We’re making headway! (Idioms and phrases used to talk about progress)

by Kate Woodford​
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As part of our occasional series on idioms used in or in relation to business, we look today at the important area of making projects happen – getting projects started, making progress with those projects and, as sometimes happens, failing to make progress.

Starting at the beginning, if a plan gets or is given the go-ahead, permission is given for it to start: Plans for a new building at the university have been given the go-ahead. Another idiom which means much the same is to give the green light to something: The council has given the green light to the new development. You can also say that you get a project off the ground. If you get a project off the ground, you manage to make it start successfully: A lot more money will be required to get the project off the ground. Similarly, to start/set/get the ball rolling is to start to make something happen: Once we have permission for the project, we can start the ball rolling. Meanwhile, if a project is in the pipeline, it is being planned, though has not yet started: We have a number of projects in the pipeline, though none are due to start immediately.

Once a project is up and running (= happening), if it is going well, we might say it is going according to plan, meaning that everything is happening in the way that was intended. We might also say that the project is on track, again, meaning that we are making progress and that so far, it has been successful.

Of course, some of the time – and for any number of reasons – we do not make progress. Plans fail and we have to stop what we are doing and think up a new way to achieve something. In this situation, we may say that it’s back to the drawing board: The proposal was rejected, so I guess it’s back to the drawing board. A similar – perhaps even more emphatic – idiom is back to square one. If you are back to square one, you have to start working on a plan for a second time and right from the beginning because your original plan has failed: So, six months later, we’re back to square one. How frustrating is that? Meanwhile, if a plan is up in the air, it is not yet certain, often because other matters have to be decided first: The whole future of the project is up in the air.

Whatever project(s) you are involved in currently, I trust that you are making headway (= making progress)!