Microspeak: planful

Every year, Microsoft invites its employees to fill out a poll which asks questions regarding all sorts of things. One of the things Microsoft employees are asked to evaluate is whether they think that their vice president is acting planfully.

The tricky part about that question is that nobody knows exactly what the word planfully means.

Merriam-Webster defines planful as "full of plans : RESOURCEFUL, SCHEMING." Is that what they're asking us? Whether our vice president is resourceful and scheming? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

The OED, on the other hand, defines it as "Full or rich in plans; characterized by planning; organized, systematic." It's not clear whether this means that the person goes into a situation with a plan ahead of time, or that once they get into a situation, they develop a plan for getting out. (Maybe both?)

I caught a vice president using the word planful during a meeting, so I raised my hand and asked, "What does planful mean?" (Most people don't have the nerve to raise their hand during a meeting and ask, "Um, what does that word mean?")

The vice president replied, "Actually, I don't think it's a real word. I think [name of a senior manager] made it up."

I followed up: "Well, in that case, why are we asked to evaluate you every year on whether your actions are planful? How can we answer a question that uses a made-up word nobody knows the definition of?"

Obligatory xpclient example: "Was it a planful decision to introduce the auto-sorting problem?"

Reminder: Microspeak is not merely terms unique to Microsoft, but also terms used at Microsoft more often than in general.

Comments (20)
  1. Danny says:

    You're not alone, here is some else wondering the same:


    Funny enough, his entry in the blog is also from 2006 just like your 1st link.

  2. Jack B Nimble says:

    What was his response to your follow up question?

  3. Mike says:

    Companies get their own language for no reason. I work at yet another white bread hospital and we have on our evaluation "Give A Damn!" yes they actually have a mild curse on their staff evaluation forms. The funny thing is give a damn is the same thing you are expected to do anywhere:  help your client, but nice, do what you said you would, try to do continually improve etc. So why do they have to make up a phase that they immediately have to define afterwards (or is patently obvious and doesn't require profanity to express)?

  4. James says:

    Bit of a cliffhanger you've left us on there Raymond…

    Can you tell us what he said to your final comment? ;-)

  5. Ken Hagan says:

    "Well, in that case, why are we asked to evaluate you every year on whether your actions are planful? How can we answer a question that uses a made-up word nobody knows the definition of?"

    So that if we don't like the answer we can (with some credibility) claim that the respondents didn't understand the question and if we do like the answer we can (with rather less credibility) crow about it to anyone unfortunate to be within listening distance.

    Think of it as an insurance policy for surveys.

  6. kog999 says:

    "Well, in that case, why are we asked to evaluate you every year on whether your actions are planful?"

    because [name of a senior manager] made it up so we unquestionably follow his instructions to put it on the evaluation form. If you want the real answer you have to follow-up with [name of a senior manager]

  7. @Mike I would guess the evaluation form was written (or contributed to) by someone who was a "Gone with the Wind" fan;


  8. AsmGuru62 says:

    It means that VP of Microsoft must always have a Plan B (or C).


  9. kbiel says:

    The question is a Turing test. It's designed to make sure that only humans are answering the test. A computer will most likely give a nonsensical answer based on the literal definition, while a human will try to read the context and formulate an answer (planful in that context probably meaning, the VP has plans and goals vice being capricious and without clearly defined goals). Sorry Raymond, your own company seems intent to discriminate against robots, such as yourself.

  10. dave says:

    If you fail to be planful, your planfulness is failful.

  11. Just because a word is made up doesn't mean people won't know what it means.

    Example I just made up: "revisibilify", synonym for "unhide".

  12. chentiangemalc says:

    Hopefully we get "part 2" VP's response…

  13. sh code says:

    Actually, I'm a "foreigner", english is my second language, but as soon as I saw the word, I had a very clear picture about its meaning. I would "make up" this word, if I wanted to convey "acting in mid and long-term in a way that seems to be consistent and smart, 'according to a plan' (whether it's his own, or someone else's)". The opposite would be "acting randomly, without thinking about any (/other than short-term) consequences.

  14. cheong00 says:

    I would just assume it means "strategically" and move on.

    There's little point in interrupting the meeting for defination of a word, as long as the focus of topic isn't about the word. Maybe you should try to ask that after the meeting or in an email so he can have more time to think, as have higher possibility to give you a better response.

  15. silly says:

    Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

    Machiavelli's "The Prince" presents a very planful approach to governing.

  16. HdwJunkie says:

    A made-up word I often found useful at MS was complify or it's alternate form, complificate. Another useful made-up word while I was at MS was "magify", which means making relatively simple command options impossible to control thru any usable UI, or hiding useful/actionable operational feedback, thus turning the operation into magic. WHS kind of perfected both of these concepts.

  17. xpclient says:

    Ha ha. No need to give my own example then. :D

  18. hagenp says:

    "planful" sounds to me like a direct-pseudo-translation of the German word "planvoll" (semantics are rougly "with well thought-out intent").

  19. voo says:

    @hagenp Yep, although the sensible translation for that would be "tactical" imo. But then since "tactical" pretty much seems to be the closest word that matches the presumed intent of planful, that may really have something to do with its origin ;)

  20. Willie says:

    cliffhung: what I am after reading this entry.

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