What’s In a Name?

Software development teams face all kinds of challenges. They need to learn new technologies while keeping legacy products running. They need to balance addressing tech debt with adding new features quickly. With all of these challenges, why should anyone care what groups, teams, products, or tests are named? Here are five reasons why:

Reason One: Names provide a common language

If you work for a company that is growing rapidly, you may find that restructuring happens regularly. In times of change, it’s really important to make sure that you are all using the same names for the same things. Consider a large company that is divided up in to several large groups. Those groups in turn are divided into smaller groups. Then those groups are divided into even smaller groups, and finally those smallest groups are divided into teams.

What are you going call all those groups? Perhaps the largest group you are a part of is calling itself a “Division”, and the next smallest group a “Category”, but a different group is calling the largest group a “Category”. When someone in a third group sends out an email saying that all the Category leaders should meet on Monday, how do you know what level of group they are referring to? Making sure that every group shares the same nomenclature ensures that teams can understand each other.

Reason Two: Names save time

Giving something a name, and sharing that name with others, saves a great deal of time in communication. Imagine that you are a part of a retail company that has departments that do data analytics, and departments that focus on marketing. You often have meetings with people from all of these departments. When you refer to these groups, would it be easiest to say “All of the data analytics teams plus all of the marketing teams”, or “Analytics and Marketing”, or even “A&M”? By giving this conglomeration of teams a special name, and sharing that name with others, it’s easy to refer to the group in conversation, chat, and email.

Reason Three: Names prevent misunderstandings

Sometimes an incorrectly named item can result in misunderstandings between teams. I recently joined my company’s Mobile team, and we often test on physical devices. Some of those devices are ones at our own desks, and some of those devices are accessed through BrowserStack. We had been referring to the devices at our desks as “physical devices”. Because of this label, developers and testers on other teams were assuming that the BrowserStack devices weren’t physical devices. They would tell us, “We need to test on a real device”. To combat this misunderstanding, I’ve now started to refer to the devices on my desk as “devices in hand” rather than “physical devices”.

Reason Four: Names provide a sense of clarity

Testers are very familiar with the fact that a term like “smoke test” will mean different things to different companies. The definition might even vary among different teams in the same company, or among different testers in the same team. We ran into this issue at my company when we wanted to create a series of quick smoke tests to ascertain the health of every application. After a long series of discussions, we finally created a new term: System Smoke Tests. These are tests that simply run a GET call to every API and validate that every application will load, and do no more than that. Having this shared term makes it easy to refer to our test project and trust that everyone understands what is expected.

Reason Five: Names define a purpose

In small companies, or areas of a company where all of the teams are doing exactly the same thing (such as the sales teams), it can be fun to create whimsical team names. It builds a sense of camaraderie, and sometimes even a sense of pride, if the name is something like “The Awesome Avengers”. But in large companies, having team names like this is a recipe for frustration.

Imagine that you are a new tester at a social media company. You are testing a feature that depends on video playback, and you’re seeing an issue. The developer you’re working with tells you to take the issue up with the video playback team. So you look in the team directory to find the correct team, but you don’t see a team named “Video” or “Video Playback”. Which team is the correct one? The Otters? The Spartans? It’s impossible to tell. When names define a purpose, it makes communication easier for everyone.

What’s In a Name?

A whole lot is in a name! A common language, a sense of clarity, a shared purpose, and the ability to save time and communicate clearly. Why not take some time this week to examine your company’s names and see if they are working for you?

2 thoughts on “What’s In a Name?

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