Project Management

Purpose begins with project names

From the Easy in theory, difficult in practice Blog
My musings on project management, project portfolio management and change management. I'm a firm believer that a pragmatic approach to organizational change that addresses process & technology, but primarily, people will maximize chances for success. This blog contains articles which I've previously written and published as well as new content.

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The WHO recently renamed the virus which had initially been referred to as Novel Coronavirus to COVID-19. While this new name is easier to pronounce and is more specific (Coronavirus being a family of viruses), it is no more informative than its former name. This is surprising given that lethal pathogens from the past few decades had been given much more descriptive names including:

  • SARS - Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. No confusion about what that disease is all about!
  • AIDS - Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Ditto.
  • Ebola - Refers to the geographic region where the disease was first identified
  • Legionnaires - First identified by an outbreak in Philadelphia at a convention of the American Legion

So what does this have to do with projects or project management?

In most of the companies I've worked with or for, I've very rarely seen project sponsors exploit the power of effective project names. This is especially true of technology-focused projects. "Upgrade XYZ" is just one of the common yet uninformative names I've seen. I accept that for confidential projects, code names might be warranted but these are usually a very small percentage of most organizations' enterprise project portfolios.

A project name is that first impression which you'll never get a second chance to make. It is the elevator pitch for your elevator pitch about the project.

It is the difference between calling someone a janitor or a health & safety custodian. It is why many companies use the term "QA" rather than "QC" to refer to their testing staff. And, it is that first opportunity we have as leaders to help our team members find the purpose in the work they are doing. And as Daniel Pink has taught us, Purpose is one of the three key ingredients to unleash intrinsic motivation.

So the next time you are assigned to lead a project which has an uninspiring name, use your powers of influence and persuasion to convince the sponsor to change it to something which better describes the purpose behind the project. Come up with a name that captures WHY we are investing in the project rather than WHAT or HOW we are going to deliver it.

Agent Smith, The Matrix Reloaded - "Without purpose, we would not exist. It is purpose that created us. Purpose that connects us. Purpose that pulls us. That guides us. That drives us. It is purpose that defines us."

Posted on: February 23, 2020 07:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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It is much more stimulating to work on a project that as a name, the project 68004. Adding to that a name that is Clear and stimulating will add also.

I see a difference between QA and QC, is there industry that doesn't?

Dear Kiron
Interesting is your perspective on the theme: "Purpose begins with project names"

Thanks for sharing

A well-chosen name and associated metaphor are important factors in mobilizing and participating stakeholders in projects

Thanks, Kiron!

Thanks Luis and Andrew! Thanks Vincent - over the past 30 years in IT, I have seen the QC term replaced by QA when used in department or job titles. I'm sure most of the folks wearing the QA title who are mostly doing testing are likely aware that QC would be a more accurate descriptor but QA is considered to be a more "professional" term.


We do put names to our projects that are meaningful and most of the time reflects the purpose of the project or something around that.

It is important to have a meaningful name.


Hello Kiron - Thank you for another excellent post. A project name is the first time we have an opportunity to introduce our plan, service or product to others. A clear and positive introduction or statement just makes sense.

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