perspective on “meetings”
    Cheers 🙂

    • ewebber

      2 July 2018 at 8:15 pm

      thanks James.
      Have you read anything by Alex Pentland? His book “Social Physics” talks about how organisations with more encounters are more successful. It sounds like you might enjoy it.

  14. ewebber

    3 July 2018 at 4:36 am

  15. ewebber

    3 July 2018 at 4:38 am

  16. ewebber

    3 July 2018 at 4:39 am

  17. ewebber

    3 July 2018 at 4:40 am

  18. ewebber

    3 July 2018 at 4:41 am

  19. ewebber

    3 July 2018 at 4:41 am

  20. ewebber

    3 July 2018 at 4:42 am

  21. ewebber

    3 July 2018 at 4:42 am

  22. ewebber

    3 July 2018 at 4:43 am

  23. ewebber

    3 July 2018 at 4:44 am

  24. ewebber

    3 July 2018 at 4:44 am

  25. I may be late to the party on this post but didn’t the Scrum Guide change last year to call them Scrum Events?

    I’ve never liked this ‘new’ terminology myself – you just have to Google it to to realise how counter productive it is.

  26. I respectfully fully disagree and on the contrary point out, why I won’ t and why I believe it is truly in place.
    I am management consultant and social engineer. Agile is just one toolbox during transformations or optimizations.
    Ceremony has a set a defined purpose, procedure and its participants know their roles and expected value added.
    Now look at wedding for example. As a guest, I know what wedding is and what is at the end. I know the rough procedure and I know that as a guest I must make pep talk, stand, sit, stand, sit, applaud, stand, sit, dance, eat, etc.

    Compare this to often chaotic and diluted “syncs” “jourfix” “meet” “status” etc. and you get the difference. Of course, regular meetings can be great but it depends on the people. The agile ceremonies define the most required baseline layer of activities that will bring you to actual value and often it is because they are well defined and people know what to expect.

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