by Marty Focazio.

How organizations’ inconsistent use of language impacts efficiency.

One of the most important things you can do when developing a coherent way of working is to think hard about the language used to describe things and ways of doing things.

It is extremely common for an organization to have very different words or very different meanings of words to describe the same thing.  Without a coherent understanding of what we mean when we say things it is nearly impossible to develop an effective technological development process nor operational governance model, nor experience design.

Let me give a very good example that we run into all the time, and that is the word “Agile.”  Agile is one of those words that has an extremely specific meaning in the world of software development methodologies. When you unpack what’s inside the agile software development methodology, you find a vast framework for managing tasks, work assignments, progress reporting and more.

For people outside of software development world, agile is just another adjective. It may seem difficult for a technologist to understand but saying that a project will be using agile methodology does not mean “a complete software development management and governance philosophy and operating framework with things called epics, backlogs, story points & sprints to most people.” It’s just an adjective.

This is why one of the basic tools we use when establishing a better way of working is the coherent language model. This a complete reference of the nouns and the verbs that are important to an organization. It is amazing to see how frequently organizations have multiple terms for the same thing, and how the definition of common terms varies wildly within an organization.

A Great (and Frequent) Example

If you are in a business that is involved in retail sales, what do you call the people who give you money for your stuff? if you answered “customers” that’s great.  But does everyone else call them “customers?” Or are they called one or more of the following terms?

  1. Shoppers
  2. Customers
  3. Visitors
  4. Prospects
  5. Users

It’s amazing how common it is to have four, five, even ten different words to describe the same human being interacting with an organization through technology.

Our Language Modeler

We use a way of modeling the language an organization uses to describe itself, those it interacts with, and the things it does. The language modeler takes the form of two worksheets.

One is for the nouns of the organization. This is quite simply the people places and things that an organization has or interacts with. In rows, list out the nouns. In columns, list out the definitions as given by people in the “Business” vs. the “Technology” groups of your organization. Add columns as needed. And the other is the verbs, the particular things that an organization does and the systems of record that enable that verb.

Give it a try with your own organization – it’s amazing what you learn when you realize the words you’re using don’t mean the same thing and understand how communicating inefficiently impacts productivity.

Martin Focazio is the CEO of Coherent Ways, and a strategic partner of Bongo Consulting. Coherent Ways is a consultancy & training organization that crafts better ways for people to work with technology. Marty has worked with the world’s leading brands to envision, validate and transform ways of working and refactor old businesses into modern digital enterprises.