Monday 19 December 2011

Ditch the passive verbs

Over the weekend, between the Strictly final and the Bath/Leinster match, I was checking through and critiquing a set of lessons from a Knowledge Capture workshop.

One thing I found myself correcting time and again was the use of passive verbs.

People were writing lessons such as "Client requirements must be shared with the project team at the start of the project", and I would write "WHO must share them?".

Or a lesson might read "(Method X) should be considered, and the requirements prioritised", and I would write "WHO should consider and prioritise the methods, and HOW should they do it?"

The great failure of passive verbs like those in the two examples, is that everyone can agree with them and nobody can feel responsible. Yes, of course requirements should be shared and alternative methods should be considered, but who is going to do this, and how is it going to be done? A far better pair of lessons would be "The project leader should share the client requirements with the team at the project kick-off meeting. Action - PMO to insert this step into the standard kick-off agenda", and "during the scoping phase, the project leader should call a meeting of the core project team, to review and prioritise all possible methodologies. Action - PMO to insert this step into the scoping process".

When you are writing lessons from a Retrospect, then beware the passive verbs. I know that they are easy to write, I know everyone agrees with them, but they are just an excuse for nobody to take action.


Nick Milton said...

A post script - it struck me last night that

Passive verbs lead to Passivity.

Active Verbs lead to Action.

And Learning without Action is sterile.

Ian said...


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