Dirty Words In Tech: What’s In a Name?

Define Your Jargon

Industry-specific terminology can be easily misunderstood. When certain terms become jargon (i.e., special words or expressions that are used by a particular group) these terms may hold different meanings for different people. Without defining these terms up front, this can make communication difficult both internally and with clients.

To further complicate things, certain terms can hold either positive or negative connotations based on past experience. For example, at Foci, our team went through some growing pains with the term ‘Tech Design’. In my team, ‘Tech Design’ refers to a meeting where we break down stories into tasks, and highlight pitfalls and opportunities. However, other teams at Foci had their own definitions ranging from just ‘using your gut’, to developing complete templates with mandatory fields.

Because we lacked a single definition for ‘Tech Design’, things came to a head at a now-infamous meeting where the discussion culminated in frustration and misunderstanding; almost everyone left that meeting feeling confused and pulled in opposite directions. As a result, ‘Tech Design’ became a dirty word.

The lesson we learned was to ensure that any term that falls into the ‘jargon’ category is well defined up front and used consistently throughout our organization. However, this did not resolve the fact that the term ‘Tech Design’ was now taboo.

Remove the Taboo

The Tech Design process (as my team understood it) was a valuable process that we still wanted to employ. For weeks our team management thought about how to bring it up again. At Foci, part of our culture is being able to step back and assess technology, terminology and best practices—and this situation was no different.

Recognizing that the avoidance of the term ‘Tech Design’ was holding the team back, we decided to take an unorthodox approach by making a new ridiculous name for it, which, we hoped, would take away the negative connotation from the original term.

Instead of ‘Tech Design’ meetings, we rebranded them as ‘Fancy Planning Parties’. Our theory was that if the term ‘Tech Design’ was making people flinch when it was mentioned, we would simply take away the power and ominous tone of the term by replacing it with a new, lighter, more playful one.

Most importantly, creating a new term gave us the opportunity to clearly define what a ‘Fancy Planning Party’ was and eliminate the discrepancies in definition that we experienced with ‘Tech Design.’

Our first Fancy Planning Party started out lighthearted and the atmosphere remained positive throughout, resulting in a productive meeting that everyone felt good participating in. The new term seemed to shake off the bad energy and generate more excitement than our Tech Design meetings ever did.

Do you have any terms that turn off team members? Try rebranding it to get your team back on track.