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Pulling The Thread: What’s In A Name?

Fun fact – on the very first day of my corporate career, as a naïve graduate in a humble project office, I was handed a 5 page long list of acronyms.

A whopping 80% of these acronyms were project names. But it’s not the acronyms that’s the concern here. It’s that 100% of those project names were related to what the project was DELIVERING, not what the project was ACHIEVING.

That is; the WHAT, not the WHY. Surely there’s an interesting thought experiment here – – Consider for a second how differently you would measure and govern a project named “Unlocking Capacity within Team X” vs how you would measure and govern a project named “Australian Application Database Project”.

The key standout here is one of mindset.

By naming our projects around our scoped items – we’re locking ourselves in. We make the selected solution our key focus. This means our success metrics will naturally be built with that specific solution in mind.

So, how do you measure success of the “Australian Application Database Project”? Likely something around ‘delivering a database that enables applications from Australian residents, ideally on time and on budget.’

But what about a project named “Unlocking Capacity within Team X” – well that’s a much broader mindset. You’re not locked into any one solution, in fact, you’re likely to bundle a number of things together to collaboratively achieve your target. Plus, measuring success is simpler and more obvious: ‘net hours saved within Team X’.

So I pose the question to you –

How much is your project name pre-determining your project’s fate?

A Quick Cheat-sheet on: Sources of WHY

While we’re talking WHYs, a few weeks ago I asked a colleague what his top 5 most common strategic objectives were across his clients. Which soon had me thinking – if I were to apply the transformational lens, what would my answer to that question be?

Here’s where I landed.

Across the $11B+ in change I’ve lead and guided, the most common objectives I see are:

  • Efficiency / Capacity
  • Impact/Improvement (i.e., to demonstrably change conditions for a target audience.)
  • Growth
  • Satisfaction
  • Sustainability

So if you’re stumped on defining your WHY – take a look at the list above and see if any of those apply.


Final Thoughts

I’ve recently dived into David Goggins’ book – ‘Can’t Hurt Me’. It’s a fascinating, and heartbreaking read. However, there was one quote at the start of the book that stood out for me:

“Human beings change through study, habit and stories.”

In an organisational context, we rely on ‘study’ (i.e., training) an awful lot, ‘habit’ a little (i.e. reinforcement programs), and ‘stories’ almost never.

Perhaps we should rebalance that.

Brendon Baker

Brendon is a leading expert in strategic framing and inside-out change. He has led and guided over $11 Billion in transformative projects and programs, from transformations to teddy bears. He is the author of the best-seller Valuable Change, and niche top seller Creating High Value PMOs. Brendon now spends his time helping leaders cut through the noise to focus on what matters; working with them to create new realities.

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