Project Terminology – What Does That Mean?

How many times have you been in a meeting where someone was using project terminology, or acronym, that was unfamiliar to you? It has happened to all of us! As a matter of fact, I was part of a discussion where someone kept using an acronym and I finally got a chance to ask, “What does that acronym stand for?” He started to say “American…” and then said, “Association of…” and then he said, “Alliance for…” He finally told us that he forgot what the acronym stood for.

Understanding project terminology and acronyms is a critical part of the overall learning experience. If your Project Team is unfamiliar with some of the terms and phrases that are being used as part of the project management process, that can be a distraction in addition to potentially impeding their ability to contribute to the project.

During a presentation recently I shared a project glossary with the audience. It was a glossary that I pulled together based on my experience as a Project Manager working in various market segments. Even today, after 25 years in project management, I continue to include the project glossary in the meeting materials for Project Kick-Off meetings. Many people may already understand the project terminology and phrases that are captured in the glossary, however, there are a lot of other people who are newly exposed to project activities that would appreciate the information. The glossary can help them to better understand how the terms are being used and will also establish a level playing field with respect to communicating internally on the team.

A Project Lead mentioned to me that their Project Team was not familiar with the term “Project Charter,” so she renamed the template to read “Project Definition Document.” Perfect. They understood that this document was being used to define the project with information about assumptions, risks, what was in scope versus out of scope and any milestones that had been identified.

Although I welcome the opportunity to share my project glossary, I would suggest that you create a glossary that is aligned with the project terminology and definitions at your organization. However, you will need to use some caution. For instance, a Project Lead once told me that his organization “…does not use the term Project Charter.” He went on to explain that the organization has a “Project Initiation Checklist” that is used in place of the Project Charter. I asked a few clarifying questions about the information gathered for the Project Initiation Checklist and I learned that it was a form used for accounting purposes – obtaining a project number and cost center, updating the time tracking software to reflect the new cost center and creating a new folder on the file server for project documentation.

Admittedly, all of these tasks are necessary for the project, however, in this example “Project Initiation Checklist” cannot replace the “Project Charter” with respect to the definition or the overall purpose. There are benefits to both documents, but the standard definition of the Project Charter provides the information needed to more clearly define the project.

The bottom line is that if someone uses a different term to define the same meaningful information needed to progress with the project, that’s fine. However, because communication is the exchange of understanding, it is imperative that you take the time to share terms, acronyms, and definitions with the collective team. As the Project Lead, it is your responsibility to communicate clearly and effectively while keeping in mind that 90% of our role is based in communication. Wouldn’t it be helpful if we were all using the same terms, acronyms, phrases, and definitions to share information?

Listen. Share. Lead.

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Mary Beth Imbarrato
Mary Beth Imbarrato