Project Practitioners > The Criticality of Common, Concrete Language

The Criticality of Common, Concrete Language

By Margaret de Haan


I have recently joined a company that is in its Project Management infancy, and I have come on board to assist in creating a PMO with all of the bells and whistles that will work for the organization.   The company works in providing online software programs, and has been experiencing explosive growth over the last few years, which has opened up the need for structured Project Management within the organization.  Putting in this structure offers a huge opportunity for improvement, but realistically is an uphill battle climbing a very steep mountain.

I am always glad to see when an organization realizes that their seat-of-my-pants, get-r-done reactive style needs help, because that means that they are not only successful, but that they are getting large enough that there are many Projects going on at once, and that better planning  is needed to become more efficient.  What I first noticed coming into this position was that in many meetings there were a large number of managers in a room trying to communicate, but that in many cases they were speaking different languages and didn’t even know it.  What that caused was a large amount of misunderstanding which directly fed inefficiency and ineffectiveness.  In fact, there wasn’t even an enterprise definition of a Project, and time was wasted trying to figure out which process certain work should follow – is it a Project that requires scoping, or should this be considered a defect?

So where did we start, you ask?  Why at the beginning, of course!  After observing for about a week, I realized that part of the issue was that you had what I call “fluffies” (people who live in the creative world where things are abstract, and there are no hard edges) talking to members of IT.  They were agreeing in meetings and then going off in totally different directions.  Now, this may seem obvious to you and I, but when you agree to produce a “plan” for something, I expect there to be something presented to be in a concrete form – a document with details, right?  Well, it became apparent that even the word “plan” didn’t mean the same thing company wide, so we had to go back to a very basic form of communication and put better facilitation in place so that everyone really was on the same page.  So, we taught the “fluffies” how to speak concrete, and us “linears” how to facilitate to get agreement on well defined deliverables using simple/stupid language.  Now if you are eavesdropping on a meeting you may hear an exchange that goes something like this:

Linear: “What deliverables will there be for the June 6th deadline for the “X” Project”

Fluffy: “We hope to have a strategy for the brand”

Linear: “What is the tangible deliverable for a strategy?  Is it a plan document, a task list, a flow diagram?”

Fluffy: “We can create a plan document” 

Linear: “We know you can, but are you committing to deliver a plan document to the team before or on June 6th?”

Fluffy: “Yes”

I know that this sounds rudimentary and simple, but it just proves that it’s necessary to have a solid foundation to build on, or what you build will not be stable.  I mean, how effective do you think that you will be if you are having a meeting with someone that only speaks Esperanto, and there is no translator in the room?  Start with the basics, that’s my advice.

Margaret de Haan  

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