I really enjoyed Chris Woodill’s collection of “weasel words” that IT delivery folks will use to buy time, deflect responsibility, or describe a situation as much rosier than reality.

The intent isn’t to be particularly humorous, but as I read it, I couldn’t help but remember that funny “this is what she says, but THIS is what she means” e-mail poking fun at male-female communication. Now, I’ve never met Chris, but having read through this list, I’d almost swear we must have worked on the same projects with some of the same people!

Here are a few of my favorites:

It should work: this usually means that it doesn’t. It also means that it was probably not tested properly as the result is current[ly] undetermined. The word “should” should be taken out every developer’s vocabulary – it either does or it doesn’t.

Almost done: this is also a weasel word. When a developer tells you things are “almost done” ask for the specific tasks that are left over immediately. In addition, keep in mind that projects do not progress linearly – the last 10% is always about 40-50% of the work of the total project. I’ve seen projects that are chronically late be “almost done” for 3 months.

If things go smoothly: this I hear a lot, e.g. if we don’t hit any snags then we can be done by Friday. Guess what – you’re likelihood of hitting a “snag” by next Friday is probably high and given the lack of risk based management, the team has probably got no mitigation or contingency strategy. Then next week, you’ll hear the next phrase in our list, “Yes, it could have been done if it weren’t for that Snag we had”.

We’ll make up the time at the end: if you’re already late by the end of requirements, you’re likely going to be even later by the end if you simply keep going on the same track. In my experience, teams don’t dramatically faster as they hit their stride. Even if there is some efficiency, its nowhere enough to make up for lost time.

It Worked on my Machine!: programmers use this excuse to downplay a bug. The reality is actually the opposite – it means that you have an intermittent bug which is by far the worst kind of bug to have in your application. You want bugs to fail quickly and consistently – any variant such as “That’s Weird”, “That didn’t happen yesterday”, “That must be a data problem”, etc. is admitting you have a bug that cannot be easily duplicated.

Some of those are simply classic. If I had a dollar for every time….

To be fair, even though the title of the post is, “Developer Weasel Words”, I think a few of these may apply to BA’s and PM’s as well. I can think of one Business Analyst in particular that seems to love the “if things go smoothly” one, but I certainly wouldn’t want to name names. I’ll just say, “touché” and leave it at that.

Anyway, check out the actual post for the complete list as well as Chris’s recommendations that managers can use to reduce the occurrence – in essence, the need – for these types of “creative answers”. Great post, Chris!