Eli Schwartz


In the military, operations are typically given a code name to align everyone to the mission and keep the actual objective secret. As the practice took hold in World War I and II, the naming convention of missions began to take on names that connoted strength. Winston Churchill had a role in personally picking the names of missions and even set out guidelines that encouraged planners to use names of heroes of antiquity, figures from Greek and Roman mythology, and names of war heroes.

…the world is wide, and intelligent thought will readily supply an unlimited number of well-sounding names which do not suggest the character of the operation or disparage it in any way and do not enable some widow or mother to say that her son was killed in an operation called “Bunnyhug” or “Ballyhoo.”

Following his guidance is how Operation Overlord became the name for the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

US missions are also named in a similar practice: Operation Desert Storm – 1991 Gulf War,  Operation Enduring Freedom – invasion of Iraq, and Operation New Dawn – troop drawdown in Iraq.

Codenames in the corporate world

The corporate world has adopted a similar practice when creating teams dedicated to lengthy projects and assignments. At its core, the motivation for code names is similar. Code names allow the project to remain confidential while giving it a way to be discussed.

However, in the corporate world the idea of using code names that evoke strength and a sake of mission are not always followed. In an attempt to be cute, companies use names from popular entertainment like Project Hogwarts, lovable animals like Project Kitten, or geography like Project Maui.

While these names might accomplish the requirement of having a name, it doesn’t go that extra step of inspiring team members with a sense of mission and pride.

Take Churchill’s advice

When naming projects in a business setting there is no reason that Churchill’s guidelines shouldn’t apply. Instead of using cute names that look great with a cartoon image on a slide deck, use monikers that imply strength. I would imagine there are a lot more people that would be excited to be on a team building a new product called “Earnings Beat” than “Starship Enterprise” (no offense to any Trekkies). Or, for a team working on site speed, “Daytona 500” always beats out “Muskeeters.”

On the same note, when talking about the team’s projects in a slide deck to an executive audience, beginning with a project name that denotes strengths, vision and profits will generate more subconscious points than a fun name. Personally, I would rather attend a meeting called the “3 comma weekly update” than one called the “Leopard team weekly update.” Every time the team with a lofty project gets a mention of their name it will force the listener to recall the aspirational goal and the potential impact.

Use project names in marketing

In most companies, project names are utilized by product or engineering teams because they are working on somewhat lengthy and involved cross functional efforts. Marketing doesn’t usually have the occasion to name projects unless they are tasked with something bigger like a brand refresh. I would argue that by not using project names even for somewhat simple efforts, the marketing team is missing out on an easy internal branding effort.

In any sizeable company, the marketing team sets goals for every quarter and for each of the objectives there are a series of tasks that lead up to the completion or success of the goal. Rather than just list out the goals, each item can have a project name.

As an example, a task around revamping a keyword list and auditing current keyword performance could be called something strong like “Word champ” or “Scrabble victory”. Now every time the project is mentioned it will remind everyone what the ultimate goal really is AND most importantly drive home that this a big project. If someone bothered to name it, it must be a large effort and not just an item on a to-do list.

A simple SEO effort around trying to generate more organic visibility and maybe generate a 10% increase in traffic could be called “The Double Digit”. Again, increasing traffic is a core responsibility of an SEO or marketing team, but giving it a moniker elevates the internal visibility and the desired outcome.

Benefits of this approach

In my experience, marketers and especially digital marketers have less visibility in a company than product managers and engineering leaders. Any effort possible to increase internal visibility and company impact will only have positive returns on the career trajectory of the marketing team members. Using project codenames as a way to get ahead, in my opinion, is a simple very low cost attempt that certainly will not hurt if it doesn’t work. If you have a chance to try this, I would love to hear if it works for you!