Surviving Project Management TLA’s

When the topic of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms or Terrible Language Alternatives as coined by Julia Shumulinsky on comes up, I always mentally go to Robin Williams portrayal of Adrian Cronauer in “Good Morning, Vietnam”. In this scene, he relays his opinion of the former Vice President Nixon’s visit and ensuing press conference. Take a listen to his response to the lieutenant and see if you can remember a team meeting that had the same fury of TLAs spewed. There seems to be a never-ending supply of these terms and whether you’re in the middle of studying for the PMP Exam or working with a new company, it can feel like another language (and normally is).

If you’re somewhat new to project management, chances are you’ve been thrown off by at least one or two TLA’s. To help cut down on confusion, here are some of the most commonly used TLA’s that you might encounter as a newbie to the project management field. But remember, these may have double meanings even within the same organization or mean something completely different from one organization to the next.

BAC (Budget At Completion) – The estimated total cost of the project when done.

BOM (Bill of Materials) – xyz

CCB (Change Control Board) – A formally constituted group of stakeholders responsible for approving or rejecting changes to the project baselines.

CBA (Cost Benefit Analysis) – Provides information to make a balanced decision about the cost and benefits, or value, of various economic choices about various alternatives within the project.

ROI (Return on Investment) – Usually expressed as a percentage and is typically used for personal financial decisions, to compare a company’s profitability or to compare the efficiency of different investments.

CPM (Critical Path Method) – A network analysis technique used to predict project duration by analyzing which sequence of activities (which path) has the least amount of scheduling flexibility (the least amount of float). Early dates are calculated by means of a forward pass using a July 2013 Page 8 specified start date. Late dates are calculated by means of a backward pass starting from a specified completion date (usually the forward pass’ calculated project early finish date).

EAC (Estimate At Completion) – The expected total cost of an activity, a group of activities, or of the project when the defined scope of work has been completed. Most techniques for forecasting EAC include some adjustment of the original cost estimate based on project performance to date. Also shown as “estimated at completion.” Often shown as EAC = Actuals to-date + ETC.

ETC (Estimate To Complete) – The expected additional cost needed to complete an activity, a group of activities, or the project. Most techniques for forecasting ETC include some adjustment to the original estimate based on project performance to date. Also called “estimated to complete.”

OBS (Organizational Breakdown Structure) – A depiction of the project organization arranged so as to relate work packages to organizational units.

SPI (Schedule Performance Index) – The ratio of work performed to work scheduled.

SOW (Statement of Work) – A narrative description of products or services required to be included in a Request for Purchase (RFP) and/or supplied under contract.

WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) – A deliverable-oriented grouping of project elements which organizes and defines the total scope of the project including milestones and deliverables. Each descending level represents an increasingly detailed definition of a project component. Project components may be products or services.


This is really only scratching the surface. So, with all the chance for confusion, why use TLA’s?

“TLAs have a lot of uses as well. Within a group with a shared understanding, they can be helpful shorthand for speedy communication, particularly in a time where so much happens in fly-by hallway conversations and by text.” – Julia Shumulinsky

The key here is to know what the TLA means both to you and the audience. Always stop/interrupt a meeting if TLAs are being thrown out willy nilly and either you or someone else in the room does not know what the TLA means. Otherwise, you’ll proceed in pooled ignorance since no one has a single understanding for the TLAs being used.

Work with your local PMI Chapter, mentors in project management and even company veterans to help you navigate what TLA’s might be most helpful in any upcoming projects, job changes or career moves. HFMFBA! (have fun, make friends, be amazed)


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