When words go bad

By | February 16, 2015

“Don’t assume your customers think like you”

“Don’t assume your customers think like you” is my number one piece of advice for anyone starting a new business. It was one of the critical errors I made in 2004 that resulted in my first start-up failing and still holds true today.


I was again reminded of this during a discussion a couple of weeks ago when one of the group, Amy, stated that we sometimes use words that might not always send the message we intend. Her example was “backlog” (in relation to the Product Backlog and Sprint Backlog). Whilst we understand that it refers to new items that we intend to work on in the future, to the uninitiated it might mean something much more negative. A dictionary definition is “a reserve or accumulation, as in stock, work or business: a backlog of business orders”. Backlog, it appears, is often associated with a failure to deliver, bottlenecks and a loss of revenue. Our fresh, new and exciting work items that just haven’t been started are being ascribed a stigma of failure.

What else are people reading into our jargon? Is a Sprint seen as a “brief spell of great activity” followed by inactivity or a period of fast-work focused only on finishing at the expense of all else and done in isolation? Does a burn down chart record work items that have been ruined? Is an epic “a long poetic composition, centred around a hero”? Is a retrospective “a showing of works representing all or a major part of a career” of the team? Hang on, isn’t that a Sprint Review? But maybe a Sprint Review is interpreted as a chance for the team to review how well the recently completed Sprint went? Forecast or commitment? Let’s not go there again.

The solution? I’m not suggesting we change any of the above words, but it might be worth checking how people are interpreting what you are saying. It appears that what people are hearing, may not be what we are saying.

Photo credit: chocxtc

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