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The jargon officials want banned - this blog's most-viewed post in 2009

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These were the articles that were viewed the most on this IT Projects blog in 2009:

1) The jargon terms council leaders want banned

2) Top tips for project managers

3) Failed £234m C-Nomis IT project - ministers not told full truth

4) Wanless report 2007 - what it says in full on the NHS's National Programme for IT

5) Airbus crash: can a triple-redundant system give false readings?

It's interesting, to me, that the most-viewed post on the NPfIT in 2009 was one written in 2007: a summary of the NPfIT parts of the Wanless report.

Do you use these jargon words and phrases?

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Today CIO advises CIOs who want to widen their influence to "cut the jargon and stick to plain English as you seek to widen your -influence. It'll help you to be taken seriously in the boardroom too".

It says:

"Forget all that corporate speak - step up to the plate, post it through the letterbox. The best way for a CIO to demonstrate that they're aligned to the business is to show they understand every one of the business processes." 

It adds that "corporate buzzwords usually betray someone who is covering up their lack of understanding of the business....If you really know your subject, you can express it in layman's terms."

The article coincides with a report, which was published yesterday, by the House of Commons' Public Administration Committee which criticizes the jargon that's over-used in public life (and used a great deal in the IT industry).  

The report quotes Ian Watmore, the former Government CIO, who told MPs: "I doubt that any document resident in Whitehall would totally pass the plain English test".

The committee's report is called "Bad Language: The Use and Abuse of Official Language". It says:

Jargon - the good thing about it

  • Defenders of jargon say it acts as necessary professional shorthand - it conveys complicated ideas succinctly.
  • It also helps develop group bonds among staff in an organisation or profession.

Meeting your company's targets - a one-sentence Sir Humphrey guide

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MPs on the House of Commons' Defence Committee have been trying to work out whether the Ministry of Defence has met its targets for 2007/8.

And they're not quite sure.

The secret of the MoD's success has been to be vague in the targets and sub-targets it sets. Then it reports against them in a way which implies they have been achieved, but on close scrutiny could mean the opposite. 
So perfect is the MoD's mastery of the ambiguous that nobody can be quite sure what the position is.

The Defence Committee said in its report on the MoD's annual accounts 2007/08:

"The terminology used [by the MoD] in reporting was ambiguous and could equally cover near-success and close to abject failure, and the level of subjectivity in assessing performance against some targets was very considerable indeed."

Banned list of council jargon - now staff face fines

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The Local Government Association is asking its staff to pay fines if they use words or phrases on a banned list.

The Association joins Original Software, which let me know earlier this week that it had introduced a fine on staff for using clichés and jargon, either verbally or in writing.

Original Software is collecting the fines for charity, as is the Local Government Association.

The Association and Original Software are urging other companies to fine their staff for offences against plain English, for the benefit of charities.

Please let me know if your company is introducing a fine on jargon and cliches. tony.collins@rbi.coluk

A fuller version of this story is on 


Jargon and cliches that cost software staff money

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When staff at Original Software use a cliché or jargon on the list below they pay a 20p fine to charity. It's a good idea, and charities would benefit if lots of other companies did the same.

The fine began before the Local Government Association published a list of banned words and phrases last week.

Original Software's list includes words and phrases which are indispensable shorthand to some in the IT industry.  I think they're ugly. Though once some might have been expressive they're now over-used and so mean little or nothing.

Jargon ban - a hostile reaction by some in IT industry

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The jargon terms council leaders want banned

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Update 20 March 2009: Jargon ban draws mixed response


Below is a list of words and phrases that the Local Government Association wants banned. Many of them lattice the IT industry - and business journalism.

The banned list includes gateway review, synergy, stakeholder engagement, baseline, benchmarking, best practice, blue sky thinking, champion, challenge, early win, functionality, transformational and vision. 

The Local Government Association says that such terms make it harder for local people to understand what councils do. Some of the most heinous offences against plain English are committed by "Predictors of Beaconicity", "situational", "place shaping" and "coterminosity".

The Department for Communities and Local Government published in 2007 the unpardonable "Predictors of Beaconicity: Which local authorities are most likely to apply to, be short listed and awarded through the Beacon Scheme." The out of place comma in the title is the department's.

Words on the LGA's banned list also include:

•           re-baselining

•           mainstreaming

•           holistic governance

•           contestability

•           synergies

IBM's jargon dictionary

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Dave Shields has written to point out that a dictionary of IBM jargon is not easy to find.

"Thanks for providing a link to the IBM Jargon Dictionary. I've been looking for a publicly-accessible version of it for years."

This is it.

Bernard Shaw said in Doctor's Dilemma that all professions are conspiracies against the laity. The same could be said of jargon.


£18bn Government IT scandal - 3 pages in The Times today

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On its front page today - and in a two-page spread inside - The Times has published a joint Times and Computer Weekly investigation on government IT including an opinion piece from us.

The articles refer to IT-based projects, programmes and contracts which have exceeded the original announced costs by more than £18bn.

MPs are fed up with failures of some large government IT-based projects and programmes - as are the government IT professionals, civil and public servants, and contractors who are achieving success on very limited budgets and find their work is overshadowed by the project Chimeras which have unrealistic time-frames and budgets.

The opinion and the analysis in The Times make it clear that we're not attacking government IT people but the way projects are approved without enough Parliamentary or external challenge to assumptions.

Missing NHS discs found - but incident costs £25,000

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Whittington Hospital NHS Trust says it has accounted for four discs that went missing, which contained the personal details of 17,990 health service staff and former employees. The incident has cost the trust (taxpayers) about £25,000.

Police had been alerted, and the trust held 24 separate briefings for staff over four days, including one on Saturday, 20 September 2008, on the possibilities of identity theft. David Sloman, Chief Executive, wrote "individually" to the 17,900 staff at their home addresses to advise them of the missing data. The trust wrote to them again to let them know the discs had been accounted for. The trust also reported a Serious Untoward Incident. An enquiry had been set up and the Information Commissioner's Office was alerted. Staff were advised to keep a regular check on their bank accounts and statements.

Searches were carried out in all areas of Whittington hospital's salaries and wages office and the post room. The trust is based near the Archway tube station in London. There was also a search of the European headquarters in Warwick of McKesson, the intended recipients of the discs. McKesson runs the MAPS Manpower and Payroll system for the trusts. The Royal Mail was alerted.

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