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VAB: The Voom Acronym Ban

Published: Jan 23rd, 2019
jumble of letters
Photo by Nathaniel Shuman

VAB is the “Voom Acronym Ban” and it is exactly what it sounds like — a ban on the use of acronyms. Here at Voom, we don’t call it the VAB for obvious reasons. But we also don’t call it the Voom Acronym Ban.

To start, it’s not specific to Voom, it’s something that anyone can and should do.

Second, it isn’t limited to acronyms; it also applies to initialisms. In fact, it includes abbreviations, jargon and any other language that can obscure meaning.

Finally, it isn’t a ban. We use acronyms when necessary and the meaning is clear, but avoid them as much as possible.

Why? Because acronyms, initialisms, abbreviations, and jargon obscure meaning.

In the best case scenario people will ask for clarification when needed. By avoiding the need to do so we ensure we are inclusive to team members who are newer, less experienced, or mitigating representation bias as an underrepresented minority.

It is worse when people do not know that clarification is needed. If someone recommends you take a trip on LSD while in Chicago you might not know to ask if they are using the common initialism for the scenic Chicago road named Lake Shore Drive.

Obscuring the meaning of a name makes it less obvious when you are changing its nature or purpose. It’s clear that first-strike capability is not appropriate for a Department of Defense. It’s less clear that that is true for the DoD.

We don’t have the VAB at Voom. What we have is a preference for clear language that avoids acronyms, initialisms, abbreviations, and jargon whenever possible.

Like most matters of team culture, this is demonstrated most effectively through example. Our codebase, documentation, and user stories have few to no acronyms, initialisms, or jargon. It is also rare to hear them in a meeting or pairing session.

They still show up occasionally. When they do someone on the team will ask for clarification and gently remind us of our preference for clear language. It can sound like this, “What does X mean?” or “Can we call it something that makes it clear what it is?”

These reminders are most effective when they come from senior members of the team. It demonstrates that the preference is not the result of a lack of expertise or knowledge and it sets a standard for the entire team.

Using clear, concise, and accurate language is difficult. It’s even more difficult when the nature of the things are constantly changing like they do at Voom or within any ongoing startup or software project. The benefit is improvement in clarity and shared understanding.