PM-Foundations – My Favorite Project Management Slang

Part of my leadership style as a project manager is not taking myself too seriously. I find that creating a challenging and fun atmosphere on the team helps improve both teamwork and project outcomes. My use of project management slang is something that makes people smile, but also helps make a point in a not too serious manner. Below are a few of my favorite project management slang phrases, as well as some project management phrases that I do not like as well. For those of you that know me, you will recognize quite a few of these phrases, because I am not afraid to use them during daily team interactions.

My 9 Favorite Project Management Slang Phrases

1. In the Weeds – This occurs in team meetings when the discussion gets totally off topic. I see this a lot when the team tries to solve an issue rather than just identify the appropriate action items. This also can occur when a team member heads the wrong direction on a task, or attempts to make a task into something bigger than it was intended to be. “I think we might be in the weeds” is a nice way of saying we need to redirect the discussion or work to focus on the things that are required to keep the project headed in the right direction.

2. Arthritic Abandon – This phrase is definitely one of my personal favorites. Arthritic abandon occurs when teams seem to be working real hard, but are getting very little accomplished. A symptom of arthritic abandon is when team members talk about how busy they are, but you are seeing very little progress actually realized in the project schedule. This phenomenon usually points to the need to reassess how work is performed, or decisions made (e.g., too many meetings, or too many approvals).

3. Religious Discussions – I had a boss that said to me one day, “Do you know the difference between a terrorist and a methodologist? The answer is that you can negotiate with a terrorist.” His point was don’t waste time analyzing and discussing methodologies to get work done – select one that is appropriate for your project and use it consistently and effectively. Obtaining consensus on methods and processes is like trying to convert someone’s religious beliefs – it won’t happen. When I encounter a discussion where it appears that we have reached the core of people’s belief systems, I will make the comment that we may be in a bit of a “religious discussion” where there is no “right” answer. At this point you need to raise the discussion up a level, and agree on a path forward that is acceptable to the team (or if necessary mandate the path forward as the project manager).

4. Solving World Hunger – “Solving world hunger” occurs when the team is attempting to solve something that is too big. I use this phrase to encourage the team to break the problem down into components and identify actions items required to move forward. Another version of this phrase is, “I think we might be trying to boil the ocean.”

5. The Wedding Planner – I have several phrases that describe types of project managers. I don’t use these phrases to be mean, but rather mentor PM’s on adjusting their focus or behaviors. My personal favorite is the wedding planner. The wedding planner is more concerned with planning events (e.g., project celebrations, steering committee meetings, milestone reviews) than managing project outcomes. The wedding planner likes planning logistics related issues (e.g., meeting rooms, invitations, AV equipment and meals) more than resolving issues and completing real work. A couple other project manager terms that I have encountered are:

  • Clipboard Project Manager – This is the project manager that walks around and “checks” off tasks as they are completed. This project manager is usually so busy with the details that they do not notice when a major milestone is slipping.
  • Content Free Project Manager – The content free project manager wants nothing to do with understanding the product that is being delivered by the project – that is “not their job”. If you have ever tried it before, it is very difficult to help resolve issues or complete work with zero comprehension of the solution your team is working on.

6. Dog Knot – A dog knot is when project issues have brought progress on the project to a complete stop. This is also referred to as “gridlock”. Disagreements or confusion related to specific issues can cause teams to lose focus on the actions required to “move forward”. A dog knot situation usually requires intervention on the part of the project manager to facilitate issue resolution.

7. Pushing a Rope Uphill – This phrase refers to team members that are trying to do something that is very difficult, and is unlikely to have a positive outcome. The team member’s idea or effort does not fit well within the goals or strategy of the project or organization. A similar phrase is “going against the grain”. I will us this phrase to get team members to drop the idea or effort in the spirit of gaining consensus on the team.

8. This Dog Won’t Hunt – I was introduced to this phrase when managing a product development effort. When describing the lack of market acceptance for the product, the product manager said, “I don’t think this dog is going to hunt”. This phrase gently conveys the message that the project is delivering a solution that is not going to meet the project objectives. This phrase is used either to help the team decide on the appropriate corrective actions, or recommend to cancel the project.

9. Feeding Frenzy – A feeding frenzy refers to something that can occur in a team meeting. One person says something and it causes the team to go on a wild tangent. Generally the feeding frenzy is not positive (a lot of griping can occur in a feeding frenzy). I use the phrase in an attempt to get the team to calm down a bit, and refocus the discussion on the topic at hand.

Not My Favorite PM Slang Phrases

Here are the phrases that I am not as fond of. I don’t like most of these phrases because they are too negative about the project or the project team. The other reason I do not like some of these phrases is that they touch on aspects of the project that should be managed / solved by the project manager.

  • Scope Creep –Some project managers fall back on the excuse that the project is over budget or late because there were constant changes, but often cannot quickly explain the changes that account for the primary deviations from the original plan. Projects with too high a percentage of unexplained variances, is usually an indication of a project with inadequate attention to change control processes. In these cases, too many changes are “flying under the radar” and hence the use of the term “scope creep”.

  • 9 Women cannot have a baby in one month – This phrase refers to the fact that you cannot just “throw” more resources at a project to deliver on a target date. This phrase is not my favorite mainly because it is overused. I also do not like it because it infers that there are limited options that will fix the problems on the project, even additional resources. I believe the project manager is obligated to work with the team to find options to get a project back on track, especially when the sponsor is offering to help with additional resources.

     

  • Death March – The phrase “death march” refers to a project assignment that is doomed from the start due to unrealistic commitments/expectations (aggressive deadlines, under-funded, and short staffed). Referring to your project as a “death march” from the beginning of the project becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Honestly, I have never taken on a project that I felt was a “death march”. If the project commitments truly are unrealistic, the “facts” discovered throughout the planning process can be utilized to help reset expectations.

  • And then there was a miracle – This phase is used when the team feels that the only way a successful project outcome will occur is if something beyond their control happens. As a project manager, I like to believe that the team has been empowered to successfully deliver the project. To say that a “miracle” is required is in essence shirking responsibility for the project results, and/or conceding defeat/failure.
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