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Use a common language, even if it’s hand signals.

No matter how advanced or automated technology gets, organisations – and as we shall see taxi passengers – need to be able to describe their journey before they set off. Otherwise they risk delays communicating where they’re starting from or ending up in the wrong place.

I’m by the fountain!

This week I’m working in the Middle East and while it’s a beautiful and warm place, it’s easy to step away from the English speaking world. Within 50 metres of my hotel with English signage I’m in a shopping mall where all I recognise are American brand names. Perhaps more importantly, I can order a taxi using Uber on my phone, know it’s on its way – but can’t help the driver find me when he calls to ask where I am on the crowded street. Uber might be great for putting the taxi driver and me in contact with each other, but there’s still a missing link when we don’t speak a common language. Luckily, taxi drivers anywhere seem to understand that random arm waving at the side of a street means “I’m over here”.

Describing the starting point

Using common terminology, for any type of technology project, to describe the organisation’s starting point is just as valuable as defining where it wants to get to. Why? Because for any project of any scale it’ll almost certainly need to discuss it with someone from outside of the organisation. Whether that’s a vendor, a consultancy firm or a friend who’s done that work before, it’ll need to engage with someone who doesn’t know the organisation’s unique terminology or abbreviations, or a legacy vendor’s non-standard term for something standard. Even if it’s just using the simplest and most basic of terminology, having a short description of what you do today will save time describing your starting point to someone new to the project. It’ll also make your own web searches on the topic more fruitful. Out here in the Middle East, Uber is great for sharing where I want to get to – but my hotel doesn’t appear in Goggle Maps, so to Uber drivers my starting point doesn’t exist. For some bizarre reason, I have to tell them I’m at the small minimart store next door instead. If I use a location they know about, it makes it easier for them to help me.

The destination looks like this!

You can probably already work out where my tales of Uber in the Middle East are heading. When a taxi stops in the middle of random street, you assume you’ve reached your destination even if you’ve no idea if you have or not. I always have a couple of Google Street View photos of where I need to get to stored on my phone, although it doesn’t help if Google took its photos in summer and its now winter. Organisations need to take the same approach for transformation projects. Even if they don’t know how they’re going to get to an end state, or how to deploy it, a couple of “this is what we’re thinking of” sketches can go a long way. Don’t worry about them being correct, accurate or even detailed – that’s for the project’s experts to worry about. But if you think your project needs to show near-real-time dashboards of store data on an iPhone then even a small cartoon sketch might help you share your thoughts more easily. A picture paints a thousand words, including to Uber drivers in a foreign country.

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