TLAs are POS and make your customers say WTF

TLAs are POS and make your customers say WTF

December 18, 2017 Corporate Life Product Ownership User Experience (UX) 0

Think about when you started in a new job or new department and the flood of acronyms that you heard. It was like people were speaking a different language and they pretty much were. I’m not saying acronyms are bad – they do have their places as mnemonic devices and to shorten things – but when they develop into a lingo that is unrecognizable to anyone outside the fold we have a problem.

I’m a coach/consultant/general therapist to orgs and when I come into a new one (or even one I’ve been working with for months) and start talking to internal people, I’m constantly asking what they’re talking about. It takes a long time to get up to speed with the acronyms and often when I ask what something means, they can’t give me what it stands for – it’s just somehow internalized. This indicates a problem. If you don’t know what it is, why are you talking about it and why should it matter to your customer?

I see this frequently when talking about work items: epics, capabilities, features, stories, initiatives, themes, defects… Often people start referring to them as “feature 45” or “defect 7831.” Sound familiar? What is the problem, you ask? Well, when we stop thinking about what it is we’re talking about and refer to it as just a number, our mind shifts to referring to a customer as just a number. The farther we get away from talking about the actual work we’re doing and WHY it’s important to our customer, the more disconnected we become with the work and our customer. It’s like when management refers to people as “resources” or “FTEs” or “contractors” it makes them less human, more of a number, and not important. This disconnect from the customer WHY can lead to bad products that don’t meet our customer’s needs or bring them value (and therefore bring us less revenue). The only reason work items had numbers in the first place was to have a unique identifier (primary key) for them to be queried in the database. The title should be a short statement of what or why and that’s how they should be referred to in conversation.

Let’s leave it with a light note. Here’s a joke: thanks Reddit.

A man goes to prison and the first night while he’s laying in bed contemplating his situation, he hears someone yell out, “44!” Followed by laughter from the other prisoners.

He thought that was pretty odd, then he heard someone else yell out, “72!” Followed by even more laughter.

“What’s going on?” he asked his cellmate.

“Well, we’ve all heard every joke so many times, we’ve given them each a number to make it easier.”

“Oh,” he says, “can I try?”

“Sure, go ahead.”

So, he yells out “102!” and the place is dead quiet save for a few groans. Confused, he looks at his cellmate who is just shaking his head.

“Hey, what happened?”

“Well, some people can tell a joke, some people can’t.”


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