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The language of project management

Adeline Teoh ed.
July 17, 2012

Improving your project vocabulary isn’t just about learning project jargon, it’s about making sure you’re using the jargon the same way that everyone else on your project is using it.

I said, “Do you speak-a my language?”
He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich.

—Lyrics from ‘Down Under’ by Men at Work

I’m learning European at the moment. Yes I know that isn’t a language, but I’m starting with an understanding of Slavic, Germanic and Romanic languages so I can figure out the basic form of the tongue I’m about to study. I do this mainly because I’m a word nerd, but I must say it also helps me figure out grammar patterns and root words that then leads to easier absorption of the language lessons.

When I first started writing about project management, I must admit I was as lost with some of the jargon then as I am now learning Hungarian. Words like ‘scope’ and ‘stakeholder’ and ‘quality’ sounded like English, but actually had slightly different meanings in a project management context. I quickly learnt to ask the right questions to establish that my interviewee and I were talking about the same thing.

As I delved deeper, I realised that project management even had dialects, as different methodologies tend to use project words in different ways. The basic meaning is the same, but some methodologies have very specific definitions for certain terms that make project activities like scheduling a difficult task for those who don’t speak that methodology’s dialect. (For a word on vernacular, see tip #9 of Alison Wines’ 10 tips for sharpening your project communications.)

Linguistically, these are known as ‘false friends’ (the BBC has some amusing false friend anecdotes if you have time for a browse) and the way to avoid them on a project is to make sure that all the members of your team and the stakeholders who will be working on your project are singing from the same hymn sheet—or reading from the same project management glossary, as it were.

Don’t make false friends when you could be making a Vegemite sandwich.

Image by Neale Cousland /

Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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