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Agile Terminology for Normal People

Reading: Agile Terminology for Normal People

agile terminology

Agile practitioners often fail to realize that 99.9% of society has never heard Agile terminology.  As I recently hosted Agile Baltimore Lean Coffee, I heard very smart people use terms like sprints, Scrum, Kanban, Agile, and stories. They described waste as muri, muda, and mura. To top it off, they described learning as shu, ha, and ri. This was all just casual conversation. One fellow at the table was new to the group and asked, what specifically do all of those things mean? Though everyone was eager to clarify, I think there may have been a little embarrassment as well. Before you go super vertical with a conversation, know who your audience is. You shouldn’t need to educate them, just to have a conversation. Speak in layman terms.

Overt Overuse of Domain Specific Terms

I’ve been in the Agile space about a decade now.  I notice an overt overuse of Japanese and other terms to describe just about anything.  I know some came from Toyota Production Systems. But there comes a time when I think we try too hard.  I guess if you want to sound smart, take something that already exists.  Find a foreign language translation and then start presenting it at conferences.  Nothing gets people writing notes faster than a word they don’t understand or have to spell phonetically.

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Comments (4)

    • Derek Huether

      So, for your wife, I took away “In a nutshell, I intend to help change the financial game for women.”
      She’s got me hooked!

      I’m interested to see what you come up with. Ping me when it’s posted.

      When asked what I do, my wife replies “he’s a consultant“. Seems to satisfy the casual conversationalist.

      My response is usually, “I fix big companies“. It either results in an “oh” and we move on or it kicks off a deeper more interesting conversation.
      I rarely say Agile, Scrum, or anything remotely close. All of the muggles out there really don’t need to hear it.

  1. Paul Ionica

    Hi Derek,

    Thanks for taking the time to remind folks from within the Agile world that the rest of us still use layman terms and lack understanding of their terminology ,let alone the concepts behind them.
    Your admission that “there comes a time when I think we try too hard” could be true in light of the ongoing effort of some “Agilers” to come up with replacement words for existing ones. It can lead to a sense of elitism within those groups., and I don’t think it is beneficial in the long run for the Agile cause
    . If you try to get a point across, clarity will get one further than lofty words.



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