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Tuesday, 31 March 2015
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Can we stop using the word Artifact?


I fully appreciate that language is always evolving, and as we make up new words and definitions they become added to the dictionary.

But there is one term that has become fashionable in the world of software engineering that really troubles me – “artifact”. To me it gives completely the wrong idea.

Here are a couple of partial dictionary definitions:

  • a tool or object that was made a very long time ago.
  • any object made by human work; esp., a simple or primitive tool, weapon, vessel, etc.
  • … typically an item of cultural or historical interest.

There are others, but these are most typical.

I take it as a given that we should try to use terminology that can be easily understood by everybody.

So when we use the term “artifact” we are evoking an image of something created a long ago and left in some place by accident or afterthought. It only gets brought to light in bits and pieces when a dedicated archeologist goes digging. And then the archeologist has to put the bits in pieces together in some way that makes sense. And then it gets filed away in a museum, perhaps useful for future archeology research.

Wouldn’t it be better if instead we refer to things that we thoughtfully choose, so that we can efficiently meet the needs of all our “consumers”? And wouldn’t we look professional and competent if we actively organize and manage them – so anybody who needs them can easily find them? Of course I am talking about the Macroscope mindset. So if you agree this is a useful approach, would you accept the need for some word other than “artifact”?

Macroscope uses the word “deliverable”. But that isn’t a perfect term either – there are competing images in our brains. I’m not suggesting Macroscope should start using a different term because it’s too deeply imbedded. And the Glossary entry does make it clear how Macroscope uses the term.

But maybe we could use a different term in our communication, as a synonym for “deliverable”. PMI’s PMBOK® Guide suggests “work result” or “work product”. I prefer “work product” myself.

Any other suggestions?

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0 #2 Gary Silberg 2015-09-15 19:52
Just reread this. Note that some public sector bids in Canada use the term "deliverable" for a document or other tangible item (e.g. code) which can be received and approved and signed off contractually to get paid. They also use the term "work product" for other types of documents and materials which are of a more "transient" nature to the project and don't get officially signed off - e.g. a status report, minutes of a meeting, a design decision ultimately reflected within another document. I like "deliverable" myself over "artifact" because it is simpler language. And for some reason some people like to spell the other word "artefact" (apparently the British spelling now).
0 #1 Serge Deschamps 2015-05-07 14:08
I also like Work Product. I find it quite powerful in terms of what it means in a project setting. The 'Product' first needs to be defined (purpose, who is it for, the form, the level of detail, etc.) - so one can estimate the 'Work' that will be necessary to deliver it. The 'Product' also determines - and justifies the work to be accomplish and provides a predictable 'end of work' criterion, i.e when the 'product' is in a state ready to accomplish its defined purpose.