Whether you’re looking to understand some key project management terms, or need a complete project management glossary, you’ve come to the right place. While there are many project management terms that are easily understood, even to the layman, there are some that even seasoned project professionals need help with. We have put together a number of project management terms and definitions for your reference, enjoy this project management glossary whenever you find yourself stuck!
As with most other disciplines, project management has developed its own unique lexicon and terms over the years. Just as some everyday words have acquired a technical meaning in project management, so have some project management terms and concepts escaped the confines of technical usage and are now commonly used in everyday language.
Project Management Terms:
Activity is a component of work, or work package, performed during the course of a project. An activity is often described as the smallest unit of project work, an activity is often associated as part of a task and forms the basis of a project. Breaking down work into small tasks is useful for identifying the component parts for accurate estimating, timeline development and statements of work.
Activity sequencing refers to the process of identifying and documenting dependencies among schedule activities within a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).
Agile Project Management
Agile project management methods espouse agile principles that encourage development iterations, teamwork, stakeholder involvement, objective metrics and effective controls. For more, read our post on Project Management Methodologies or check out our list of agile project management tools to enable agile project management on projects.
A form of expert judgment that relies on referencing historical similar projects to predict estimates for current projects. To learn more about estimating, check out our 10 top tips for creating cost estimates.
Assumptions are any factors, usually listed in a statement of work (SoW) or estimate, that you assume to be held in place – either by the client or yourself – to ensure the ongoing validity of your document, and the outcome of the project. We’ve picked up this topic in our series on creating Statements of Work – Make Assumptions.
Assumptions analysis is a technique that explores the accuracy of assumptions and identifies risks to the project from their inaccuracy, inconsistency, or incompleteness.
A backlog, in simplest terms, is a list of everything that needs to be done in order to complete a project. In software, and especially when working in Scrum or Kanban, the backlog is often called a “product backlog” and is made visible to the project team as a list or task board. It might include technical items as well as user-centric items. Sometimes, a backlog is used as a replacement for traditional requirements specification documents.
Backward Pass is the calculation of late finish dates and late start dates for the uncompleted portions of all scheduled activities. Determined by working backwards through the schedule network logic from the project’s end date.
Balanced Scorecard is a performance management tool which began as a concept for measuring whether the smaller-scale operational activities of a company are aligned with its larger-scale objectives in terms of vision and strategy.
A baseline is the original schedule, cost or scope; a point of reference against which all future progress or changes are compared. Whenever changes to the project take place, a new revision of the baseline is created so that you can track changes to the project.
BOSCARD is acronym for Background, Objectives, Scope, Constraints, Assumptions, Risks and Deliverables and it refers to a strategic planning tool used to provide the terms-of-reference for new projects.
Bottom-up Cost Estimating
Bottom-up estimating is the process of creating a detailed estimate for each work component (labour and materials) and accounting for each varying cost burden. These estimates are based on the WBS and the WBS dictionary, as these documents define each element of the project deliverables. Learn more about cost estimating on our 10 top tips for creating cost estimates.
A data gathering and creativity technique that can be used to identify risks, ideas, or solutions to issues by using a group of team members or subject-matter experts. Typically, a brainstorming session is structured so that each participant’s ideas are recorded for later analysis.
An approved document that presents the total financial resources needed to complete a project or any work breakdown structure component or any schedule activity project. Check out our series on estimating if you’re looking for guidance on how to create an estimate for a budget.
Burnup and burndown charts show the number of tasks needed to complete the project or phase of the project. A burnup chart shows the accumulation of tasks toward the project completion. The burndown chart shows the diminishing number of tasks left to complete the project work. Burn charts are often used in Agile project management.
Burn rate is the rate of consumption of project resources and budget, against tasks. A high burn rate would be found on a large project with lots of resources so the daily cost, or burn rate is high. We’ve created a list with some of the best resource management software to help you better manage your project’s resources.
A document recording the justification for starting a project. It describes the benefits, anticipated ROI, costs and impact, plus a calculation of the financial case.
Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) is a certification in project management managed by the Project Management Institute in accordance with their published ANSI standard ‘A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge.
Change control (or change management) is the practice of identifying, documenting, approving and carrying out changes within a project.
Change log is a document that records changes in a project. It documents the potential impact, the change request status, and relevant information about each change request.
Processes performed to formally terminate all activities of a project or phase, and transfer the completed product to others or close out a canceled project.
Co-location means being in the same place; project team members are physically located close to one another in order to improve communication, working relationships, and productivity.
Communication Management Plan
This is a formal or informal plan that describes the communications needs and expectations for the project; how, when and where information is to be communicated and who is responsible for providing each type of communication. The communication management plan forms part of the project management plan.
Constraints are factors that you cannot change, but which should be considered during the life of the project. These may include deadlines, regulatory requirements, and dependencies on other projects to deliver.
Contingency plan is a plan B which is often a second best option, but is put in place when plan A fails.
Cost estimating is the process of calculating costs, by phase, of the resources required to complete tasks, or project work. For more information on how to estimate the cost of your project, check out our 10 top tips for creating cost estimates.
Cost variance is the difference in the sum of budgeted expense vs actual expense. A negative variance means that more money was spent than was budgeted for it.
This is a project schedule compression technique performed by taking action to decrease the total project schedule duration after analyzing a number of alternatives to determine how to get the maximum schedule duration compression for the least additional cost. Typical approaches for crashing a schedule include reducing schedule activity durations and increasing the assignment of resources on scheduled activities.
Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)
Critical Chain Project Management is a method of planning and managing projects that puts more emphasis on the resources needed to carry out project tasks.
The critical path is the sequence of activities that must be completed on time for the entire project to be completed on schedule. If an activity on the critical path is delayed by one day, the entire project will be delayed by one day unless another activity on the critical path can be finished a day earlier than planned. Many project timeline planning tools, and project management software tools have critical path functionality built in.
Critical Success Factor
A tangible or intangible object produced through project execution. A deliverable can be created from multiple smaller deliverables.
A method used to estimate the likelihood and outcome of future events. A group of experts exchange views, and each individually gives estimates and assumptions to a facilitator who reviews the data and issues a report. This process continues until consensus is reached.
Any events or work that are either dependent on the outcome of the project or the project will depend on.
Digital Project Management
Digital project management is the practice of ‘making stuff happen’ in a digital world. Digital project management describes the leading of teams and stakeholders to plan and execute projects, by organizing and motivating multi-disciplinary teams in the delivery of web-enabled projects delivered through screens or connected devices – often by digital agencies, studios, or internal web teams.
Digital Project Manager
Digital project manager is a job title often used interchangeably with web project managers, web producers, and digital producers. A digital project manager role is to bring teams together to make things happen – it’s all about leading, empowering, facilitating and communicating. Check out our articles on What Makes A Great Digital Project Manager and Project Manager Skills.
A schedule activity of zero duration used to show a logical relationship in the arrow diagramming method. Dummy activities are used when logical relationships cannot be completely or correctly described with schedule activity arrows. Dummy activities are generally shown graphically as a dashed line headed by an arrow.
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An approach whereby the project plan, actual work and work completed value are monitored in order to see if a project is on track. Earned Value shows how much of the budget and time should have been spent for work done.
Earned Value Management (EVM)
A management methodology for integrating scope, schedule, and resources, and for objectively measuring project performance and progress.
Estimate At Completion (EAC)
Estimate at completion is a hypothesis of what the total cost of the project will be before the project begins which changes as the project progresses, as the planning horizon becomes closer. Learn more how to better estimate the cost of your project here.
Estimating uses a number of tools and techniques to produce an approximation of a project timescale and cost. The estimate has a single total value and may have identifiable component values. Check out our series on creating cost estimates.
A technique of compressing the project schedule that changes network logic to overlap phases which would normally be done sequentially or to perform schedule activities in parallel.
Finish-to-Finish (FF) Tasks
Finish-to-finish tasks are used in project planning to define that successor tasks cannot finish until the predecessor task finishes. Check out our series on timing plans if you’re looking for guidance on how to create your project plan.
Finish-to-Start (FS) Tasks
Finish-to-start tasks are successors and cannot begin until the predecessor task is completed.
The calculation of the early start and early finish dates for the uncompleted portions of all network activities. See also schedule network analysis and backward pass.
The amount of time that a schedule activity can be delayed without delaying the early start of any immediately following schedule activities.
A popular project management project planning tool that can be used to illustrate a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) with tasks, task duration, resources, dependencies and interdependencies between tasks, as well as other project data and can be used throughout a project to track progress. If you’re looking for tools to create a Gantt chart, check out our list of Gantt chart tools.
The addition of unnecessary features or refinements, beyond the agreed scope, into a product or service in an attempt to improve customer satisfaction.
Human Resource Planning
The process of identifying and documenting project roles, responsibilities and reporting relationships, as well as creating the resource management plan. Check out our list of the best resource management software tools.
Indirect costs are those attributed to the cost of doing business. Examples include utilities, office space, and other overhead costs. Check out our cost estimate series and learn more on how better estimates the costs of your project.
Persons or groups that are not directly related to the acquisition or use of the project’s product, but, due to their position in the client organization, can influence, positively or negatively, the course of the project.
Any item, whether internal or external to the project that is required by a process before that process proceeds. May be an output from a predecessor process.
The first meeting between the project customer and the project team. Check out our kickoff meeting guide and learn how to start your projects right.
Knowledge Area Process
An identifiable project management process within a knowledge area
A diagram showing the sequence of activities in a project across time. It shows which activity logically precedes or follows another activity. It can be used to identify the milestones and critical path of a project.
A dependency between two project schedule activities, or between a project schedule activity and a schedule milestone. The four possible types of logical relationships are: Finish-to-Start; Finish-to-Finish; Start-to- Start; and Start-to-Finish.
Any organizational structure in which the project manager shares responsibility with the functional managers for assigning priorities and for directing the work of persons assigned to the project.
A milestone is a key event during the life of a project, usually completing project deliverables or other noteworthy achievements that are often used to track whether or not a project is on schedule, or not. We’ve picked up this topic in our series on creating a project plan.
Monte Carlo Simulation
A Monte Carlo simulation is a technique used to estimate the likely range of outcomes from a complex process by simulating the process under randomly selected conditions a large number of times.
Net Present Value (NPV) is an estimate that helps organizations determine the financial benefits of long-term projects. NPV compares the value of a dollar today to the value of that same dollar in the future, taking inflation and returns into account.
One of the defining points of a schedule network; a junction point joined to some or all of the other dependency lines.
Organizational Breakdown Structure (OBS)
A hierarchically organized depiction of the project organization arranged so as to relate the work packages to the performing organizational units.
Organizational Process Assets
Any or all process related assets, from any or all of the organizations involved in the project that are or can be used to influence the project’s success. These process assets include formal and informal plans, policies, procedures, and guidelines. The process assets also include the organizations’ knowledge bases such as lessons learned and historical information.
Also known as the Portfolio, Program and Project Management Maturity Model, P3M3 is a reference guide for structured best practice. It breaks down the broad disciplines of portfolio, program and project management into a hierarchy of Key Process Areas (KPAs)
This refers to the merging of parallel schedule network paths into the same node in a project schedule network diagram. Path convergence is characterized by a schedule activity with more than one predecessor activity.
Characterized by a schedule activity with more than one successor activity, path divergence refers to generating parallel schedule network paths from the same node in a project schedule network diagram.
PERT is an acronym for Program Evaluation Review Technique and refers to a tool used to schedule, organize and coordinate tasks within a project. It is also known as a precedence diagram, a network chart and logic diagram.
PERT estimating is an accurate estimating technique often used for time and cost estimates. PERT uses a weighted average to predict how long a task may take. PERT uses the formula of “pessimistic plus the optimistic, plus four times the most likely, divided by six.” It’s divided by six because of one count for pessimistic, one count for optimistic, and four count for most likely. Learn some valuable tips on how estimate the cost of your project on our 10 top tip series.
This is a strategic planning tool used to evaluate the impact that political, economic, social and technological factors might have on a project. It involves an organization considering the external environment before starting a project.
PMBOK stands for Project Management Body of Knowledge and it refers to the Project Management Institute’s collection of processes and knowledge areas accepted as best practice within the project management discipline.
A collection of projects or programs and other work that are grouped together to facilitate effective management in order to meet strategic business objectives. The projects or programs of the portfolio may not necessarily be interdependent or directly related.
Postmortem is also referred to as post-project review or audit. The purpose of this review is to analyze the completed project; what went well, what didn’t, and what you’d do differently next time. It should also look objectively at the effectiveness of the project team, the success of the project, the value of the deliverables, and the overall approval from the clients. We approached this topic on our how to create a project plan series.
PRINCE2 is an approach to project management that provides a full-stack methodology for managing projects within a clearly defined framework. PRINCE2 describes procedures to coordinate people and activities in a project, how to design and supervise the project and what to do if the project has to be adjusted if it doesn’t develop as planned.
Probability and Impact Matrix
A common way to determine whether a risk is considered low, moderate, or high by combining the two dimensions of a risk: its probability of occurrence, and its impact on objectives if it occurs.
Process is a term project managers use to describe the project management lifecycle, or how projects get done; it’s a set of interrelated actions and activities performed to achieve a specified set of products, results, or services.
The five process groups- initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing- make up the project life cycle and project phases. These five process groups have sets of actions that move the project forward toward completion.
Project Change Request form
Formalizes requests from anyone to the project manager. It requires the requestor not only to describe the change, but also to supply a reason why this change is appropriate and needed. Once the requestor has completed the form, the project manager can determine whether the change is indeed necessary, should be rejected, or should be delayed until the completion of the current project.
A meeting or an event to introduce the project, the management backing the project, the project manager, and the team members. It should be casual but organized and used as a mechanism to assign ownership of the project to the team. Learn more on our kickoff meeting guide and learn how to start your projects right.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines project management as the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities in order to meet or exceed stakeholder needs and expectations.
See our definition here: What Is Project Management?
Project Management Knowledge Area
An identified area of project management defined by its knowledge requirements and described in terms of its component processes, practices, inputs, outputs, tools, and techniques.
Project Management Life Cycle
The project management life cycle is composed of five process groups: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. For more information, check out our complete guide to project management life cycle.
Project Management Office (PMO)
An organizational body or entity that oversees and mentors groups of projects. The responsibilities of a PMO could include setting up policies and standards for projects, reviewing and consolidating project reports for external stakeholders and being responsible for the direct management of a project.
Project Management Professional (PMP)
A Project Management Professional or PMP is a globally recognized certification in project management. It is managed by the Project Management Institute and is based on the PMP Examination Specification published by PMI in 2005.
The person who has the overall responsibility for the successful planning, execution and closure of a project. Project managers work in the construction industry, architecture, information technology and many different occupations that produce a product or service. Check out our Project Manager Skills article to know what are the most important skills to become complete a project manager.
A collection of logically related project activities (usually sequential, but can also overlap) which result in the completion of a major deliverable. A project phase is a component of a project life cycle.
Project Portfolio Management (PPM)
Project Portfolio Management organizes a series of projects into a single portfolio of reports that capture project objectives and other critical factors
The degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfils the pre-defined requirements.
Quality Management Plan
A plan that describes how the project management team will implement the organization’s quality policy.
A RACI chart is a matrix of the key activities in a project set against all the people or roles. At each intersection of activity and role it is possible to assign somebody responsible, accountable, consulted or informed for that activity or decision.
RAID is an acronym for risks, assumptions, issues and dependencies, and a raid log is a project management tool, often in the form of a spreadsheet, that is used to track them.
A calendar of working days and nonworking days that determines those dates on which each specific resource is idle or can be active. Typically defines resource specific holidays and resource availability periods. Check out our list with some of the best resource management tools.
Resource constraint describes a situation where a project may need additional resources but doesn’t have access to the resources—for example, a particular type of equipment, a particular project team member, or a facility such as a training room.
Everything needed to complete a project, but in particular people and money.
Risks are potential external events that could have negative impact on a project if they occur. Risk also refers to the combined likelihood the event will occur and the impact on the project if the event does occur.
Risk Breakdown Structure (RBS)
A hierarchically organized depiction of the identified project risks arranged by risk category and subcategory that identifies the various areas and causes of potential risks. The risk breakdown structure is often tailored to specific project types
Risk register is a document that defines risk to a project; its characteristics, it’s likelihood, signs that the risk may be occurring, a mitigation plan, and the risk’s eventual outcome in the project.
The overall definition of what the project should achieve and a specific description of what the result should be. A major ingredient of scope is the quality of the final product.
Scope creep is the uncontrolled growth of the project scope resulting from constant changes to requirements without consideration to the impact on resources or timescale
Scrum is an agile methodology that uses iterative and incremental practices to manage complex software and product development. It was invented in 1993 by Jeff Sutherland, John Scumniotales and Jeff McKenna.
Six Sigma is a management philosophy developed by Motorola that emphasizes quality, setting extremely high objectives, and by collecting data and analyzing the results, finding ways to reduce defects in products and services.
The person who has authority over the project, provides funding, approves scope changes, provides high-level direction and champions the project within an organization.
An iterative unit of time, typically a one, two, or four week period that gives the project team the opportunity to reflect, make adjustments and plan based on events and conditions. The term and concept comes from agile project management techniques in the software industry.
A stakeholder is anyone, internal or external to an organization that has an interest in a project or will be affected by its deliverables.
Statement of Work (SoW)
The statement of work defines the approach and work a project must produce. The SoW is a key governance tool whether it is being used to direct work for a vendor or contractor, or used to direct the work internally, the SoW must contain a description of all the work that is expected to be delivered. Check out our series on Creating Statements of Work.
Status reports provide current information on the project cost, budget, scope, and other relevant information including what has been completed, and next steps. It often will also include a risk register and project timeline.
A strategic planning tool used to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to a project. It involves specifying the objective of the project and identifying the internal and external factors that are favorable and unfavorable to achieving that objective.
Theory of Constraints (ToC)
A management philosophy that views any manageable system as being limited in achieving more of its goals by a very small number of constraints.
Three point estimating is an estimating technique where you ask people to give you a best-case, worst-case, and most likely case, to create an accurate estimate range and price point usually using the average of the three cases given. To learn some tips on how to estimate the cost of your project, read our cost estimate series.
Time and Material (T&M) Billing Method
Time and materials billing is an alternative billing method to fixed price, or margin based pricing where time and materials are accrued and then billed as utilized. Often time and materials contracts are capped with a Not-to-Exceed clause (NTE) to contain costs.
Total Cost of Ownership TCO
Total Cost of Ownership is an estimate of all direct and indirect costs associated with an asset or acquisition over its entire life.
The total amount of time that a schedule activity may be delayed from its early start date without delaying the project finish date, or violating a schedule constraint. Calculated using the critical path method technique and determining the difference between the early finish dates and late finish dates.
Slack described the total time a particular activity with a project can be delayed without impacting the overall project timeline.
The specification of software tests that are conducted from the perspective of a hypothetical end user. Use cases focus on operating the software as an end user would during their day-to-day activities.
Variance is a quantifiable deviation, departure, or divergence away from the expected value or known baseline.
Variance At Completion (VAC)
Variance at completion is the difference between the budget at completion (BAC) and the estimate at completion (EAC); its formula is VAC = BAC ? EAC.
Vertical slice refers to a type of milestone, benchmark, or deadline, with emphasis on demonstrating progress across all components of a project.
A virtual team is the opposite of a co-located team. It’s where a team is geographically dispersed.
A war room is often used on agile projects where the project manager and project team collaborate in close proximity to complete a project.
Waterfall is a traditional project management methodology that follows a sequential development process, in which development flows steadily downwards (like a waterfall) through the phases of initiation, analysis, design, build, test and maintenance. To follow the waterfall model, you move from one phase to the next sequentially, with no overlapping or iterative steps.
Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
A hierarchical decomposition of the deliverables needed to complete a project. It breaks the deliverables down into manageable work packages that can be scheduled, costed and have resources assigned to them.
A workaround is an alternative plan, an unplanned response when there is no other contingency plan in place.