Episode: 86 |
Will Bachman:
BS Questions:


Will Bachman

BS Questions

Show Notes

I recently received an email with the subject line: BS Questions. Hmm – not very professional, I thought.

This short episode provides some thoughts on abbreviations, and one thing I do with abbreviations at the beginning of every study.

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Will Bachman: Yesterday I got an email with the subject line BS questions. Mm-hmm (affirmative). I thought. That doesn’t seem very professional.
Hey, welcome to Unleashed. The show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is produced by Umbrex. And I’m your host Will Bachman.
So, the email with a BS questions was from an accounting firm that I’m working with on a due diligence, and I realized after a moment’s reflection that Stephen was probably referring to some balance sheet questions. Here’s another story. I recently had a Bain alarm, an independent consultant email me. He wrote, “Will, I was a CTL at Bain and then a VP of operations at the company XYZ.” And then he described his experience and expertise. I thought, mm-hmm (affirmative), that’s strange. Because at McKinsey, CTL stands for Counsel To Leave, which is a polite way of saying that you’ve been fired. So it seemed strange to me that you would start by saying, “Hey, I was fired from Bain.”
I asked them about the CTL. And he explained with a laugh that at Bain CTL stands for Case Team Leader, equivalent to Engagement Manager at McKinsey. So you learn a new thing every day. Now I spent five years in the Navy, and the Navy so loves abbreviations that there is a dictionary of naval abbreviations, and that book is referred to naturally enough as DICNAVAB.
But despite this love of abbreviations, in the submarine force, I was trained when giving orders to say the entire mouthful. So you would not say for example, shut PFW23. You would say shut Plant Freshwater two, three. That’s a made up system, by the way. So, it doesn’t really exist on submarines. I didn’t want to reveal any real engine plant vows.
Now, abbreviations are great. They save time. A good rule though, is to spell out abbreviations the first time you use it in a document. While most of your readers probably know the meaning, there’s always a chance that someone might not. And then two things might happen. Either they have to ask what the abbreviation stands for, and they get a little embarrassed. Or if the person is someone senior, they’re a little embarrassed and annoyed at you for making them look uninformed. Or they don’t have the courage to ask and they don’t fully understand your message.
So, if you’re writing a longer document, and you’ll be reasoned using a range of abbreviations, consider doing everyone affair and include in a page that lists all the abbreviations and what they stand for.
Flipping the discussion, as a consumer and not a creator of documents, as a consultant, one practice that I found helpful at the beginning of every project that I do, is that I review all the documents that client’s given me. I start a spreadsheet and I make a list of all the abbreviations that I find. And then the second column is the expanded version of what the abbreviation stands for. If I find the expanded meaning somewhere in one of the documents, I’ll add it into the spreadsheet. And then the ones that I can’t figure out from a client’s internal documents I next Google it. In case it’s some kind of standard industry abbreviation.
I was once on a farmer project as a young analyst at McKinsey and I didn’t know what OTC stand for and I was glad that I did not ask the client because I would have made the whole team look ridiculous because OTC of course is Over The Counter.
So the abbreviations that I can’t figure out, I then go ask the client early in the project. The earlier, the better. Because on day one or day two, you still have the right to ask stupid questions. And usually there’s about 10% of the abbreviations that the client has been using in his or her own documents, and they have no idea what it stands for. And sometimes they’ll ask their peers and in some cases, no one has any idea what it means.
So sometimes working in a niche industry, I’ll do a Google search. And you can find, in some cases, a whole document of industry abbreviations. And I’ll often print that out and read through it.
Consultants who get to work across industries, believe that you can often get up speed pretty quickly. While, some folks who have spent decades in one industry, believe that their industry is uniquely difficult to grasp. But learning the industry specific abbreviations and other terms is often a significant percentage of mastering that niche industry. So if you can proactively learn all the abbreviations you are step ahead.
If you found this episode helpful, I hope you’ll consider sharing it with a friend or on social media. And how do you deal with abbreviations? I’d love your thoughts. You can email me at unleashed@umbrex.com. If you visit our website, umbrex.com/unleashed. You can sign up for our weekly email and you get transcripts of every episode plus some of I reading recommendations and some other bonus features.
Thanks for listening.

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