Jargon Buster

So, the Christmas break and a busy January were counter-productive to posting – surprise, surprise… I think I’ll have to come up with a renewed goal. I’ve managed one post a month, since November – about half my original aim.

This post will be added to periodically as I think of more items to add, get requests for jargon to be explained or learn any new phrases on the job.

You do what? Use jargon

When I started my graduate scheme in management consulting, I knew next to nothing about business and the corporate world. I’m sure my interviews would have gone slightly more smoothly if I’d been exposed to even the simplest office jargon.

In the world of consulting, jargon (mainly in the form of acronyms) is prevalent – this is for three reasons:

  1. Jargon helps precision
    When working on complex problems for clients – especially technical ones – it’s important to be precise. Jargon is meant to facilitate this, but sometimes it can alienate those who don’t speak the lingo.
  2. Jargon help speed and memory
    Helping us to summarise complex phrases or remember certain procedures, acronyms (and mnemonics) can speed up conversations, so long as everyone knows what they mean.
  3. Jargon makes you look clever
    There can be a perception that only ‘experts’ use jargon and acronyms – think scientists using technical jargon, doctors using specialist medical terms or expert writers using intricate language. Unfortunately, this can have the effect of excluding or confusing others – and of course, make you sound like a ‘know-it-all’.

Interestingly, it has become more and more common for consultants (and other professions that have used jargon as a crutch) to concentrate on using plain , straightforward language in much of their communication to their clients. This is refreshing (and also makes it easier for graduates to start decoding jargon on the job!).

The list below is not exclusively used by consultants – much of this jargon is used widely in the office setting.

Disclaimer: These are simple definitions, are not meant to be word-perfect and you may have heard slightly different explanations. One of the issues with jargon is that, over time, it can change meaning, travelling by word of mouth.

TLA – Three letter acronym
OK, this one’s a little meta, and isn’t used often, but it is out there!

PFAPlease find attached
This is a common way to start an email where the purpose is to send a file to a colleague or client.

COP/COB/EOD/EOB – Close of play/Close of business/End of day/End of business
This refers to the end of the business day – which is not usually a specific time. In some businesses it can mean 5pm, but in consulting it usually means ‘get it done today’.

WFHWorking from home
As businesses become more flexible, this acronym has risen in popularity. It’s a quick way of letting someone know that you’re not in the office, but you are working.

SME – Small/Medium-sized Enterprise or Subject Matter Expert
A prime example of the confusion caused by having too many acronyms. A small/medium-sized enterprise is hard to define but is often used when referring to businesses that are small when compared to their competitors. A subject matter expert is a person with very deep knowledge of a certain subject. People like this are often invaluable on technical projects.

A project undertaken by us for a client. We ‘engage’ in this work with them.

Best in class
How we consultants might describe a potential solution or vision for the future. It describes something that is the best of it’s type across an industry.

Leading practice
Similar to the above, this phrase is often used to refer to the value that consultants bring to clients. We know what the leaders in your industry are doing (‘practising’) so can show you how to do it too.

A term used to describe the value that is added by the workbeing delivered by consultants.

A presentation, normally in PowerPoint, that will be used in a meeting or sent to a client. Shortened form of ‘slide deck’.

Any item (presentation, tool, software, plan etc.) that is promised to the client as part of the work we are doing with them. We must ‘deliver’ these items at the end of the work.

High level
Used to refer to anything that is not too detailed. Often we will produce a ‘high level’ project plan, which would just set out the main themes and rough timings. It would not delve into the individual activities in the project.

Holistic view
Not so much jargon as just an overused phrase in consulting. It means an overall view of something.

Due diligence
The act of performing a thorough review of a document or set of information.

Straw man
This is the skeleton of a presentation before any real work has begun. It’s like making a blueprint for the slides you want to produce, before getting stuck in.

ERPEnterprise Resource Planning
These are large systems that most large companies use to manage and connect many different parts of their businesses. The most well-known ERP systems are made by SAP and Oracle (they’re not jargon – so I’ve included links).

KPI – Key Performance Indicator
These are the important pieces of data (usually numbers) that are very important to a business to measure their performance. A very basic KPI would be net revenue – otherwise known as profit.

MECEMutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive
This is a principle that helps us sort things into categories. It is important that all the categories do not cross over (think, Venn diagram) and that all the items fit into at least one category (hopefully avoiding the inevitable ‘other’ category).

Deep dive
Often a presentation or a talk, this is a detailed look at a particular subject. It can be thought of as the opposite of ‘high-level’, explained above.

Knowledge sharing
Does what it says on the tin. This principle is key to large consultancies so that their people can all have the best and latest knowledge of a given subject.

Brown bag session
Often referring to training or informative presentations, brown bag sessions aim to give participants some hands-on experience with a technique or tool.

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