Breaking Down the Buzzwords

“Are you leveraging Big Data?”

“Is your product Self-Service?”

“And all of this will live in The Cloud?”

“Can I buy media in a Programmatic Guaranteed Fashion?”

The above questions are the types that many Product teams hear when they are accompanying a sales team member to a meeting, or in conversations with users of their platforms. There is a similar challenge with each of these questions - they all use Buzzwords. Merriam-Webster defines the buzzword as:

an important-sounding usually technical word or phrase often of little meaning used chiefly to impress laymen

Buzzwords have become a natural part of any industry, and they’re not going away anytime soon. The challenge with using these types of words during product conversations is that they should almost always be followed by the questions “What does that really mean?”,  “What is this person really asking for?” or, the best possible version, “What is the outcome that the person asking the question is searching for?”

Product teams are often not in a position to ask these follow up questions directly, causing a game of ‘whisper down the lane’ to take place so that the question of “Is your product Self-Service?” can get multiple different meanings attached to it, ultimately driving the team to build the wrong thing.

There are some things that product teams can do proactively to combat these buzzword based questions:

1. Be Present - If at all possible, try to have members of the team be part of conversations with clients and other users of the system. Whether this is part of the sales process, or part of an ongoing customer relationship, nothing beats being able to hear the questions and get feedback on the key follow-ups straight from users.

2. Let Your Opinion be Known - Most product teams have specific stances on buzzwords within their industry - definitions to work with while they are making decisions about what to build. A critical component that can get missed is arming those who are having conversations filled with buzzwords with those definitions. Create a position paper and distribute it internally, have a wiki where you can keep the thoughts of the product team, do something to get these definitions into the hands of the people who need them. If your company is aligned on these definitions, the product work can become much easier. Additionally, you can spread these types of communications out to a wider audience, allowing your company/team to lead the industry’s overall conversation on a particular buzzword.

3. Keep It Simple - The working definitions of these buzz words should have a single meaning within your product team. You need a direction, a due north, to help drive your company towards. If you can’t define the buzzword to a colleague in the span of an elevator ride, you need to clean it up and become more focused.

4. Have “Stick-to-it-ness”- This will vary a bit industry by industry, but it is really important that once you have a definition, you stick with it as best you can. The cost of communicating something to a large group of stakeholders is high. Higher still is the cost to communicate a change on something you have already communicated. Many organizations do not account for the time needed to communicate, and even fewer account for the time needed to communicate change. This is a controllable cost if your team sticks with definitions and only changes when absolutely needed.

Overall, the message in any organization should be similar: more than a buzzword is needed to better understand what clients and the market are asking for, as well as what to build. Following some of the steps above will help your product team, and the rest of your organization, be reactive to actual needs and not just the latest “trendy” terminology.

Ryan Bricklemyer

Product Lead

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