Sunday, November 06, 2005

Wording and Definitions

A common problem when you put two humans into a room is misunderstanding in language. Different backgrounds, perceptions, or outlooks give people different definitions to words. I generally strive to use common words in a project so that we can avoid some of this confusion, but it always seems to creep up. The thing that surprises me is it comes up at the weirdest times. Usually, in heated discussions when in a fever of disagreement, you find you were arguing over definitions. And not the intention of getting the goal accomplished. A relief comes over the room and consensus occurs. But, you feel like the time leading to it was wasted. If only we could have only come to the conclusion sooner!

What's the solution? Project dictionaries are excellent for this. Create a spreadsheet with the words of the domain. Write the definitions from the dictionary and the end user's perspective. And then stick to them. But, this only addresses the business domain words, what about everything else? For example, we recently had a difference of perception over the definition of the word, "collaboration". At first, I was shocked that we could differ on such a common word. But, the ensuing discussion helped me realize how better to deal with certain members of my team. I learned how to be a better team partner to them.

The rush of wasted time came over me again and I quickly brushed it off. I realized discussions of definition are not wasted time! But, opportunities to see how people perceive their world and to more successfully communicate with them. Sure, it's a long way to get to the point, but the journey is what is important here. What I used to think of as wasted time, isn't.

Much like the discussions of the project dictionary are good. Those long detours over definitions are good as well. But, the outcome is different. The project dictionary is an aid for understanding the problem, and differences of definition allow us to learn more from our team partners.

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