Friday, June 17, 2011

A Common Language is Half of the Utility

GPS in FrenchI was reminded about the value a common language has on the usefulness of tools through a recent experience with my GPS.

The Story

I loaned my GPS to French exchange students for their trip to New York City.

After they returned, I turned on my GPS to set a destination and all the text and menus were set to the French language setting. I’ve studied Spanish and German, but it was a little challenge to navigate through the French labels on the menus to find the setting to change it back to English.

The Power of Commonality

For the exchange students, the GPS would have still had considerable value to them on their trip even if they left it set to English because of the illustrations and graphical nature of the GPS (and like many Europeans they spoke English). However, when set to their native language, the GPS was far more useful as they didn’t have the distraction and pressure of translating and interpreting the audio prompts while driving in traffic.

A GPS is a powerful tool. But it is just that - a tool. A common language that is readily understandable to the users is a subtle, but often overlooked component of the utility of the tool.

The utility of a common language is a universal principle of business process design, supporting technology, and communication. It is far easier to ensure everyone understands the process and each other if everyone shares the same terminology, vocabulary, and usage. The same holds true with the technologies and tools that are used to support the processes.

Software and other tools are far more effective when the terminology, labels, and workflow incorporate the industry and company specific language and thinking native to the organization.