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Nomination for the Most Misused Word in IT Projects

Every industry has its own language … just like every industry has a set of marketers out there just itching to bastardize that language.  It’s a situation that leads to all kinds of confusion which, in turn, leads to all kinds of sage consultants able to charge all kinds of dollars to sort the situation out and keep the great wheels of commerce churning.  The technology industry is built, to some extent, on bafflegab, trends, fads, and on some outright goofy ideas turning into mainstream approaches.  This is the good stuff that keeps the industry dynamic, entertaining and employing so many of us as the pedants argue about whose cloud is whitest. 

It’s the more mundane misuse that’s insidious.  You’ve seen it in meetings:  two people in the same meeting talking about the same thing and using exactly the same words yet having exactly the opposite meaning.  Business analysts should have written for Abbott and Costello – only instead of “Who’s on first”, we ask something innocent like “What’s an order” … and watch the conversation go.  Let’s face it, communication is wonderfully imperfect.

Personally, I’d like to nominate the word ‘scope’ as the most misused word in IT.  Every project has it, ask anyone about a project and they know it, and you can over-, under-, de-, re-, and add-just-about-any-other-adjective-in-front-of-it… scope!  Scope also tends to mean something entirely different to everyone in the room:  to a business person, it’s often synonymous with ‘objectives’, for the developer its modules of code, for architects its more portfolio focused.  The difficultly is that the word scope means something different to every stakeholder group.

The biggie is the difference in meaning between project managers and business analysts – they are just not the same thing.  For project managers, scope encompasses the project from inception to implementation and has charter through implementation tactics.  For business analysts, scope means something entirely different; it’s the ‘scope of analysis’ or the breadth of functionality they need to analyze to determine the business requirements. Candidly, it is not the same thing even though analysts like to use the same word.  Just because the project manager knows the scope, does not mean that the breadth of work required of analysts is particularly well understood.  This error leads to all kinds of problems for the business. One of the biggest is not setting aside a discrete step in many project management approaches to actually determine this through a requirements planning activity.  Kudos to PMI – they recognized this in the new PMBOK.

Language has all sorts of fun twists, most of which just need to be discussed so you get to a common understanding.  It’s when the disconnect gets engineered in to the way companies work on an ongoing basis that it creates problems.  So my vote is for “scope” as the most misused word in projects today.

What’s yours?

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