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Allan Kelly
Allan Kelly inspires, educates and advises teams and executives creating digital products. He helps businesses improve their use of Agile methods and serve their customers better

Words I avoid using: should, empower, commitment

For the record, there are a few words I avoid using if I can.

Should: “we should feed the starving millions”, “we should create world peace.”

Should is useless.
It is also a declaration of what should be but also an admission of defeat, we give up immediately, we don’t even try.

Empower and empowerment: “I will empower the team”

It was Henry Mintzberg who alerted me to the problems with this word: empowerment is a loan. Empowerment is not real power, not real authority.

That I empower you means “I have the power, I am going to lend it to you… but I am still responsible and if you screw up I’m taking right back.” That’s why I prefer to talk about devolving, distributing, and even sharing authority.

Commitment: “The Scrum team committed to delivering 20 points”.

Actually, my dislike of commitment is usually confined to software teams and older implementations of Scrum specifically.

The first commitment tends to be one-sided: the development team is expected to commit but not their customers. And in an environment where the team is not completely independent (i.e. there are times when it needs non-team members to do something), it is unfair to ask them to commit.

This is very true in large companies where teams are often restricted by a multitude of rules, demarcation lines, and restrictions. Such teams don’t have the power to commit on their own, they need others – and superiors – to join in making things happen.

Second, because of those problems the word “commitment” itself has changed meaning. Originally when a team said “We commit” it meant “We are going to make this happen, come hell or high water, we will do everything in our power to make this happen.” Over time, because the team couldn’t move heaven and earth due to company policy, commitment has become devalued. Today, “commitment” has come to mean “This is the work we plan to do this sprint and we will try our best (but don’t get your hopes up too high).”

I’m sure there are some more words I avoid using but less often, I’ll make a note of them next time I’m tempted and report back.

Published on Java Code Geeks with permission by Allan Kelly, partner at our JCG program. See the original article here: Words I avoid using: should, empower, commitment

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