PERT – What’s in a name?


I could choose to call the image at the top of this page a tennis ball – it is about the right shape and is a bright colour, but if I chose to do so all that results is confusion! The name we call things matters because it communicates what we are talking about to our audience.

Over the last week we have been dragged into a number of Linked-In discussions focused on questions such as ‘Do you use PERT?’  Partly as a result of our latest blog on the PMBOK 5th Edition and also because Mosaic Project Services (and particularly Patrick) has a high profile writing about scheduling history.

The overriding conclusion from the debates we’ve witnessed is no-one knows for sure who is saying what. Each user of the term PERT may be referring to a Network Diagram, a Monte Carlo simulation, some other simulation or the actual PERT technique developed in the 1950s. If the basic premise of the debate is not clearly defined the net result is a lot of noise and no possibility of reaching a conclusion of consensus – in exactly the same way as playing tennis using the ‘ball’ pictured above, all you end up with is a mess.

I’m not sure why so many organisations and people chose to use names that have a very specific meaning completely out of context but it seems increasingly commonplace:

  • it may simply be a lack of awareness, assisted by seeing many similar incorrect usages of the name;
  • it may be a desire to look clever by using technical jargon, which of course backfires big-time as soon as someone who knows hears the misuse;
  • it may be an overt commercial move to trade off a well know ‘brand’ to make a tool or offering seem better than it is.

What is important to consider though, is apart from the first option none of the other factors are ethical behaviour and all of the factors destroy effective communication.

To help bring some level of knowledge into the discussions around PERT, we have published a White Paper today on ‘Understanding PERT’.  This paper outlines exactly what PERT is and was, identifies the shortcomings in the technique and delineates what PERT ‘is not’ and the reasons. After everyone has understood what PERT is and is not, let the debates continue but this time with the effective communication of ideas between the protagonists, ie, a communication in which the receiver actually understand what the sender is meaning.

The alternative was effectively described by Robert McCloskey, a US State Department Spokesman several years ago ‘I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant!’  Effective communication needs a mutual understanding of the terms used.

Download the PERT White Paper


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