Not on the same Thesaurus page: Complicated, Complex, Difficult
Let’s face it – everybody has a handful of pet peeves. And, I think just about everybody has at least one "language" peeve. Our VP of Operations can’t pass up an opportunity to tell some poor misspoken staffer that "irregardless" is not a word (it’s either "regardless" or "irrespective", for those of you playing along at home).
Well, one of my major peeves is the synonymous use of "complicated", "complex", and "difficult." They’re not the same thing, and using some combination of them as such can set incorrect expectations on project work – for developers, management, and customers. As a project manager, one of my most challenging roles is setting expectations. At IDV Solutions, we actually tell customers we’re attempting to under-promise, over-deliver, but if my designer has one expectation for "X", my developer has another, the customer has a third, and my VP of Operations expects it all to be completed on time, on budget…well, you get the picture.
So back to the peeve of the day. I hear people say a task or problem is complex, complicated, or difficult interchangeably all the time. Even the dictionary and the thesaurus tend to throw these words into the same bucket. Remember, this is a peeve, so of course I have my own opinion…
Difficult things are tasks that by their nature are effort-intensive.
Marathon Running: Run in a straight line. Don’t fall down. Don’t stop for 26.2 miles.
In the business of visual composite applications, we get all three of these. Sometimes a customer brings us very good geospatial data, and wants us to allow them to perform a specialized spatial query with a new UI tool (Complex). Sometimes a customer brings us messy, unrelated data in two dozen different data sets, and wants us to bring it all together into a single, clean view (Complicated). And, sometimes a customer brings us a simple spreadsheet of data with location references for parts of the world where geo-coding of placenames hasn’t happened, yet (quick, geo-code Nzisa, Zimbabwe for me!). Anyone can do it, it’s just a lot of effort (Difficult); sit someone in front of our Visual Fusion Client UI and have them draw pushpins on the map for each place in the spreadsheet. It’s a bit like running a marathon…
So next time you are looking to describe a problem or a bit of source code or the latest puzzle/game your spouse brought home for the kids, the peeve-o-meter inside me hopes you’ll think just a moment before choosing an adjective.