We are separated by a common language
Or to give the full quote:
‘England and America are two countries separated by a common language.’ George Bernard Shaw
Putting aside that there are differences in language, meaning and pronunciation between the various global speakers of the ‘Mother Tongue’, including the native Ireland of playwright Shaw, we should all understand each other, shouldn’t we?
In an earlier post I talked about the Esoterica that all communities and groups use to create and reinforce their different-ness from other tribes. Unfortunately, in the workplace, particularly in multidisciplinary project teams that share common goals, talking the same language is a fundamental ingredient for success.
Differences are a good thing
The workers and practitioners in any industry, individual organisations and even smaller groups of colleagues, tend to develop their own domain-specific languages. There will be unofficial lexicons of words and acronyms (or ‘TLAs’ Three Letter Algorithms as would-be office comedians sometimes say), buzzwords and shorthand phrases. Trying to understand the jargon may be frustrating, it may be amusing (have you ever played Buzzword Bingo?) or possibly annoying if we perceive it as a barrier to inclusion. But as outsiders it is not in our best interests to criticise or even to try to change the language. My role as a Business Analyst is to understand what is being said, interpret meanings (semantics), and resolve any vague or inconsistent terms. Here are a few informal tools and techniques to help with this exploration.
Top toolkit tips
The simplest and most common device is simply capturing each term in an alphabetic list, including a description and any similar words (synonyms).
Part of the glossary or a separate document. Don’t be afraid to ask what that TLA means, even if – especially if – everyone else appears to know. Remember the parable of the ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ – if you don’t ask, you won’t know.
Noun and verb mining
Your 1st day in a new department or on a new project and you have a stack of documents to read that is, frankly, unintelligible! As you read through make a conscious note of the significant nouns and verbs that appear. Do you know what they mean, even simple words like Customer, Account, validate, accept/decline etc. may hide a rich picture of how an organisation operates.
Also known as Data, Entity or Class Modelling. This is a much bigger topic – to be explored another time – but suffice to say data it is often a major part of what a business does and the software ‘Information Systems’ that support the business processes.
Code lists, Business Rules, Generalisation & Specialisation
Again like Data, these can be big topics in their own right. Back to the earlier examples, what type of Account are possible (Debit, Credit, Current/Checking – is there a list of the allowable types?), are all Customers the same, what rules dictate how we treat Business or Private Clients, are there specific features or attributes of each group? We are straying into business analysis here, but the message to take away is that only by exploring a bit deeper the usage, context and nuances can you hope to understand what words really mean.
Yes pictures. We all know that ‘a picture paints a 1,000 words’. So, why not illustrate a process, some requirements, or the finished product or website as a picture, a storyboard or a diagram. This is often the easiest short-cut to filling in a number of the blanks in the glossary.
And finally…why bother?
Why is all the above endeavor necessary, why do I need to know about the jargon? In one line; software development and change projects are fundamentally about interpreting needs, and those needs are mostly expressed in verbal or written language. So words that people use are important to get the best outcomes (new or improved business and IT systems), even if the words are, ‘…barbarous, debased or hybrid’!
Have you got any tips on busting jargon? Comment here, email or send me a tweet. Thank you.
(Ed. this article is also available in the table of T elements)
(c) 2015 Antony Lawrence CBA Ltd.