There is no better arena for observing a culture in action than business. Cultures tend to reveal themselves in situations where much is as stake, [...] The same is true of business, because economic survival is at stake. Business practices are shaped by deeply-held cultural attitudes toward work, power, trust, wealth and communication. J Hooker 2008
Beware of jargon when communicating with stakeholders.
"look I just want a Janet and John guide"Being of a certain age and bought up in the British State School system I knew exactly what she meant. Janet and John are a series of story books designed to support children learning to read. The pages consist of only a few repetitive words and are accompanied by illustrations. They slowly fell out of favour in the 1970s.
In fact the only people who got the reference were myself the HR Manager and the IT Manager, all three of us British and the other side of 30. The remaining 6 people in the room looked totally blank. I looked around and realised the problem, of the 6 blank faces: 3 were British colleagues in their early 20s, 1 was South African and the other 2 were Dutch.
Once the HR Manager had finished exclaiming her surprise that nobody understood what she had said, she and the IT Manager spent a good 10 minutes trying to describe the 'Janet and John' books reciting:
"See the little dog, Janet"
"See the little dog, John"
"Come home, Janet"(accompanied by giggling from the 20 something's).
"Come home, John"
Once everything had settled down we set to work on a definition that we all understood. By reviewing existing user manuals we agreed on a template and produced a prototype based on a real life process.
This anecdote illustrates the need to check our communication for jargon. It also highlights how crucial it is that we involve stakeholders from every area that will be impacted by a project.
Because the Client understood the importance of stakeholder engagement we were able to come up with a precise definition that would be understood by everyone involved. If the HR Manager had put the requirements together herself we would never have rea ched that level of clarity and the product definition would have remained unclear.
Why Jargon Matters (and Not in a Good Way)
- Jargon is Exclusionary: The seemingly innocent use of "Janet and John" excluded a good portion of the room. We may not always realize it, but specialized language can alienate stakeholders and hamper understanding.
- Stakeholder Involvement is Critical: The room’s diverse representation was a blessing. Had the HR manager developed the requirements alone, the end product might have remained unclear to a vast audience.