True Agility: The importance of language at the Enterprise Level

True Agility: The importance of language at the Enterprise Level

Insights | 20 October 2015

You’re in the middle of a major workshop with executive level managers and someone mentions that the Iteration Manager is dealing with some critical issues this week. As they elaborate, someone else interjects, asking the question on everyone’s mind: “What’s an Iteration Manager?” Before you have time to clarify, another manager chimes in: “Isn’t that the Scrum Master?” and yet another asks, “But isn’t it that the Project Manager?”

Before your very eyes, a debate about the naming of an agile role has erupted and confusion around language has now hijacked an important workshop; the workshop begins to descend into chaos, de-focusing everyone from the objectives.

You sit there, attempting to stay out of the conversation so that everyone can collaborate and reach a consensus. But you’ve seen it all before…. Is this really an important issue? Is it even an issue at all?!

Unfortunately, it is.

One of the first problems an Agile Coach faces when starting with a new organisation is learning the organisational language. More often than not, it is difficult to even find someone with a definitive answer on what the ‘agreed’ vocabulary is!

In the absence of agreed terminology, there can be constant friction as individuals try and translate other’s definitions. This is never more obvious than when an agile team begins to communicate with individuals in the business. Terms like scrum, sprints, iterations, and Scrum Master can lead to eyes glazing over, heads spinning, and even feelings of alienation and disengagement.

When building and/or deploying your agile framework within an enterprise it is important to ensure that you consider something as simple as ‘language’ in your deployment approach. Don’t just include it in your framework, people need to be trained on its use, meaning and understanding. Agreed terms need to be published and continually reinforced. Make it easy for people to live and breathe the language – they need to become ‘unconsciously competent’ in it. Plaster it up on your walls in your agile team area!

It doesn’t really matter what you call your collection of agile ‘things’. What matters is that you build a ubiquitous language* collaboratively. Work with HR to ensure the language fits as you build your framework. Focus on having common, agreed and pragmatic agile terminology across the enterprise.

“Agreements and rules are potentially destructive if they are not built carefully by consensus and involve all of those impacted”

PRINCE2 Agile®, AXELOS 2015

Good luck!

*Ubiquitous Language is the term Eric Evans uses in Domain Driven Design for the practice of building up a common, rigorous language between developers and users.

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