In Pursuit of a Common Understanding
I recently took a phone call from an executive who declared themselves “confused by all this project gobbledygook.” When I calmed him down enough to understand the real issue, it turns out he was trying to understand how to map agile terminology to traditional terminology. He had always believed his organization’s strategic investments were structured as an enterprise portfolio containing a number of major programs that, in turn, held a number of projects each. He also recognized that projects could be standalone, so they could exist at the same level as programs in that hierarchy.
While agile had been used for project delivery in his business for some time, the decision on “agile vs. traditional” had always been made closer to the execution work and was largely invisible to him. But now the company had started to use agile thinking and approaches in its planning, and a number of senior managers were starting to use terms like themes, initiatives and epics.
To better understand, he turned to Google and determined that a “theme” was a strategic priority, an “initiative” was a program, and an “epic” was a project. But that caused even more confusion because one article said that initiatives were “large strategic efforts or themes.” What did people think he meant when he talked about initiatives? That led to his call to me and a plea for help clarifying things.
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