If your projects are failing, your glossary isn’t working hard enough

Terry Smith, Intraversed


If your projects are failing, your glossary isn’t working hard enough

We’ve all seen projects fail.

We’ve seen them limp along desperately, trying to reach an ever-extending finish line, looking like a poor facsimile of the exciting image painted when it was first conceived.

It’s just so common, and it shouldn’t be.

As consultants who’ve spent decades being the people called in to try and resolve the issues that underlie project failure, we’ve learned a thing or two about what separates projects that finish strong and those that fall flat.

For us, this is almost a universal project truth:

The quality of your communication will determine the quality of your project outputs.

What does it really mean to have high quality communication?

The word “communication” can mean a lot of different things, and this is part of the problem. In this context, it does not mean that someone can talk fast, or talk easily to strangers, or can run meetings well. A good communicator in this context is not someone who can actively listen or who understands personality types and how they communicate.

All those things are great skills to have. But they don’t deliver high quality communication in a project context.

From Intraversed’s perspective, quality communication happens when your glossary is working at full strength.

The foundation of quality communication is a shared understanding of the business terms being used. In other words, every term used in the communication around a project has one meaning to all parties.

And the best way to ensure your terms have one meaning to all parties is by operating a centralised, organisation-wide, business term glossary, which acts as the single source of truth for all business term meanings, for this project, all future projects, and all other communication across the organisation.

That’s a glossary working at full strength. And it creates clarity, for all parties, for all terms, at all times.

When you don’t have a glossary working at full strength, you have project-based definition work.

Many projects begin with a phase of defining terms, which can seem like a fool proof way to achieve a sufficient level of communication clarity.

And sometimes it does.

However, it’s also a common stumbling block for BA’s and project managers, who assume this kind of definition work is their only option and that it ensures the clarity they need to deliver the project successfully.

Let me cut to the chase: it’s not. It simply can’t be. Here’s why.

The trouble with project-based definition work

Project-based definition work can’t ensure a complete understanding of the usage of the terms involved. Let me cover a few reasons why this is so.

  • Project-based definition work rarely delivers definitions that are as comprehensive as they should be, clarifying exact data and calculations required, with clear parameters and descriptions in place.

  • Project-based definition work is limited in scope as it doesn’t seek to ensure definitions are agreed on by all functional areas as suitable and effective.

  • Project-based definition work often pulls on previous definitions or definitions from existing, functional area-based glossaries, instead of approved org-wide definitions, leaving projects open to repeat problems, incorrect numbers in outputs or misunderstanding of the outputs produced.

  • Project-based definition work may not define core terms (like “student” at a University, or “policy” at an insurance company), because they seem obvious to everyone. This can leave major misunderstandings unidentified.

Your organisation-wide glossary is a powerful tool when built well and maintained successfully.

It can lift heavy projects up out of the failure zone and into the realm of success. It can also streamline the early parts of a project because it removes the need for definition work and allows for the language in the initial request documents to be precise and cross-checked for accuracy with the glossary.

IT project staff then have a solid starting place to build out the requested deliverables knowing they’ve got all the detail they need to understand what data needs to go in, what needs to happen to it and what needs to get produced from these elements.

A Quick Checklist for Assessing your Glossary’s Weight-bearing Capacity

Check whether your organisation-wide glossary has these features:

Is your glossary working as hard as it could for your business?

If not, where is it slacking off?

Our goal is to help you build a glossary that does the heavy lifting for you.

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Terry Smith, Intraversed

Terry Smith

Terry is a co-founder & Chief Education Officer at Intraversed. She spends her days helping information governance teams implement the Intralign Ecosystem, an award winning methodology that builds stable information foundations for reliable reporting.

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