Language matters

I've left this unpublished for way too long; it's missing a few points that I'll hopefully address in future articles. Feel free to send me your comments.

He said, she said

Imagine for a second, Alice, a software developer. 

Alice is preparing to start on her next project, Project Awesome, and is midway treading through the development brief. Re-reading the same paragraph for the fourth time, she struggles to build a mental image of the code for Feature X.

Why, if she has become an expert in her field, is she not able to grasp the brief in front of her?

The dissonance prevails, and her internal monologue begins to echo Google's. A quickly scribbled message to the Project Manager, "Please fix this", is left.

Now, picture Bob, said PM from above.

Bob has spent days (if not weeks) going back and forth with ClientFromHell figuring out exactly what it is that they need, and has finally received sign off on the brief. Settling down for a moments breath, he fires off the brief to Alice.

His phone blinks at him,

"Please fix this?"


Google begins to resonate.



I'll start this off by disclaiming that I am a developer, as such this article is written from a developers perspective.

I may have made a couple of oversights, or completely whiffed the entire point. If a lot of it seems idealistic, that's because it is! If we aren't striving for the ideal, we'll never make it there. I may point out quite a few obvious things, too, but by going back to the basics we can figure out a better way forward.

The aim is to turn this into a series of articles focusing on how we can improve how we work, and in turn improve the level of work that we produce within the web.

We all know that PM's love shouting at the developers (kidding), so please get in touch if you have anything to add to the concepts discussed below.


Do a job, and do it well

A common reason for the frustrations felt when our communication is failing is from the expectation that the message will be understood. Our assumption that the language is commonplace creates this expectation. This is silly. If everyone has the knowledge contained within your domain, surely then they could do the job just as well? Right?

Becoming an expert in any field implies absorbing a complete and rigid understanding of the concepts and techniques that are utilised in the related jobs. For most, it takes years to reach a point that feels comfortable (shortly followed by the point that you realise you still know nothing), but this is where it becomes easy to forget that everyone else is not comfortable!

With that said, without distributing knowledge between domains we wouldn't be able to get anything done at all - which brings me to the next point.

Communication is key

"Just as physicians use a specialized language to understand and treat symptoms and diseases, so too could we benefit from some specialized language."
- Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow

Without a common framework to base communication on, forcing any two people of different skill sets into the same room will result in a similar situation to Alice and Bob. And without a common understanding, perceptions will  get out of control.

Frustrations rise, more and more miscommunication happens as people put in the least effort - knowing that a full effort has been met with misunderstanding in the past. It's a systemic issue that continues in a downward spiral unless the spiral is given the option to continue on a different path.

Initiating and maintaining a common language (spoken, written, and visual) within a company is important; it allows for efficient communication between areas of expertise. If Bob hears "Banana" whenever Alice says "Apple", there is a problem.

If we can create a foundational language that removes the need for explaining concepts that would normally be foreign, an environment that allows for experimenting within certain limits (every system has them, it's a good thing) should follow naturally.

We can then focus on what we can do to create something remarkable instead of focusing on the how.

In closing

Because Alice and Bob are now speaking the same language, we have two people who can understand each others expectations. They can relay key information that makes sense.

We have to create an environment which ensures that communication within a business is as easily understood as a persons native tongue, regardless of their area of expertise.

In doing so, you've created the tools that will allow people to create without confusion; all aligning to be absolutely remarkable.