The latest thoughts and opinion from APM

Divided by a common language

It’s a long-standing joke that the UK and the USA are divided by a common language. English is the third most widely-spoken language, with Chinese in its various forms topping the league table. But one statistic I found interesting from is that it turns out that “389 (or nearly 6%) of the world’s languages have at least one million speakers and account for 94% of the world’s population. By contrast, the remaining 94% of languages are spoken by only 6% of the world’s people”.

Language is important for two reasons – communication, obviously, but also because speaking a language badges you as a member of a recognisable community.

In an article I wrote soon after joining APM I noted how I’d been struck by the “tribes” within the project management arena, and I’m inclined to believe that more often than not we each hide behind our favoured phrases, terms and definitions to emphasise our differences rather than our similarities.

As we are now at the drafting stage of the Body of Knowledge 6th edition, we are beginning to see that we need to face the challenge of language and terminology. APM’s glossary is well-known, but now might be the time to take forward APM’s suggestion to BSI of working towards a convergence of terms  - to work towards a common glossary which would iron out the differences – sometimes real, sometimes imagined, I guess – between APM, the PRINCE2 “family”, BSI  and so on. There is a danger that the endeavour could turn out to be as unrealisable as Casaubon’s “Key to all Mythologies”, in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, but I still think it’s worth APM - with the support of and input from all the other key players - taking the plunge.


Edward Wallington PhD

Hi Liz,

I couldn't agree more!  When speaking to colleagues who have a different background in project management (be it sector or training) there are numerous times when I have to clarify what we are talking about!  We sometimes use different terms to mean the same thing, and sometimes the same terms but with slightly different meanings! 

The different usage of terminology, in my view, leads to an increased risk in delivering projects.  When I begin a project I regularly have a short session with the team to discuss terminology, and what we all understand by the terms – with the aim of coming to a decision on which terms we will use, and ensuring everyone understands these terms (working within the organisations project management structure of course).  This is particularly important when project staff are new to the ‘game’ or from different working environments.

I would certainly support a move towards a common glossary which bridges the project management community.



Kevin Lonergan

I completely agree that it seems logical to see the benefits of having a common language for PM - what I would say though is that the challenge involved would be huge and I'm far from sure the task is actually achievable (i.e. it becomes successful, not simply that a single glossary is publised).

Why do I think this - as someone who works across all industries and sectors, im my opinion, I don't think I'll ever see the day when the language they use in this area converges sufficiently, regardless of whatever professional associations or other bodies publish.

Good practice would encourage us to consider what the success criteria of doing such a task might be, and the risks or challenges involved is doing the same?

One other thought – no-one has ever, or probably ever will be able to write a single method for managing projects of all types in all circumstances – on the whole, organisations adapt central principles and concepts of project management  around a lifecycle that meets their own local needs and circumstances, and develop a ‘process’ which good for them – there is an important parallel between this and the resulting terminology.

There is huge legacy (of value) in products such as the BoK and BS6079, which emerged from a very broad basis of input and development.  One would hope that any works such as this would follow the same model, and not have a small group of people try and determine a common PM glossary on the basis of the limitation of their own personal experiences?

Lastly I see a convergence of the terminology of BSI and APM may be possible, but with Prince2 that would be far more difficult.