IT Project Perception and how misuse of '&' really lets you down
Guest blog by Nicol Cutts – Stoneseed Head of Projects
I reviewed an initial project scope document for a Project Manager last week. In the four pages of text, there were 37 ‘&’s.
'&' or the ampersand is often misused and misunderstood. Largely thanks to social media communications, where you are limited to a maximum number of characters, this misuse is fast becoming something of a trend.
Again, so what?
I asked ten IT Project people to share what they knew of ampersand. One nailed it, eight out of the ten said it was short for 'and' - and one hilariously answered, "Isn't it in Norfolk?" I think (hope) that he was joking. Although to be fair, Ampersand does sound like somewhere you'd take the kids crabbing on the North Norfolk coast!
Is it a worry that nine people I asked didn’t know that usage rules exist? I mean, if nine intelligent people surveyed don't know the rules, then surely that means that 90% of readers won't know either so they won't notice. Surely?
Hmmmmmm. Maybe not.
To Susan, a CIO friend, "ampersand abuse" is a pet hate and a real nails down the chalkboard issue.
Susan wrote to me recently, "If you wrote up project documentation and substituted ‘and’ with 'n', as in rock 'n' roll, you'd have no credibility at all! To me '&' is the same."
When put like this, you do wonder why project managers take the short way out? What’s wrong with writing “and” - if "and" is what you mean?
"If a project manager can’t write a document correctly, what else are they doing to take the easy way out," added Susan.
The first thing about ampersand is that it doesn't necessarily mean 'and'. Here's a handy dictionary-style definition.
Ampersand: a stylized, contractual form of the Latin word "et". Although the Latin word "et" does mean "and", it is improper to substitute "&" for "and".
Many people incorrectly substitute this symbol for the English word "and".
Ok, but again, SO WHAT?
Here's why I think it does matter.
1 - It's a short cut. As IT Project Managers, a big part of our job is to find short cuts to expediate delivery or reduce costs. It is important, I think, that we convey the impression that we know which short cuts to take and when. Do pages of misused '&'s do this? I'm not sure it does.
2 - Another huge part of what we do is methodology. The CEO, the Finance Director, the whole board at most companies that I have dealt with do not understand the rules of Agile or Waterfall or any IT Project methodology that you care to mention. When greenlighting a project, however, they are saying that they trust that you DO. If your CEO knows how (and when) to use '&' and you have used wrongly it 40 times in a project proposal, they may ask what else are you bluffing knowledge of. It sounds daft but perception is reality.
3 - Our documentation matters! Grammar experts say that '&' should not be used except for in the most informal of communications. A project initiation document is among the most important documents to the success of an IT Project. Anything that creates an impression that it is not should be avoided. Susan the CIO asks, "Would you type a PID in the 'mistral' font or 'windings'? Would you sketch it out in crayon? Of course not, it commands your best presentation skills - take some pride!"
4 - It's a trend! Why follow a trend, if you don’t understand it? I was in a meeting last week where a forty-something-year-old project manager said, "Awse!" It was short for awesome. There was a tangible sense of cringe about the room, even the PM himself looked uncomfortable. Apparently, it's a trend! Doesn't make it right! To put this in perspective, these are fashion trends for 2019: 50s and 60s era couture gowns reworked shorter; volume dresses; corsages; ostrich feathers; front-loaded tool belts slung across the body; and nineties style acid and light-wash denim. Do you understand these trends? Will you be wearing them? So why follow the '&' overuse trend? (Although the light wash denim sounds cool.)
5 - It may also dilute your message. My copywriter friend Gareth was on a course once where the lecturer stated that in a list, a final item that follows the word ‘and’ is more likely to be digested by the reader than one that follows ‘&’. It’s something to do with the reader being hardwired to take pause when faced with ‘and’, whereas the attention zooms on and over the ‘&’.
6 - Finally, remember I said that out of ten IT Project Management professionals, only one nailed the rules of the ampersand? Yeah, about that, Martina is from Slovakia. Come on people! We need to pull our grammatical socks up!
This may be a tongue in cheek rant or I may be the self-styled grammar police and mean every word of it. I'll leave that for you to decide (by the way, my colleagues need not reply).
The point is though, that attention to detail has NEVER been more important. Your organisation needs a decent return on investment and you need to maintain high levels of successful project outcomes to get the next green light. Therefore, we all need to get every aspect of IT Project delivery right.