Are we speaking the same language?


In many of the projects that I have been a part of, the process begins right away. In the kickoff meeting you introduce yourself to a number of people, some of them who you have possibly never met before. You usually go over the projects goals and after that you’re off to the races. Even in service design projects, and again this is viewed through my own experience, the common language of the project is often overlooked.

This revelation came to me through participation in a service design project that aims to improve the student services in Laurea. The project is done in collaboration with Laurea staff and students and design agency Kuudes Kerros of Helsinki. There are seven of us students helping in the project. The kickoff meeting began the normal way, but after the introductions we were familiarized to the project’s common language. By agreeing on certain terms that are used in the process, it has been easy during the discovery phase to understand and categorize the gathered insights. We were able to quickly focus on the right things.

I feel that in a lot of projects the team that is gathered for it doesn’t necessarily speak the same language. This might not seem like a major issue but let’s look at it through two scenarios. First, you can outsource the project and then your role becomes that of a participant and source of information. During the project work the facilitators talk about certain topics in ways obvious to themselves. Can you follow and be productive? Is your participation affected by a pounding thought in your head “what are they talking about”? And in the end are you then getting your money’s worth?
On the other hand what if the project is an in-house one? Everyone speaks the same language, right? Possibly, if the company is a smaller one or there has been significant work done to bring down the traditional silos. But in most company, there still are silos and within the silos there are different ways of communicating. And in this case everyone will not speak the same language.

The lesson I’ve learned through the Laurea project is to have a common language set up in the future projects. It doesn’t mean that you have to have a plethora of terms and definitions. Just set up a few common phrases and their meaning and go over them in the first meeting. This will help everyone define themselves and understand how the work proceeds. Possibly this way the outputs of the participants are more coherent and to the point. As an example, in this project there were three phrases set and this helped out tremendously. It pays off having a common language.

Picture and text by Jukka Kaartinen, SID ’14 student

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