Microspeak: Line of sight


I first encountered this term in a meeting I attended.

Q: We would like to be able to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow without requiring a reboot.

A: Yes, that is something we've been thinking about, but we don't have line of sight to having that feature before the end of the month.

From context, having line of sight to a result means something like "Have made it part of our immediate plans to achieve that result."

This appears to be extending the idiom on the horizon. Literally, something on the horizon. is at the edge of what can be seen. Figuratively, then, something that is on the horizon is at the edge of what can be predicted. And if something can be seen, then you have line of sight to it.

There is another aspect of line of sight: The view to the object must be unobstructed. Taking the analogy further, then, having line of sight to a result means that there is a plan for achieving that result that is not dependent on work from another team.

Note that I don't know if the "unobstructed" part of the analogy was intended by the speaker. All I have to work from is that one snippet of conversation.

In an attempt to obtain better insight into the phrase line of sight, I searched the intranet, and the hits fell into a few categories.

One category was people using the term literally, usually in the context of wireless communications.

Another category appeared to use the phrase as a synonym for "insight obtained from information":

Monthly tear sheets are improving line of sight.

Teams were empowered to reallocate expenses within discretionary line items, but there was a lack of transparency into these changes. Forecasting was a challenge because we did not have line of sight into these reallocation decisions. We will address this by developing a pivot tool that provides management a consolidated line of sight into spend by resource.

Note also the business jargony use of spend as a noun, meaning expenditure.

The third category appears to be what I heard in that meeting, where it means something like "a path to a result":

XYZ was impacted by ABC and DEF. We have line of sight to get back on track.

And then I think I hit the jackpot: Somebody defined the term, sort of.

Line of sight to ending year $XX under budget

XYZ is at 99% pass, with line of sight to ending the year at 100% pass. ABC is $YY under budget, and is on track to end the year at $XX under budget.

The value $XX was repeated both in the heading and in the body, which let me match the two statements. And one of the statements uses the phrase line of sight, whereas the other uses the more conventional phrase on track.

I therefore conclude that the two are roughly synonyms. Line of sight to X means on track to X.

Though this means that one of the citations above translates to "We are on track to get back on track," which sounds kind of eerily meta.

The preferred emphatic form of line of sight appears to be clear line of sight.

Comments (15)
  1. Floyd says:

    This phrase is used quite a bit in the military for similar purposes.  You can have line of sight on the target/objective, meaning you are actively observing it without obstruction or interference.  It is also a command, yelling "Line of sight!!" tells people to get out of the way of what you're trying to observe, although that was used much more often in construction operations or setting up artillery firing positions (both use transoms or equivalent)

  2. Ken Hagan says:

    "Note also the business jargony use of spend as a noun, meaning expenditure. "

    Sorry, I had to avert my eyes before getting that far. Do people actually write that stuff, deliberately, without any fear of ridicule or redundancy? Wouldn't it be easier to write "I am pointless. Sack me now." over and over again until someone noticed?

  3. Reads too much literature says:

    I've always found using 'spend' to mean expenditure, especially the first times I encountered 'spend' as a noun, it meant something completely different:

    en.wiktionary.org/.../spend (look under Noun)

  4. Brian_EE says:

    In our business "line-of-sight" means something totally different. But then again, we make radios. "Beyond line-of-sight" means bouncing the signal off from an orbital vehicle to get past the horizon.

  5. Jim says:

    Also in Radio, we always use "Ling-of-Sight". For an example to check the microwave link, you have to be able to see another tower or dish to properly line up the connections! If you do not have the line of sight then there will be no chance for you of the communication.

  6. DaveK says:

    I hadn't heard the term 'tear sheets' before, and so the reference to "monthly tear sheets" made me think of something that makes you cry when you see how much further your project schedule has slipped each month!

  7. cheong00 says:

    @Floyd: I also think the word is related to "use of firearms" when I see it. I'll translate it as "have a direct vision to (the path of) target" and "have clear path to take the target".

  8. Boris says:

    What's this ongoing appeal of military metaphors?

  9. Mark says:

    I also don't associate with military, but radio. Just means there's nothing obstructing your view (if you think of project management as pushing through a jungle or navigating mountain ranges).

  10. Boris says:

    To me, "we don't have line of sight to having that feature" sounds like "we're not focused and speeding towards it like a bullet". Isn't it more likely that the speaker was thinking in terms of go-get-it-ready-steady-GO, as opposed to than leisurely trying to acquire a radio signal?

    Next time, Raymond should probably react by making like aiming a gun.

  11. Rick says:

    I consider things "Behind my horizon" when I know things are happening, but don't (have to) know exactly what is going on. It's a figure of speech very common in my native language.

  12. DWalker says:

    "... but we don't have line of sight to having that feature before the end of the month" is just a wordier way of saying "we can't see having that feature before the end of the month".  "See" in this case is shorthand for "envision".

    "Have a line of sight to" ==> "see".  

    I hate "a consolidated line of sight into spend by resource".  What's wrong with "a consolidated view of spending by resource"?  That's what they mean, after all.

  13. Mark (The Other Mark) says:

    Just to confuse things further, I see it as both a radio and a US Military phrase, because I was a radio operator in the military when I first encountered it.

    Line of sight to us meant you didn't have any mountains in the way- even if you couldn't actually see it. Radio travels through foliage fairly ok- at least, better than visible light does. Having line of sight means you can get there from here.

  14. vman says:

    How can a neutron flow have a polarity when neutrons have no net charge?

  15. cheong00 says:

    @vman: You'll have to ask the "Third Doctor".

    en.wikipedia.org/.../Third_Doctor

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