Say What? Project Management Speak, Decoded
Communication is one of the key reasons projects succeed or fail. And when team members or customers use a lot of business jargon, misunderstandings can escalate (especially if someone doesn’t stop to ask, “What do you mean, exactly?”).
Here are some of my favorite “PM speak” phrases, what they really mean, and how to take action on them.
1. “The project schedule is aggressive.”
Translation: There’s a lot of risk in this plan and I don’t think we’ll be able to deliver it on time, but management is demanding an unrealistic date.
Recommended action: Ask your PM for a realistic project schedule and look for options to change the date, adjust scope, or provide additional resources.
2. “I’ll check with the team to see if we can fit this request into the current schedule.”
Translation: I’ll check with an already burdened team to see if they’re willing to take on more work with no real upside even though I can predict the answer will be no.
Recommended action: Once you determine that the change can’t fit into the current schedule, as the PM it can move to the next release or be implemented shortly afterward.
3. “Are those changes mandatory or nice to have?”
Translation: I’m not looking to increase the scope of this project, so please say they’re nice to have even though I know you’re going to state that every change is mandatory.
Recommended action: Understand the actual business benefit of the change and realistically assess if the change will cause a delay to the project.
4. “Let’s take that offline and put it with our parking lot items.”
Translation: Stop derailing this meeting with your tangential questions and let’s stay focused. The only parking lot is the one I’m hoping to reach before the sun sets.
Recommended action: Follow up with the project manager at another time and get clarification on the question.
5. “What’s the status on this deliverable?”
Translation: I don’t want to hear a story, is the task done or not? If it isn’t done, I don’t want another story, just give me a target date. I’ve got 800 tasks to track and telling me the task is 99% complete week after week isn’t going to cut it.
Recommended action: Provide the PM with a status on the task, go over any major issue preventing you from completing the task, and provide your best estimate when the task will be completed.
6. “Any questions or concerns?”
Translation: I’ve just spent the past hour reviewing the status, scope and next steps. Please tell me you’ve been actively listening and don’t ask a question that has already been answered in this meeting.
Recommended action: Listen effectively so you can be sure that the question has not been asked before asking it again.
7. “Can you give your approval on this document as we have our tollgate planned for next week?”
Translation: Please don’t slow down my project with senseless questions or bureaucratic delays in sign-offs as we’re trying to deliver for the customer.
Recommendation action: Project management sign-offs and approvals are all part of a quality assurance process; however, email approvals and signatures can become increasingly bureaucratic as a launch date approaches. Ideally, signatures and approvals should be completed before the key tollgates, but accommodations need to be made. If you receive an email to approve a deliverable, please provide timely feedback as your PM needs it.
8. “Can I run something by you? I wanted to get your opinion on something.”
Translation: I’m in trouble and don’t know how I’m going to get out of it.
Recommended action: Even if your gut tells you the right decision, you might need a second opinion or some confirmation on what to do. Just be sure the person you’re confiding in is someone you trust.
9. “I wanted to follow up on the note I sent you.”
Translation: Why the heck haven’t you read my note? Email is accessible on your laptop, tablet or smartphone. Please get back to me so I don’t have to follow up again.
Recommended action: If you don’t get a response, pick up the phone and call. If they don’t respond to a phone call, schedule a meeting with them. If they don’t attend the meeting, schedule a meeting and include their boss in the discussion. That usually gets the person’s attention.
10. “Aahh, now, are you going to go ahead and have those TPS reports for us this afternoon?”
Translation: You should have delivered these reports days ago and you haven’t provided an update. I’m setting the expectation since you didn’t give me a date.
Recommended action: Provide feedback early on for specific project deliverables and don’t let management set a date for you that you can’t meet. If you don’t manage expectations, someone else will manage them for you.
I give you these phrases in the spirit of good humor, but as a lot of you know, these are things that get said in the work environment. Don’t let them get between you and a clear understanding of a well-planned project.
If you have a few others you’d like to share, please provide them below in the comments form.
Illustrations by Nadya Ilinskaya, LP’s Test Engineer.