Project Management

The 18 Worst Project Management Buzzwords (And What They Actually Mean)

Published by in Project Management

Have you had that “I’m actually becoming my dad” moment yet?

Like, how you used to tease your dad for spending 45 minutes loading the dishwasher just so, until the day that you find yourself strategizing the layout of the butter knives and saucers like it’s a life-or-death game of Super Kitchen Simulator 1.000?

Or the way you used to rib the old man for always insisting on refueling with the cheapest gas possible until the day you find yourself driving 13 miles out of your way to “save” 74 cents on a fill-up?

The same thing happens with project management buzzwords.

One day you’re hanging around the office kitchen mocking phrases like “thinking outside the box” and “synergy,” and then, before you even realize it, you’re “pinging” your coworkers to determine who has enough “bandwidth” to take on the next “action item.” And all with a straight face.

How does this happen? Mix a dash of laziness with a sprinkle of lack of awareness. Now add a healthy scoop of “Some-of-these-words-are-pretty-darn-catchy-the-first-12-times-you-hear-them” and a dollop or two of “If-it-looks-like-a-project-manager-and-talks-like-a-project-manager-then-it-probably-is-a-project-manager,” you have a perfect recipe for project management buzzwords.

The best way to reduce buzzwords from your diet is first to identify them, then figure out what the heck they actually mean (in straight speak) so that you can find more original (and straightforward) ways of conveying your message.

So let’s get this thing off the launchpad, shift the paradigm, skip past the low-hanging fruit, and take a deep dive into…

Project Management Buzzwords

 1. Attention to Detail

Could be mistaken for: A job requirement for that guy who throws knives at an assistant spinning around on a big wooden target. Or a clever name for a luxury car wash.

What it actually means: Focus, thoroughness, accuracy.

2. Best-in-Class

Could be mistaken for: A Jean-Claude Van Damme movie where “The Muscles From Brussels” infiltrates a high school by masquerading as a teenager to kickbox some sense into the corrupt principal.

What it actually means: Highest quality within a category. But how often is something really “best” in class? There can’t be eight “bests” in a class.

3. Change Management

Could be mistaken for: George Clooney’s field in Up In The Air?

What it actually means: Getting your team to accept necessary changes in the project and come together to ensure that those changes go smoothly.

4. Current State Assessment

Could be mistaken for: What you do when you attempt a double-black diamond on your second time skiing and find yourself missing a ski, glove, and goggles 20 yards from the trail.

What it actually means: How things are going within your business RIGHT THIS SECOND!

5. Disruptive

Could be mistaken for: That lovable but mischievous boy from Problem Child. Or Dennis the Menace. Or Clifford.

What it actually means: A technological breakthrough that alters the existing market. Also known as innovative.

6. Due Diligence

Could be mistaken for: When heard vocally, you might think the speaker is saying “do diligence” as in “do earnestness.” And then you might think “That person has an unusual way of speaking.” It also sounds like it could be part of The Scout Oath.

This scout master did NOT do his due diligence.

What it actually means: Careful preparation. You could also just say diligence. I think the “due” is implied, assuming you are an upstanding citizen and not some common, corner-cutting, stinking shirker.

7. Execution Metrics

Could be mistaken for: An awesome new Arnold Schwarzenegger/Steven Seagal/Dolph Lundgren movie where an aging hitman becomes the target himself!

What it actually means: Statistics that show whether something is working or not.

8. Gap Analysis

Could be mistaken for: What Robbie Knievel’s stunt team gets paid for.

What it actually means: The comparison between how your project is actually performing against how you want it to be performing.

9. Managing Client Expectations

Could be mistaken for: The conversation you have when a customer comes into your car dealership with $3,000 and wants to look at high-performance sports cars.

What it actually means: Communicating, clearly and realistically, what your client will be receiving from you at the end of the project.

10. Mission Critical

Could be mistaken for: How you would describe the doohickies on the Apollo Lunar Module that allowed the astronauts to breathe and then take off again after walking around on the moon.

What it actually means: Important to the success of the project.

11. Multitasking

Could be mistaken for: Eating Taco Bell breakfast, drinking coffee, shaving, brushing your teeth, and texting your boss that you’re going to be late for the 10 a.m. meeting, all while driving to work.

What it actually means: Trying to accomplish multiple steps of a project simultaneously. Most evidence suggests that this is rarely productive.

12. Operating Model

Could be mistaken for: A superhuman who is not only stunningly beautiful but is also capable of performing open-heart surgery on the runway.

What it actually means: A visual plan of how your project is going to be successful.

13. Prioritizing

Could be mistaken for: Somberly accepting the fact that studying for tomorrow’s GMAT exam is more important right now than attending your beer league Rock Paper Scissors competition.

What it actually means: Deciding what needs to be done before other stuff needs to be done. In other words, project management.

14. Process Improvement

Could be mistaken for: Sitting down to come up with a plan so you don’t show up late to work again tomorrow with cheese sauce and coffee on your shirt, a chipped tooth, and a texting while driving ticket.

What it actually means: Identifying flaws or inefficiencies in your project plan and fixing them.

15. Project Implementation

Could be mistaken for: The top-secret code name for a government project that involves landing a bunch of gadgets and contraptions on Mars.

What it actually means: When you cut out all the chit chat and actually start working on your project!

16. Risk Management

Could be mistaken for: Collectively, the senior members of a club honoring and celebrating the beloved 1957 strategy board game.

Poor risk management

What it actually means: Finding out which things might mess up your project, and then avoiding those things.

17. Synergy

Could be mistaken for: This one is basically the Babe Ruth of project management buzzwords, so it’s not fooling anyone anymore. Just for fun though, it sounds like a sketchy performance enhancing supplement.

What it actually means: When two or more elements of your project work well together.

18. Target State

Could be mistaken for: The state that has the most Target stores. Or, the state being targeted by Dr. Evil in the next Austin Powers movie.

What it actually means: The ideal success level for your project.

More project management buzzwords?

The fun thing about buzzwords is that they are like any type of slang, ever changing. Some of these words will fade from existence over time, while the project management buzzwords of tomorrow may only just now be forming on the lips of whiz-kids at unicorn startups.

Which project management buzzwords did we miss, and which “normal” project management terms of today do you think are destined for buzzword infamy? Let us know in the comments, and if you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out these other great buzzword pieces!

Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.

About the Author

Andrew Conrad

Andrew Conrad

Andrew Conrad is a senior content writer at Capterra, covering business intelligence, retail, and construction, among other markets. As a seven-time award winner in the Maryland, Delaware, D.C. and Suburban Newspapers of America editorial contests, Andrew’s work has been featured in the Baltimore Sun and PSFK. He lives in Austin with his wife, son, and their rescue dog, Piper.



Comment by David Miller on


This post is quite hilarious yet very informative. It is a fun way to clear misconceptions among readers about various jargons and buzzwords related to project management. As these industries lingo is in a trend, so it is my job to keep on searching for them to add more value to my articles. I am a creative writer and I make sure the content I am serving to readers for ProProfs Project blogs is worth reading. And adding such buzzwords in my blogs makes it more compelling and interesting at the same time. Thanks for sharing this blog I found it very creative and interesting at the same time.


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