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Project Management Challenge: Say This, Not That

Project Management SpeakThe project management domain and the encompassing business world is full of acronyms, jargon, and other terms that no one outside of a card-carrying member of the Project Management Body of Knowledge would share with their friends and family (notice I didn’t use the acronym PMBOK here).

If I started talking about developing a “strategic competency to obtain competitive advantage” at my kid’s soccer game, the other parents would be befuddled with the verbose verbiage, and I’d be laughed off the field.  The reality is, if you use industry jargon at work, you could confuse your customer and leave your team thinking, “Huh?”

The following is a list of overused and abused terms that should be avoided.  These are actual phrases I’ve heard in business that should be avoided despite the urge to demonstrate your corporate swagger. I could title this list as, ”A Strategic Communication Plan To Help Improve Communication and Drive Business Value with Business Stakeholders,”  but instead I’ll simply call it, “Say This, Not That.”

  1. Say This: “It works well.”
    Not That: “No long term sustainable results.”The product or solution works well or it doesn’t.  If it keeps breaking, it isn’t a working solution.
  1. Say This: “We are behind schedule.”
    Not That: “Our SPI is less than 1” or “SV is negative.”I learned this one the hard way.  I thought saying the latter phrase would impress my customer with my project management knowledge, and he would be instantly floored by how well we were managing the project. When I told him that our SPI was .97 and our CV was zero, he nodded in agreement.  Later, he explained to my management that I don’t communicate well.
  1. Say This: “People like our products and want to buy more of them.”
    Not That: “Maintain the consumer ownership experience across customer lifecycle.”I recently finished reading the Steve Job’s Biography by Walter Issacson.  This book disects Apple’s focus on creating great products that people want to buy.  Jobs would’ve ridiculed the consultant who presented PowerPoint slides that encouraged Apple to maintain the consumer experience across the customer lifecycle.
  1. Say This: “Prioritize within our budget.”
    Not That: “We’re optimizing business value by driving a structural cost mindset.”I don’t know about you, but my personal finances never demonstrated an optimized business value while driving a structural cost mindset.  I prioritized the stuff I needed and then wanted to buy. There’s no sense in making things more complicated than they actually are!
  1. Say This: “Work as a team.”
    Not That: “Demonstrate effective business partnerships”I don’t want to demonstrate effective business partnerships.  I want my co-workers to think we work well as a team so we can do good work and get stuff done.
  1. Say This: “Know what is important.”
    Not That: “Core Competency”I keep the “core” talk to when I’m working my abs out at the gym. Knowing what is important is kept in the office.
  1. Say This: “Show me what you’re doing”
    Not That: “Open the Kimono”Unless the project team is working in ancestral Japan, just explain how your do work and keep the kimono to yourself. Please.
  1. Say This: “Change the way we’re working”
    Not That: “Paradigm Shift”Changing the way a business runs isn’t easy.  People are used to doing work a certain way and don’t like to adjust.  Unless you’re sliding two dimes on a table, avoid the paradigm shift, and cut right to the chase.
  1. Say This: “Do This!”
    Not That: “Best Practice”I’m guilty of using this term simply because it sounds cool (just being honest).  I worked in one company that had a Best Practice Replication (BPR) team.  It seemed odd to me that project teams weren’t sharing knowledge and actually had to have a formal organization document to try to enforce the same solution across different teams.
  1. Say This: “Get different opinions to the problem.”
    Not That: “Think outside the box.”Did you ever notice that the person telling you to think outside the box rarely ever thinks outside the box?  The creative problems solvers never say “think outside the box.”  They get different opinions and viewpoints to solve a problem and demonstrate by doing.

Are you guilty of using these terms?

I’ll let you off the hook.  We’ve all used some of these terms in our corporate careers.  I don’t remember when I was handed a primer on Corporate Speak.  Perhaps it was acquired through osmosis at the company’s cafeteria?

The key point is to speak plainly so your business partners and team understand you. You’ll be perceived as a better communicator and a more effective leader.

About the Author

Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT manager, author, instructor, and lecturer on a range of project management topics including PMO management, ERP implementation, application portfolio management, and infrastructure management.

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