Words I avoid using: should, empower, commitement

For the record there are a few words I avoid using if I can.

Should: “we should feed the starving millions”, “we should create world peace.”

Should is useless.
It is also a declaration of what should be but also an admission of defeat, we give up immediately, we don’t even try.

Empower and empowerment: “I will empower the team”

It was Henry Mintzberg who alerted me to the problems with this word: empowerment is a loan. Empowerment is not real power, not real authority.

That I empower you means “I have the power, I am going to lend it to you… but I am still responsible and if you screw up I’m taking right back.” Thats why I prefer to talk about devolving, distributing and even sharing authority.

Commitment: “The Scrum team committed to delivering 20 points”.

Actually my dislike of commitment is usually confined to software teams and older implementations of Scrum specifically.

First commitment tends to be one sided: the development team are expected to commit but not their customers. And in an environment were the team is not completely independent (i.e. there are times when it needs non-team members to do something) it is unfair to ask them to commit.

This is very true in large companies where teams are often restricted by a multitude of rules, demarcation lines and restrictions. Such teams don’t have the power to commit on their own, they need others – and superiors – to join in making thing happen.

Second, because of those problems the word “commitment” itself has changed meaning. Originally when a team said “We commit” it meant “We are going to make this happen, come hell or high water, we will do everything in our power to make this happen.” Over time, because the team couldn’t move heaven and earth due to company policy, commitment has become devalued. Today, “commitment” has come to mean “This is the work we plan to do this sprint and we will try out best (but don’t get your hopes up too high).”

I’m sure there are some more words I avoid using but less often, I’ll make a note of them next time I’m temped and report back.


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