ELI5 (Explain Like I am 5 years old) is a great acronym to remember and to shout out when people are starting to excel in fancy words. When writing this book, ELI5 is in the back of my head all the time to make sure my editing sister understands as well. 2015 I was almost perfect on the Swedish National University Entrance Exam (Högskoleprovet) in the language category and beat my daughter who, by the way, crushed me in other parts of the test. There were a lot of new words which we are supposed to know now. At least if you look at the annual Swedish Academy’s Word List, SAOL. We also have to learn each other’s vocabulary. However, I still miss the word Agile in this prominent wordlist and am starting to get quite tired of explaining it to our young generation. On an assignment a few years ago, I trained my team in estimation. When I advocated minimalism I omitted large parts in favour of a simpler way, which I call guesstimation (and is always needed to be added to the built-in dictionary in your word processor) a gut feeling of what effort is needed. One of the coaches I trained in a team commented that there was also wusshchuff as an alternative. I realised that he meant WSJF[1] and asked him to elaborate it so that everyone understood. He knew what the letters represented and that the concept was part of a framework, but not why it would be useful or what it meant, other than an excellent way to estimate. His answer can be analysed further as one of the weaknesses with frameworks, i.e., freshly certified coaches use various concepts that are not common knowledge.

Words like WSJF are used to practice a ruler technique and put yourself in a better light. In one company, there were concepts that only those who had worked there for at least five years understood, often three-letter abbreviations. I was new to the game and saved these words in a file, which I uploaded in a business loop as I began to understand. After a while, I filled in this file with the words I swung myself with, such as sprint, CI and INVEST. It was interesting, however, how everyone chewed on these words without asking what they stood for! Did I sense Psychological UNsafety again? There is also the eternal discussion of different concepts for the same thing, which takes forever to sort out, especially if you have a new certification on the topic. What is the difference between prototype, pilot, MVP, MMF, beta, walking skeleton, POC etc? And who needs to care? Well, I know there are great differences, but I stubbornly claim that the value of understanding each other has greater value than semantic details and frameworks.

It doesn’t matter what it’s called as long as everyone understands and knows what to do, so stop shining with cool words, please, and use simpler words – gracias! Furthermore, we will not have the discussion whether it is a service or a product and how it relates to projects. And slang is only OK as long as everyone understands. I personally struggle hard with my southern Stockholm way of talking, so I understand those who write like they talk, and vice versa.

A good idea is to create a file on the intranet to use as a ‘cheat sheet’ when the vocabulary derails. Google “ELI5” and use it as part of your Psychological Safety.

This is a part of the book Psychological UNsafety from the trenches you can order or read more about here.

[1] Weighted Shortest Job First: https://www.scaledagileframework.com/wsjf/

Ove Holmberg

Doubter, gaffer, author