The Devil’s project management dictionary

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Posted by Matthew Stibbe

Ambrose Bierce wrote his famous ‘Devil’s Dictionary’ after the American Civil War. It was as funny as it was cynical. I have written a Devil’s Marketing Dictionary but here is my Devil’s Project Management Dictionary. Enjoy!

(For more serious thoughts about project management, see: Eight expensive lessons in project management and NASA tips for project managers. You might also enjoy our guide to choosing project names.

  • Scoping. You can have any two of fast, cheap or good. Marketing wants all three. Engineering can (on a good day) deliver one.
  • Specification. A tissue of lies written to distract the client.
  • Project manager. A hopeless dupe.
  • Engineer. Someone who believes that the glass is neither half full, nor half empty but twice as big as it needs to be.
  • Producer. (Computer games industry) Someone who knows nothing about game design, programming, art or project management but who decides when you get paid. The biggest risk on any project. Also, likely to leave the client around the time you are ready to go beta (see change control).
  • Deliverable Something that shows the most progress with the least effort.
  • Task. The smallest discrete lie in a project plan.
  • Resource allocation. You work 24 hours a day, but you get to choose which 24.

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If you’re looking for the critical path, you’re not on it

  • Critical path. One of many ways in which you can be late. If you’re looking for the path, you’re not on it.
  • Microsoft Project. A piece of software that transforms lies into pretty diagrams. No one knows how it works, but everyone insists you use it. And for goodness sake, never ask it to level resources automatically. It has been suggested that Microsoft developed Project to make project management an art rather than a science. I think it is still a religion and Project is its liturgy.
  • Gantt chart. "Bureaucratic grid prison" (Edward Tufte)
  • PERT chart. Extremely useful for designing nuclear missiles. Avoid in all other circumstances.
  • Dependency. The universal excuse for why something started late or finished later. The number of dependencies in a project is always twice as many as the number you have listed in the project plan. Why? “Everything is connected to everything else.” (Lenin)

Drop dead, deadlines

  • Deadline. It all depends on what your definition of ‘no later than’ is.
  • Alpha. A working prototype.
  • Beta. A working prototype with completely different code.
  • Final candidate. A beta with some of the bugs fixed.
  • Release candidate. A beta with most of the bugs fixed but with marketing’s blessing.
  • Final. First public beta.
  • Man-month. A myth. (See Fred Brooks)
  • QA. 4,000 bug reports, all the same, written by illiterate school leavers.
  • Change control. Something that a publisher does to a developer. In no way related to tracking change requests and updating the plan, budget and deadline accordingly.
  • Feature creep. A synonym for project manager.

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