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New Post 5/26/2010 2:24 PM
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Learning and Using Jargon in Software Projects 

Learning and Using Jargon in Software Projects

by Landerson.

As product managers, we are always on a mission to seek out new requirements, to explore new functionality and to boldly capture what has previously been undocumented.  When I begin a new project, I’m a foreign person that has been dropped into in a new world, and I need to learn the language of the land in order to accomplish my mission. 

Over time, I have become more comfortable with my head spinning from the first meeting as I try to quickly consume the vast number of foreign terms and concepts.  I have realized that being able to quickly learn the language of the project team is critical to the success of my work. 

What is jargon? Why learn the jargon?

Every project team has jargon, even if it’s just the language that is used between the team members to share ideas.  By learning the jargon I increase my credibility with the team.  If I am unable to establish myself with the team they will not fully participate in my requirement gathering efforts.   Learning the team’s language shows a commitment to understanding that is often like the golden rule.  Once I can demonstrate to the team that I am committed, they will see me as part of the greater good and be less likely to be defensive and more likely to share ideas. 

By using their language, we create a common frame of reference.  It is important to learn the terms well and solidly.  Just having a superficial knowledge of what the terms mean, without a plain-English grasp of the underlying concepts, can prove disastrous in the long term. In particular, as a requirements writer you are probably familiar with the usual translations between business and IT.  If you don’t truly understand the language of the team, your requirements will not capture what they need.  We need to become enough of an expert in the subject area in order to translate the subject into consumable requirements.  In order to write the requirements, we need to be fluid between the jargon and plain-English. 

How do I learn jargon?

Learning jargon quickly can be a difficult task.   Here are the ways that I’ve learned to pick up the jargon more quickly. 

  1. Exposure – Talk with your team of experts. The more exposure to the terms you have, the more likely you’ll pick them up quickly
  2. When foreign terms are used, jot them down – keep a simple glossary on hand.  It might be tough to get the actual definitions from an expert, but over time you will be able to identify terms that are continuously used in certain contexts.  By writing the terms down in a glossary, it becomes easier to remember and use a word later on that just copying it into your notes will.  If you’ve got a little time, actually writing out a few paragraphs using your new words can really cement their meanings in your mind.
  3. If a term is used frequently, it will be important to get an expert to define it for you.  Don’t be afraid to ask for a definition, but don’t ask for everything to be defined.  Experts are impressed when you take initiative to ask good questions, but could be easily frustrated if you want the information spoon fed.  When asking for a definition it is usually a good idea to present what you think the term might mean, and ask for additional clarification. 
  4. Use the new terms as much as possible in discussion – even if you use them incorrectly being corrected is better than not using them.  Like learning a foreign language, using the words will allow others to provide feedback. 

Do you want more on jargon or business analysis? Check out our blog here

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