When Fuzzy Language Can Hurt Your Development Process

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Posted by Clare Anderson - 19 October, 2017


Last week, we explored how “fuzzy words” can either help or hurt the path to inventing, building and launching a product. The first post of the two-part series argues that fuzzy words - or ambiguous terms - helps the development process, particularly during the ideation phase. When stakeholders have the freedom to develop ideas without feeling boxed into the boundaries of language, the creative process is more protected and often, results are more successful. Yet, fuzzy, unclear language can also hurt the development process, particularly during delivery and launch.

Product Momentum and the Necessity of Clarity

While the ideation phase flourishes in the company of out-of-the-box thinking and unrestricted language, the delivery and launch phase thrives on defined expectations. In my own experience as a consumer, I’ve seen the demise of product momentum as a result of fuzzy language. For example, on a recent walk to work, I was thrilled to see a sign in an empty storefront that said, Wine Bar Coming Soon – a welcome addition to our neighborhood. When one month passed, I started to wonder what “soon” meant. When several months passed, I lost interest.  It begs the question: How many other people have become desensitized to the phrase, “coming soon” in place of a specific opening date.  The same is true in software development. When a launch date is promised and missed, fuzzy words around dates and deliverables are usually associated with it. As a result, product momentum and adoption significantly suffer.

5 Reasons Teams Tolerate Fuzzy Language

If failed product launches are the disease, fuzzy words are the symptom.  Unfortunately, product teams can build a tolerance for fuzzy words when it comes to deliverables and deadlines. We’ve all heard team members use phrases like, “I’m not sure when I’ll be done, I’m shooting for tomorrow,” or “It will be done this week or the early part of next week.”  So, why does this language persist? Here are 5 reasons you want to be aware of:

1.   The dates were not set by the team;

2.   There may not be an easy way for the team to make their work visible to each other;

3.   The work culture permits it;

4.  The team is not bought into the launch; 

5.  The team feels the dates were “forced on them.” 

As Yoda said, “Do. Or not do. There is no try.”  Yet, in the case of Yoda and Luke, only Luke’s commitment and effort was required to raise the Millennium Falcon out of the swamp.  Effectively meeting the delivery goals and dates to reach a successful product launch takes the effort of the entire team. How has the use of fuzzy language hurt your delivery and product goals?

Topics: communication, shared language, Launch


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