By James Sudakow
Every industry has its own unique language. The corporate world is no different. We hurl around some strange and unique buzzwords on a regular basis that confounds those outside of the business environment – and ironically many who work within the corporate world.
If we look one step deeper into corporate jargon, different parts of the corporate world have their own unique sub-dialects and terminology as well. The PMO is among those utilizing an entire slew of expressions and terminology.
We emphasize how important it is to have charters with scope clearly defined so we can avoid the ever perilous scope creep. We speak with a lot of passion about the critical path and how integration between work streams (or work threads depending on your terminology preference) is paramount to our success. We refer to putting together decks to map out our roadmaps and deliverables.
Then we do a whole bunch of brilliant project management things. We conduct cost/benefit analyses and develop compelling business cases and ROIs. We make charts of all kinds – RACI charts, Pareto charts, Gantt charts, the always important work breakdown structures (or simply “The WBS”) – so that we can effectively socialize what we are doing and manage our critical stakeholders and our change network. All of this is done to help us get to our desired end game – a successfully implemented initiative that achieves the value the organization perceived it would.
Oh and by the way, along with all of that stuff, we generally have to herd cats who don’t know what some, many, or any of those other terms really entail and who have an ever growing list of other critical priorities stacking up in front of them that are pulling their mental energy away from what we are trying to accomplish with our PMBOK methodology.
All of this thought about project management jargon and its use on large scale initiatives led me to talk with some key leaders in organizations to whom I consult to ask them what they thought about project management jargon. What I heard back was surprising in some regards and not surprising in others but important to note as we think about communication and successful project outcomes:
“I just want to make sure the work gets done effectively, on time and within budget. The specifics about the terminology or methodology isn’t important to me and sometimes actually gets in the way of the conversations we need to have.”
“Quite honestly, the project managers who do the best work don’t really talk about any of these things. They just get the job done. And the ones I have the hardest time relating to and working with are the ones who talk to me in ‘PMO-talk.’”
“What works the best is when they simply get me the information I need in a language I can understand so I can make decisions to positively impact the work.”
As someone who works on a lot of different kinds of complicated business initiatives myself, on the forefront of my mind is the importance of communication. We all hear that all the time, but what does that really mean? And what if our business terminology – those great terms we use all the time in project management work – actually get in the way a bit? From the leaders I spoke with, that might actually be the case.
A great mentor of mine from when I worked at Deloitte Consulting at the beginning of my career told me something I still carry with me today about communication and project management:
“Speak to people in the language they speak – not the language you are comfortable with…”
So for those of us who manage projects – large and small – in the companies we work for or consult to, our first job should be to figure out what language all of our key stakeholders (for lack of a non-jargon term) speak. Then we should speak to them in that language, no matter how comfortable or uncomfortable we are. Some companies have embraced a very project oriented culture and use many of these terms on a regular basis. In those cases, let’s throw around as many as we can because it fits with the culture and actually reinforces what has been identified as important there.
But for many other organizations, whereas it can be challenging for us not to use our “PMO-talk”, it may serve as the best way to actually positively impact the success of the project. Converting our PMO terms to terms that work in their language might be the best way to have our messages resonate and become actionable.
We can save our special PMO language for project happy hours – after the key stakeholders have gone home.
James Sudakow is the author of humorous illustrated corporate glossary, “Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit… and Other Stupid Stuff We Say in the Corporate World” (Purple Squirrel Media, 2016), and principal of CH Consulting, Inc., a boutique management and organizational effectiveness consulting practice. Find out more about James at jamessudakow.com.