Words Matter

One of the sad truths about the business world is that whenever someone comes up with a word or phrase that describes something very well, it will soon be so abused that it becomes a cliche. I have a friend who will joke about proactively leveraging our synergies on a going forward basis. It has often been my fear that this would happen with agile as well. All of a sudden, everyone wants to say that they are an agile development shop, notwithstanding how they actually develop software. As I’ve noted on several occasions, saying “we do Extreme Programming, we don’t document anything” just doesn’t cut it. In the end, the word agile becomes a cliche, and loses its value. Over time, we get the same eye rolling about being agile as we do about “changing the paradigm”.

So words do matter. They can positively or negatively affect the entire tenor of our relationship with ourselves and each other. Which brings me to a personal pet peeve: the abuse of the word “developer” in the agile and software development world. To me, a developer is one who develops. Specifically in our context, it is one who develops software. In the agile world, this means more than someone who writes code.

There are many roles in an agile development project, or on an agile team. Some people write code, some test code. Some people write documentation. Every one of these roles builds to what we call the Whole Team. If we only call the programmers the developers, we are diminishing the importance of all of the other members of the team. The most common example I see of this is when I’m helping a team, and someone will ask “What do we do if we cant’ test until the last day, because that’s when the developers are done?” My first comment is that development isn’t done until the tests are all passing. My next comment is to remind everyone that they are developers too.

It seems like a small thing, but words matter. Agile is different because it espouses equality between the roles in a development shop. Shouldn’t what we call each other also reflect that equality?

About Steve Ropa

Steve Ropa has more than 25 years of experience in software development and 15 years of experience working with agile methods. Steve is passionate about bridging the gap between the business and technology and nurturing the change in the nature of development. As an agile coach and VersionOne product trainer, Steve has supported clients across multiple industry verticals including: telecommunications, network security, entertainment and education. A frequent presenter at agile events, he is also a member of Agile Alliance and Scrum Alliance. In his personal time, Steve plays principal trombone in a regional orchestra and is an avid woodworker.
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