Project Manager, Use Small Words to Win Me Over

by Paula Moran


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Some of you laughed at that cartoon and some of you don’t understand what’s so funny about it. The key to understanding the cartoon is being fluent in mathematics terminology. The cartoon isn’t funny unless you know that i is an imaginary number and π is an irrational number.

Project managers are generally comfortable discussing projects using PMBOK and PMI terminology. That universal terminology is valuable for effective communication within the project management community. But it is unlikely the rest of your team members will be as familiar with PMBOK terminology. As professionals we need to keep this in mind.  While we may be comfortable throwing around PMBOK terminology such as “integration management plan,” that terminology can exclude team members and stakeholders from the conversation, just like the math cartoon at the beginning of this article excluded some people from the humor. 

Don’t be the project manager who makes people feel excluded by using lots of big words and jargon.

As a project manager it is your responsibility to do your due diligence consider and plan the ten management processes to whatever degree appropriate for your project with the help of your team. Using simpler every day terminology not only creates a more inclusive and productive conversation, but it helps the team discuss more of the management processes. If you work in an organization with few formalized project management processes it can be the tool to improve the quality of your project management without creating a fuss of implementing a formalized process.

Instead of directly asking team members “What should be included in the procurement management plan?” You can start with simpler questions such as "Who can authorize purchases over $5,000?" or "What did finance say was the new policy for selecting vendors?" Followed by more in depth questions “If gas prices go up and our widget shipping cost goes over budget what expenses can we reduce or cut?” The conversation these and other questions create map out the procurement management plan without all the lengthy terminology. 

The following are some examples questions to start the management plan conversation without saying the deadly term "management plan":

Integration Management Plan:

  • What systems do this need to be coordinated with?
  • Who manages each system?
  • What happens if system x goes down?

Scope Management Plan:

  • Let's define what we won't do.
  • What are the essential things for this project to achieve?

Time Management Plan:

  • Is there any flexibility in the deadline?
  • What happens if we finish early?
  • What happens if we finish late?
  • If we fall behind what is the best part to crunch?

Cost Management Plan:

  • What's our budget?
  • How will we measure progress?
  • Who has approval authority for purchases?
  • Who's tracking expenditures? What system is she using?

Quality Management Plan:

  • How will we know if the deliverable is “good enough”?
  • What measurements will our client make?
  • Are there any standards we have to meet?

Human Resources Management Plan: 

  • Who is assigned to this project?
  • Are there any dates key people aren't available?
  • If Mr. X leaves the project how will we replace him?
  • Are there any other people we need to worry about leaving?

Communication Management Plan: 

  • How are we tracking project progress?
  • Who do they need to be reported to?
  • Our project sponsor is Jan, how long an email is she likely to read?
  • What information do you want to see in the weekly team reports?

Risk Management Plan:

  • What could go wrong?
  • What events would destroy project success and can we prevent them?
  • What could go right that we should take advantage of?

Procurement Management Plan:

  • Who has the authority to approve purchases?
  • What documentation does finance need for their new system? How will we provide and track that?

Stakeholder Management Plan: 

  • Who needs to know about the project expenses?
  • Do they need to know detailed progress or just milestone completion?
  • Who is likely to raise objections during the implementation of the new software?

The PMBOK may be the "bible" of project management. But it is a dry boring read cluttered with vast amounts of technical jargon. The technical jargon and endless definitions are important because they provide project managers with a common vocabulary for discussing issues with each other. But keep that vocabulary to conversations between project managers.