How to Interpret Mumbo Jumbo

By Larry Dignan  |  Posted 2004-09-01 Email Print this article Print

It's a game we all must play. The answers could save your project—or your career.

Let's play a game. It's a game played by folks of all stripes, and it can help you navigate the waters inside your business. The name of the game? They Say, We Hear.

It's a simple game, really. You get the official word on a project or technology and then try to figure out what's really being said.

To wit:

Electronic Data Systems had a rough stretch last month. First, EDS had to investigate technology glitches that delayed flights at two of its biggest customers, American Airlines and US Airways. Then it lost a Dow Chemical contract to IBM. On the bright side, it amended an $8.8 billion contract with the U.S. Navy to revamp the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI). Under the new deal, EDS will replace the Navy's old systems with Web-based applications.

Regarding the contract, a money-loser for the company, EDS enterprise client executive Mike Koehler said: "The real value of the NMCI contract is not merely creating the enterprise, but in finding ways to leverage its capabilities. The application hosting initiative is the first step in enabling the Navy to revolutionize its business practices, and EDS is proud to be playing a part in that transformation."

You should hear: "This contract was killing us and we had to do something. Replacing these systems is hell. Let's pray we break even."

On a second-quarter earnings conference call, PeopleSoft CEO Craig Conway played defense and blamed his company's desultory results on Oracle's takeover attempt. The implication: Competitors were benefiting from the uncertainty Oracle is causing. Conway said: "SAP has clearly benefited from the trial. There's nothing more to SAP's results than the obvious."

You should hear: "SAP is beating us in the field. What will I say when this Oracle takeover thing is over?"

Microsoft's Sunny Jensen Charlebois, product manager for worldwide pricing and licensing, on the software giant's frequent issue of new pieces of code for fixing vulnerabilities in its products: "They're not patches. They are updates. I am saying that with a straight face."

You should hear: "Let's hope he buys that one. I'm smiling inside."

You get the idea. You can also play this game at work. If the following comments, or something similar to them, are made by your project managers and executives, you'd better take the time to decipher what you're being told.

For example:

If your chief executive says: "We have three months to meet Wal-Mart's radio frequency tagging mandate. Can you make it happen?"

You hear: "If I procrastinate now, I may lose 13% of our company's annual sales come January 2005. Can you bail me out?"

If your chief information officer says: "We're going to send some applications development offshore and maybe some research and development. But don't worry; your job is safe."

You hear: "My job is safe for now, but I'd better learn how to manage projects whether they're happening here or someplace far afield. And I think I need to update my resume, just in case."

If an operations executive says: "This new enterprise planning software will be a paradigm shift that will transform our company over the next two years."

You hear: "My body has been taken over by a software salesman. Heeeeelllllpppppp meeeeeee."

If your chief financial officer asks: "What's our return on investment for all this security software we're using?"

You hear: "We're having a bad quarter. How can you save me some money so I can keep Wall Street happy?"

If a member of your technology steering committee says: "According to our consultants, all of our technology infrastructure and business processes need to be redone if we are going to become a 21st century company."

You hear: "These projects will be a disaster. But at least I'm not on the hook. Let the consultants 'transform' us."

Larry Dignan is news editor of Baseline magazine. He can be reached at

Business Editor
Larry formerly served as the East Coast news editor and Finance Editor at CNET Prior to that, he was editor of Ziff Davis Inter@ctive Investor, which was, according to Barron's, a Top-10 financial site in the late 1990s. Larry has covered the technology and financial services industry since 1995, publishing articles in, Inter@ctive Week, The New York Times, and Financial Planning magazine. He's a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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