The Soft Side of Software

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Give Your Project a Name

It goes a long way toward creating a cohesive team with strong morale.

Kate Matsudaira

Have you ever been on a team that just worked on tickets? There were no major launches, no milestones—perhaps they were trying to embody true agile where there was just a backlog and iterative progress? While these setups can be good for productivity, there is a lot to be said for a team rallying together behind a big launch, major feature, or important milestone.

While some people are driven by infinite backlogs and iteration, others prefer launches and deadlines. Over the years, I have found certain milestones to be instrumental in creating a cohesive team with strong morale. When people have to work together to get through a challenging task, reaching those milestones bring them together.

Naming a project gives the team something concrete to rally behind—a collective goal. A name also has the power to take a laundry list of items/bugs/tickets and turn them into something that you can communicate about. Instead of saying the team is working on improvements to the "system," you can say the team is working on Project ABC. This grouping of items can also make it easier to measure impact: A few individual work items might not drastically change the product quality or NPS (net promoter score), but a grouping of enough of them could have a measurable impact on these types of metrics.


In Celebration of Launches and Deadlines

The obvious benefit of launches is the sense of accomplishment that comes to the team. Meeting a deadline or successfully launching a product provides a tangible sense of achievement for individuals and the team as a whole. Accomplishing a goal creates a positive and rewarding experience, boosting morale—and gives leaders an opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge a job well done.

This does not necessarily mean I am a fan of arbitrary deadlines and forcing a "commitment" to deliverables within a time window. But I do value having a plan with clear milestones, allowing a team to weigh on-the-fly tradeoffs between content, quality, and timelines.

Launches create a shared purpose, and team members are more likely to collaborate and support each other when they have a collective goal. Facing and navigating difficulties together creates a shared experience and builds a common narrative that strengthens the bonds among people.

Deadlines serve as motivators by creating a sense of accountability. Team members are more likely to stay focused and committed when they have a clear endpoint. The prospect of a successful launch can drive individuals (who normally might not do so) to go the extra mile.

Time constraints also force tradeoffs: identifying what is truly important and required to ship, or what needs to be built to scale. This allows the team to make smart tradeoffs, (potentially) deliver value to customers sooner, and see systems working in production before improving them.


Why Naming is Important

Humans love to name things. This inclination is rooted in several cognitive, social, and cultural factors, and is a fundamental aspect of human communication and cognition. Naming serves various purposes:

Cognitive organization. It helps humans organize and categorize the vast amount of information in their environment by providing a mental framework for understanding and remembering objects, concepts, and experiences.

Communication. Naming is a fundamental component of language and communication. Having names for objects, people, and concepts allows individuals to convey information efficiently.

Social interaction. Shared names create a common language within social groups, fostering a sense of community and shared understanding.

Personalization. People often name pets and possessions (cars, plants, etc.) fostering a sense of connection and emotional attachment.


A Powerful Tool

Adding names to projects is one of the most powerful tools a team leader can use. The exact name doesn't really matter, as long as it is memorable. A good project name can help a leader:

• Attract people to the project and get them excited about working on it.

• Clearly communicate the purpose of the project to stakeholders and other interested parties.

• Help the project stand out from the competition and make it more memorable.

• Track and measure progress. Tracking completion of a lot of smaller items and measuring impact can be much less meaningful than grouping a lot of work into a single launch.

A good project name should be:

Clear and concise—easy to understand and remember.

Descriptive—a clear idea of what the project is about.

Unique and memorable—distinct from other projects.

Positive and inspiring—motivation for people to work on the project.

It can be helpful to engage the team doing the work on the project in deciding on a name. This is an opportunity to improve morale, foster camaraderie, and bring people together. Consider running a contest to come up with the name to encourage buy-in from team members.

Once the project name is selected, the team leader will want to communicate what it encompasses: What is in scope and what is out of scope? What are the intermediate steps? What timeline and resources are associated with the project?

Then the team can use the name to share regular updates. And, of course, once the project is completed, the team can celebrate their great accomplishment—by name.


Kate Matsudaira is VP of technology for SoFi's Money (checking and savings), credit card, Invest, insurance, At Work, and partnerships. Previously, she was a VP at Splunk, where she was responsible for the Observability product suite. She has also worked as an executive at Google and helped build several successful startups that were acquired by eBay, O'Reilly Media, and Limelight. She started her career as a software engineer and lead at Microsoft and Amazon. She is a keynote speaker and published author, and has been honored with recognitions such as the NCWIT Symons Innovator Award. She lives in Issaquah, Washington (outside of Seattle), with her husband, Garrett; three boys; and three dogs.

Copyright © 2024 held by owner/author. Publication rights licensed to ACM.


Originally published in Queue vol. 22, no. 1
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