Project Management

In Pursuit of a Common Understanding

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at [email protected] Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

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.

Does it …

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"We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again, and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore."

- Mark Twain