Microspeak: Gardening

A lot of project management tasks are simply housekeeping: Maintenance tasks that keep things running smoothly. For a project, that could be doing things like closing out old work items that were successfully completed, but which the developer failed to mark as complete in the work item tracker. Or it could be verifying that all the milestones for open work items are set correctly. Or it could be looking for work items that are assigned to people who have since left the team. Or it could be closing out stale pull requests.

You get the idea. There are always some housekeeping tasks that need to be done to ensure that the project runs smoothly. The Microspeak for performing these housekeeping tasks is gardening, as in, "I did some gardening over lunch and moved all the unfinished work items from the previous milestone into the current milestone." Or "Bob, can you do some gardening on the wiki and delete the outdated information?"

As with most housekeeping tasks, gardening tasks are largely mechanical and do not require the person performing them to make any decisions that alter the project. Gardening is primarly about getting the bookkeeping up to date with the current reality.

I suspect that this Microspeak term is not in use in the UK. In the UK, if you ask a work colleague to do some gardening, that is a euphemism for asking them to resign.

Comments (27)
  1. Anon says:

    Another UK-ism is ‘spending more time with your family’.


    1. ErikF says:

      I’m fairly certain that that one has made the rounds across the globe for awhile. I’ve heard many a politician use that expression/excuse (at least in Canada) for a long time; sometimes it’s even true!

      1. Myria says:

        It’s a meme here in the United States, too.

        1. ErikF says:

          The only Canadianism that I’m aware of for someone considering resigning is “Going for a walk in the snow” (based on something that Pierre Trudeau said), and that’s only a euphemism that reporters use regarding politicians.

    2. If I remember correctly tephen Hawking used this one to mean divorce from the second wife.

  2. GWO says:

    “Gardening Leave” isn’t being asked to resign – its being told to stay away from work while still getting paid (either pending a disciplinary, or while working your notice.)

    1. True. If you are placed on gardening leave, then you are on disciplinary suspension or working your notice. But if somebody asks you to go on gardening leave, then presumably they are asking you to submit your notice (as opposed asking you to do something that would put you on disciplinary suspension).

      1. GWO says:

        No, that’s not how notice works. If a company wants to make me unemployed, they don’t ask me to resign (i.e. submit my notice) – they give me my notice. Either of us can terminate our employment, subject to the notice period (modulo things which legally justify immediate dismissals, such as Gross Misconduct). Usually, when someone is on gardening leave its because they’ve been fired, legally very different process from being asked to resign (for example, notice periods may be assymetric, and eligibility for unemployment benefits, payoff, rights to claim unfair/constructive dismissal are very different depending on how employment terminated).

        1. I was taking it in more of the oblique hint way, not the explicit hint. “So, how’s the garden?” “No, please, I’ll do better next time!”

        2. smf says:

          “Usually, when someone is on gardening leave its because they’ve been fired,”

          It’s done in any case when the employer is worried the employee is going to be hostile and has the ability to do damage.

          Which is more likely to happen if the employee isn’t leaving willingly.

          Employees aren’t normally asked to resign, although it can happen if they are about to be sacked. But then you need to negotiate because you have more rights if you’re sacked.

          Depending on which country you are in, some contractual clauses can disappear if you are sacked. Like if you agree that you won’t work for a competitor but then get sacked, then you can argue that your experience means you can only realistically gain employment at your competitor and that it’s unfair for you to be held to it.

  3. Moz in Oz says:

    One interesting difference between the US and NZ is that in NZ a bunch of contractual limitations only apply while you’re being paid. Most importantly, control over who you can work for by your previous employer. Some companies were very unhappy with that court case (late 20th century), and I wouldn’t be too surprised if it’s been changed. Not that many employees know about it. But the basic rule is “they can only tell you what to do while they’re paying you”.

    1. French Guy says:

      Seems like a sensible rule, though.

  4. I see. Let’s if I can use it right:

    > Windows 10 is an operating system that remains in the state of perpetual gardening, until October 2020, when – according to Microsoft Support policy – the whole Windows platform would be sent to do some gardening.

    Did I do it right? What I wanted to write was:

    > Windows 10 is an operating system that remains in the state of being constantly maintained, until October 2020, when – according to Microsoft Support policy – the whole Windows platform would be retired.

    1. xcomcmdr says:

      ^ Don’t feed the troll.

      1. The pot calling the kettle black

        1. xcomcmdr says:

          L’hôpital qui se fout de la charité.

          1. Obligatory notice: I’ll be adding the French version of the phrase to Wikipedia article on “The pot calling the kettle black”.

            Of course, if it were possible to edit my comment, I’d do it now, changing it to a safer example. How did I know this example was unsafe and attracts the accusation of trolling? I though three years ago, when Microsoft announced its support policy, Microsoft fanboys did their crying and mourning and are done by now. (Maybe I am not wrong though. A person who seeks to harass other would eventually find an excuse regardless.)

          2. xcomcmdr says:

            You say you d’ont harass people with your comments ?
            That’s really hard to believe.

          3. Brian_EE says:

            I don’t know what you wrote, but I saw “L’hôpital” and was immediately taken back to Calculus class where we learned “L’Hôpital’s rule” and I want to say used it to model the function of a switch in a transfer function.

  5. Neil says:

    I always thought doing housekeeping tasks was called… housekeeping. Why call it gardening?

    1. Because that’s how language works across geographical boundaries.

      When I was doing linguistic studies about the variations of English language across the United States, I realized that a place so large as Microsoft can develop its own language variety. Sure, I’ve seen lot’s of trolls would accuse Microsoft of isolating itself from the reset of the world, but until then I didn’t realize that it actually can happen naturally, instead of deliberately and maliciously.

      It is not just housekeeping->gardening. We have lots of other things that Microsoft says differently. e.g. use of “software counterfeiting” instead of “software piracy” (remember WGA), “x86” instead of “IA-32”, “favorites” instead of “bookmarks”, and their radically different definition of “system partition” and “boot partition”.

      And it is not just Microsoft. For example, Square-Enix uses “status affinity” and “status ailment” instead of “buff” and “debuff”. It once used “junctioning” instead of “linking” or “association”.

    2. My guess is that it started with somebody being humorous, and then it spread and became established Microspeak. Language is like that. See: OK.

  6. Ivan K says:

    In Canada when I was young there used to be a phrase about a team getting an early chance to play golf (exiting the playoffs early via a loss presumably meant they could fly south or southwest (Hawai’i) a week or so earlier than they were going to anyway and golf in the US) and at least have some enjoyment of their situation I think Trudeau’s reference was from an old Inuit saying.

  7. GregA says:

    At my work, our backlog is primarily driven by user requests, but some activities need to be done at certain times of the year and if we wait for a user request, we don’t have enough lead time to get it done, so I created what I called a “gardening calendar” so that we know what repeated activities have to start when. It is much akin to planting your seeds in early spring for a summer harvest, etc.

  8. Deanna says:

    I tend to use “shepherding” for passing bugs on to the relevant people, claim sing, etc.
    But then I’m not a manager :)

    1. Deanna says:

      Ohh, “closing”

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