Whether you're new to the world of project management, or simply working with a project management team, you need to understand the basic lingo.
Ironically, for a specialisation that requires crystal clear communication, there's a lot of room for error in project management! So, we've put together a basic glossary of fundamental project management terms you need to know.
Understanding them will reduce the risk of project failure by ensuring that everyone is on the same page
A project activity or task is a specific action that needs to be undertaken in order for the project to be successful completed. Each activity must be completed by the person or team allocated to the activity, within a specified time. For example, the Development team must complete a wireframe by August 8th. Project activities or tasks are listed in the project plan, and are represented in the project Gantt chart.
According to the Agile Alliance, "Agile is the ability to create and respond to change. It is a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment."
The authors of the Agile Manifesto chose “Agile” as the label for this whole idea because that word represented the adaptiveness and response to change which was so important to their approach.
Agile software development is an umbrella term for a set of frameworks and practices based on the values and principles expressed in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and the 12 Principles behind it.
The baseline is the starting point or point of reference used for measuring the performance of a project with regard to schedule, cost and scope. Whenever the scope of a project changes, the baseline will change too. The Viewpath project management platform allows you to keep track of all baselines and track any changes, also known as 'variance', may be positive or negative.
'Burn down' refers to the amount of work left to do in a particular period of time. A burn down chart is a visual representation of outstanding work versus time. This feature is helpful for predicting when work will be completed.
A project champion is usually a senior stakeholder who works to ensure that leadership, the organization, and the team support and remain positive about the project.
According to the PMI, project champions can help project managers generate the organizational support and obtain the corporate resources they need to realize their projects. It lists four types of project champion: creative originator, entrepreneur, sponsor, and project manager.
In the world of project management, a change is anything that impacts the scope or delivery of a project. The process of managing these changes and ensuring that they do not inhibit project success is referred to as ‘change management’.
A constraint is anything that will limit the outcome of a project. The classic project constraints, also known as 'the triple constraint', or 'the iron triangle', in project management are time, scope and cost.
Critical chain / path
A list of tasks that are critical to the successful completion of the project. If any of these tasks are completed late, they'll push out your end date. On a Gantt chart, the critical path is often highlighted. Non-critical tasks may happen alongside or after critical ones, but won't have a huge impact on the project's completion.
This has to do with the relationships between succeeding project tasks. Some tasks will be dependent on others, for example: the start date of one task (the predecessor) might be dependent upon the end date of a previous one (the successor). The most common dependencies include 'finish to start' 'start to start' and 'finish to finish'.
Duration is the amount of time a person or team has to finish a certain task. It differs from the effort or work required to complete the task. For example, a project manager might assign a person 5 days in which to complete 10 hours worth of work.
Estimating is a critical part of project planning. The PMI defines it as a process involving a quantitative estimate of project costs, resources or duration. Many processes have been developed to aid in making accurate estimates, including: analogy based estimation, compartmentalization, the Delphi method, educated assumptions, examining historical data, identifying dependencies, and structured planning.
Research suggests that having a C-level sponsor is a key requirement for the success of a strategic project. This sponsor is responsible for ensuring that the project’s goals are aligned with the company's strategy. They also rally support and overcome objections from other senior executives.
According to ProjectManagement.com, project forecasting involves extrapolating current project performance to the end of the project. Forecasts can be made with respect to project duration, overall project cost, performance/quality level of project deliverables, or any combination of these.
Forecasting enables proactive and effective project and resource management.
A Gantt a sideways bar chart that shows the timeline of a project and all its tasks. It should show how tasks are related (eg dependencies), the amount of time required for each task, and the critical path. Our Gantt charts are helpful because they maintain all the dependencies and relationships of tasks. This means that any delays are automatically added and the resulting timeline shifts out accordingly, all the way to the new end date.
Go / No go
Before a project is approved, it needs to go through a go / no go decision-making process. During this process, project analysis and feasibility studies are reviewed to determine whether or not it makes sense to pursue the project.
Project governance is the management framework within which project decisions are made. According to the PMI, project governance entails all the key elements that make a project successful. However, this is not one-size-fits-all. Project governance needs to be tailored to an organization's specific needs.
The hand over marks the close of the project. Once the team has completed the project deliverables, they hand them over to the client or operational team, often with quite a lot of documentation including formal acceptance of the project deliverables, outstanding issues, and manuals and maintenance procedures.
Inputs and outputs
During the lifecycle of a project, 'inputs' such as peoples' time and effort, equipment, materials, etc. are transformed into deliverables or outputs, for example to install a new medical imaging unit in a hospital.
A project issue is something that has negative consequences for the outcome of a project. An issue differs from a risk in that a risk is just a predicted issue, i.e. it may not happen.
Kanban is a visual framework for managing work as it moves through a process. The term 'kanban' comes from a Japanese manufacturing system in which the supply of components is regulated through the use of an instruction card sent along the production line. It was made famous by car manufacturer, Toyota.
Key performance indicator (KPI)
KPIs are a set of measures that indicate how well a project team is achieving specific targets. They are a powerful set of tools for project success, ensuring that everyone working on a project is held accountable for successfully completing their tasks on time.
The lead time is the period of time from the moment a project or process is initiated to the moment execution begins. For example, the lead time between the placement of an order and delivery of a new medical imaging machine from a manufacturer may be 2 months.
Milestones cab be used in various ways in a project schedule, but are typically indicators of important dates, events, deliverables, or achievements in the project. Visually, a milestone is typically depicted as a black diamond in a Gantt Chart.
A node is a point on the visual representation of a project plan, usually a Gantt chart, that represents an activity of importance, with arrows showing whether a particular node is related to another.
A network diagram is visual approach to planning and tracking a project from start to finish. It represents a project's critical path as well as the scope and timeline.
Opportunity cost is a concept that helps organizations decide whether to take on a project. It forms art of the Go/ No Go decision-making process, and relates to the relatice potential returns of a projects. For example if one project has a potential return of $100,000, while another has a potential return of $200,000, it would be wiser to pursue the second one.
Parent-child task relationships
When viewing a list of tasks in a work breakdown schedule (WBS) you will probably come across parent-child task relationships. Similar or related project tasks (the children) are grouped together under a parent task. A parent task is usually represented by a + sign, with children indented below it.
This is a measure of how much progress has been made to date, and is often measured to a schedule baseline for comparison to indicate whether a project is running ahead of time, on time, or behind.
A project charter or project statement is a reference document that should be the starting point for every project, especially complex projects. The charter states the project's objective, goals, scope and stakeholders.
It ensures that everyone is on the same page and using the same language.
Project management office (PMO)
The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines the Project Management Office, or PMO, as “an organizational structure that may be used to standardize the portfolio, program, or project-related governance processes and facilitate the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools, and techniques.”
The PMO is responsible for establishing and maintaining a standard, company-wide set of best-practice project management methodologies, tools and templates. A well-managed PMO will therefore ensure that the entire organization is able to consistently and efficiently deliver successful projects that meet strategic goals.
Read more: Do we need a PMO?
Project management software
Solutions like Viewpath are designed to automate and streamline the project management process. Unlimited reusable project templates and features like Gantt charts, easy drag-and-drop scheduling, real-time status reports, and individual task reminders simplify the entire process, and give projects a greater chance of success.
Project Management Triangle
The Project Management Triangle, Triple Constraint or Iron Triangle, is a visual representation of the constraints of project management. It demonstrates that changes to one area will have an impact on the remaining two areas. For example, a change to the scope of a project will impact both the cost and the schedule. The bigger the change, the bigger the impact.
RAID is an acronym for: Risks, Assumptions, Issues, and Dependencies. It's a helpful approach to identifying key events that can have an adverse impact on a project.
Project risk is defined by PMI as, "an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a project’s objectives." A risk is anything that could potentially cause a project to fail. Once a risk occurs, it becomes an 'issue'.
A project schedule, or Work Breakdown Schedule (WBS) is the total list of tasks, milestones, dependencies, and deliverables that must occur within a defined period of time. The project schedule is often represented visually in a Gantt chart.
The project scope defines and documents the objectives, deliverables and boundaries of a project, including its budget and deadline.
Slippage is a project management term that refers to delays. Slippage can occur as a result of lack of budget or resources, or due to poor or inaccurate scheduling. Project management software can reduce the risk of project slippage by helping project managers manage the schedule, budget and resources more closely.
Projects are broken down into a list of tasks, usually assigned to an individual or a team. These tasks are listed out in the project schedule and are represented visually in a gantt chart. Tasks may be dependent on each other.
Creating project plan templates is a powerful way to save time. Project management solutions like Viewpath allow users to create unlimited templates. Users can simply save a current or completed project as a template, and then tailor and reuse them as needed.
Project variance is a measurable change from the expected 'baseline'. For example, when the project costs deviate from the expected budget or schedule. Variance can be positive or negative. Project management software often tracks variance automatically.
Work Breakdown Schedule (WBS)
A work breakdown schedule is the prioritized list of tasks that need to take place within a defined period in order for a project to be successfully completed. It often includes groups of related tasks and tasks for all teams and stakeholders.