I wish that someone would have forced me to read Jeff Patton’s book, User Story Mapping, 5 years ago. It would have been helpful, both internally with how our teams interact, and externally with clients when defining what digital products to build, why we should build them, and how we’re going to drill down into the details to make the right things happen together.
Let me get to the punchline of Shared Understanding as it pertains to building digital products:
“Talk, communicate, draw, interact with people, to develop a shared understanding of what software makes sense to build and why. Learn to listen, and participate so you can digest as a team - ideas, problems, and possible solutions for target customers. Get out and interact intelligently together.”
In 3 different books for different purposes the concept of “Shared Understanding” is referenced and explained. The books I’ll reference are 1. User Story Mapping, 2. Product Roadmaps Relaunched, and 3. LeanUX.
To let Jeff Patton explain the concept of Shared Understanding better than I could:
“The talking goes better if we can externalize our thinking by drawing pictures or organizing our ideas using index cards or sticky notes. If we give each other time to explain our thoughts with words and pictures, we build shared understanding.
Through combining and refining our different ideas, we end up with a common understanding that includes all our best ideas. That’s why externalizing our ideas is so important. We can redraw sketches or move sticky notes around, and the cool thing is that we’re really moving ideas around. What we’re really doing is evolving our shared understanding. That’s super-hard with just words alone.
There are a great number of people who believe that there’s some ideal way to document - that, when people read documents and come away with different understandings, it’s either the reader’s fault or the document writer’s. In reality, it’s neither. The answer is just to stop it. Stop trying to write the perfect document. Go ahead and write something, anything. Then use productive conversations with words and pictures to build shared understanding.”
Patton, J. , Economy, P. (2014). User Story Mapping, https://www.amazon.com