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A complete glossary of the leading project management terminology

Danielle Tawfik

Consider this glossary your one-stop resource for defining all the commonly-used project management terms. For each term, you’ll find a straightforward definition along with a blog post delving deeper into each topic. We even broke down the terms into different categories so you can easily find the type of phrase you’re looking for.

Whether you want to freshen up your project management vocab, learn about current project management techniques, or just want to make sure you understand the meaning of that new PM term you keep hearing in meetings, we have you covered!

Project management terms

Here you can find a thorough list of all the basic project management terms, from A-Z. This is the standard vocabulary you’d hear on a day-to-day basis in the project management world.

Ad hoc tasks

Tasks that are developed or used for a unique and immediate purpose, that wasn’t previously planned.

Bottleneck effect

The impact of a project stage that delays or stalls related tasks and dependencies. Project management bottlenecks decrease the pace and sometimes the capacity of a workflow or project.

Change request

In order to request changes to a finalized project management plan, individuals or teams submit a formal document called a change request. Change requests are usually reserved for significant changes because low-impact changes can be brought to the project manager.

Communication log

The document or system used to track all project-related communications. The project manager typically organizes and tracks what, who, when, and where relevant communication happened in addition to any outcomes as a result.

Conflict management

The important skills and practices of project managers who seek to solve problems, set goals, compromise, settle personality differences, and resolve conflicts related to teams. This is an essential part of a project manager’s training.

Constructive criticism

A feedback method that centers on specific, actionable recommendations over purely negative feedback. Effective constructive feedback facilitates positive outcomes and a positive working environment where the recipient feels safe to ask questions and share ideas.

Contingency plan

The alternative or extra course of action that is planned in anticipation of the specific risks that may arise.

Crisis management

Applying targeted strategies that help an organization deal with a crisis — a sudden and significant negative event. A crisis can be a result of an unpredictable event or a consequence of some event with potential risk.

Cross teaming

A cross-functional team describes a group of people with a range of different expertise who come together to accomplish a common goal. It could include employees from all levels of an organization.

Decision log

This beneficial communication tool is used to inform stakeholders about how a decision was reached, options considered, and approvers involved. It serves to eliminate potential confusion and prevent unnecessary decision “churning.”

Decision matrix

An organized list of values with rows and columns that analysts use to systematically identify, analyze, and rate the performance of the relationships between sets of values and information.

Decomposition project management

Project decomposition is the process of breaking down components of a large project into more manageable portions called deliverables. This process helps managers manage task assignments more easily while improving time management and workflow.

Delphi technique

A technique used to make decisions about complex issues based on individual opinions. In this method, a facilitator asks a group of experts to write their thoughts about a problem. The facilitator then compiles a summary report.

Enterprise resource planning

Also known as ERP, this management methodology builds on the theory that an enterprise can maximize its returns if they maximize the use of its fixed resource supply.

Fallback plan

A predetermined alternative course of action that is adopted if a risk occurs in addition to failure of the contingency plan.

Feasibility study

An evaluation used to determine how likely a project is to be completed effectively and to assess its practicality while taking into account resources and requirements.

Float management

This refers to the concept of managing the amount of time a specific task can be delayed before it causes a delay for the entire project delivery.

Integrated master plan

IMP is a project management tool for organizing the work of large, complex projects. It uses a hierarchical structure to arrange project tasks and events in a way that shows the relationships between them.

Lesson learned

The sum of knowledge gained after a project is finished that can be used in future projects for better references, points of interest, and to make better decisions.

Master schedule

A master schedule should provide stakeholders with an understanding of the project’s major deliverables, key milestones, and work breakdown structure summary.

Mission critical

This is used to describe a task, service, or system that upon failure or disruption could cause an entire operation to fail. It could also be referred to as indispensable for continuing operations.

Monte Carlo simulation

A risk management technique part of the Monte Carlo Analysis, in which project managers estimate the impacts of various cost and timeline risks for a project.

Net present value

NPV is the difference between the current value of cash and the value of cash in the future. Project managers use net present value to determine whether the predicted financial gains of a project will warrant the present-day investment.

Operations strategy

The total pattern of decisions that shape long-term operational capabilities and how they contribute to an overall strategy. As technology and business models rapidly change, businesses must constantly refine their operations strategy.

Order of magnitude

A general estimate of a project’s cost and effort levels that is usually conducted during a project’s selection and approval stages. Generally, it’s also used to estimate a project budget without a lot of detail available.

Organizational project management

A strategic approach that centers on the effective management of projects, programs, and portfolios as the ideal way to pursue organizational objectives. It seeks to align an organization’s activities with its objectives.

Organizational strategy

An overarching strategy for a company or organization that aligns teams and their work with one vision, mission, and goal. Project managers use this as a source of truth when evaluating each project and the project management framework chosen to implement it.

Planning fallacy

A phenomenon that states that the actual time needed to complete a task is always longer than estimated. It holds this to be true regardless of how many times you have completed the task before, or the depth of your expertise and assumes a high probability that you won’t allot yourself enough time.

Program manager

In contrast to a project manager, a program manager oversees the fulfillment of larger organizational goals via coordination of activities between multiple projects instead of directly managing them. The role is to manage the main program, giving detailed attention to program strategy, project delegation, and program implementation.

Project baseline

In project management, a baseline is a clearly defined starting point for your project plan. It serves as a stable reference to measure and compare your project’s progress against over time.

Project charter

The formal short document that states a project’s existence and provides project managers with written authority to begin work. The document describes a project’s goals, objectives, and resource requirements before the project is scoped out in detail in order to create shared understanding.

Project hierarchy

A tool that helps analyze and communicate a project’s objectives by organizing them into different levels of a hierarchy or tree.

Proof of concept

Also known as proof of principle, proof of concept is intended to determine the feasibility of an idea or to verify that an idea will function as envisioned. It’s important to note that this concept is not intended to explore market demand or to determine the best production process.

Resource breakdown structure

A hierarchical list of resources required for project work that is categorized by type and function.

Resource calendar

A schedule of team members’ availability for work on tasks is used to track the amount of availability of resources. In contrast, a project calendar is a schedule of planned tasks and milestones that indicate project progress.

Risk mitigation

A strategy put in place to decrease the probability of negative effects of a risk. The core of a successful risk mitigation strategy should entail developing actions that reduce potential threats to overall project objectives.

Risk owner

The individual in a project responsible for monitoring each potential risk area as well as executing a risk response should a risk event occur. Risk ownership should be outlined clearly as a part of a risk response plan to ensure that all identified risks are taken into consideration and being monitered.

Rolling Wave Planning

A strategic project management technique in which teams work within smaller time periods or “waves” to accommodate expected project changes. Teams start with available information and define, as usual, the work deliverables, tasks, and budgets per the project scope.

Root cause

The origin of a problem, issue, or error that occurs in something related to business. Root cause analysis (RCA) is a problem-solving technique companies use as a way to isolate the source of a problem.

Schedule variance

Also called SV, this calculation measures whether a project is on track by comparing actual progress against expected progress. Schedule variance provides project managers with quantitative data for discussion.

Scope baseline

The approved version of a project’s scope that is documented in three places: a scope statement, work breakdown structure (WBS), and WBS dictionary. It serves as a reference point to monitor project progress and compare actual versus planned results.

Scope creep

The work that is added to a project that is beyond the original and agreed-upon scope. Examples could be adding additional features or functions of a new product, new requirements, and more.

Scrum master

The head of a Scrum team who works to ensure the Scrum framework is followed in team practices. He/she is committed to the values of Scrum but also is charged with remaining flexible and open to any opportunities for improved team workflows.

Scrum of scrums

A team made of members representing various Scrum teams that then come together to receive information about critical project work that may be impacted by another Scrum team’s sprint(s).

Situational leadership

The act of adapting management style and actions according to each unique situation or task — with the goal of meeting the needs of the team or team members.

Soft costs

Expenses involved in a construction project that do not pertain to the physical construction or process of construction. These costs are for non-tangible items, like services, fees, and insurance.

Steering committee

A governing body of key stakeholders in charge of overseeing and supporting a project to ensure its goals are achieved. They are also referred to often as stakeholder boards, senior leadership teams, project working groups, or project oversight committees.

Strategic initiatives

An initiative that serves to guide businesses and targets future goals. According to the PMI’s “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK),” successful projects must be strategically aligned with tan organization’s business strategy.

Stretch goals

A way to describe a high-effort and high-risk goal that is intentionally set above normal standards to create exponential rewards, opportunities, and experience. However, this type of goal is typically set to inspire growth and counter complacency over one hundred percent completion.

Theory of Constraints

An approach that helps you to identify the crucial limiting factor, also referred to as a constraint or bottleneck which gets in the way of achieving a goal.

Time cost

Refers to the fact that time to complete a project is the only unfixed variable in project-based pricing, in comparison to scope of work and the fee, which are fixed.

Use case

All of the potential ways an end-user could use a product or service. They can be very helpful to understand a project’s scope and requirements or product design.

Vendor management

The set of activities and practices that help ensure that chosen vendors deliver procurement items according to schedule and up to quality standards.

Vertical slice

A type of milestone or deadline, with emphasis on demonstrating progress across all components of a project. The term, also called VS has origins from the video game industry.

Working styles

The compilations of behaviors and attitudes one applies to tasks and relationships at work. Three broad categories of management styles are autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire.

Project management processes and techniques

These are the most frequently used techniques by project managers to boost the success of their projects. The effectiveness of each of these strategies is of course dependent on the type of project and team.

Aggregate planning

A planning strategy that uses demand forecasts to manage project activity, scheduling, and planning between three and 18 months in advance in order to efficiently acquire or assign the necessary resources and people.

Agile transformation

The process of transitioning an entire team or organization to use a reactive approach based on agile principles.

Analogous estimating

A technique that gathers information and data from similar projects to create a cost estimate, usually because there is limited information about the current project. It requires expert judgment in order to determine the reusability of the data.

Benefits management

Starting a project by identifying, planning, measuring and tracking benefits until delivery. It aims to make sure that the desired goals or outcomes are specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic and time-bound.

Business forecasting

The process of making predictions or assumptions around possible project outcomes through the analysis of historical project data in addition to predicted future performances.

Convergent thinking

The creative problem-solving process that is more concrete than divergent thinking because it considers dependencies and details that impact finding a reasonable solution.

Divergent thinking

Using no-holds-barred, creative brainstorming when looking for a solution to a problem instead of necessarily going “by the book.”

Effective communication

Exchanging ideas, thoughts, opinions, knowledge, and data in a clear and purpose-driven way that also makes it easy for a message to be received and understood.

Forward pass project management

A technique used to move through a project network diagram in order to understand the project’s duration and calculate the earliest day each task can begin and wrap up during a project.

Gold plating

When a project management or team member decides to add a feature or service to a project that either management and/or the client hasn’t requested.

Performance reporting

Formally sharing current performance data and performance forecasts with stakeholders. The specific criteria for this report are typically outlined in a communications management plan.

Prioritization 

The Process for selecting the initiatives that maximize the value you deliver to the organization with your limited resources.

Task analysis

Details the actions or resources required to complete a task or an analysis to understand how long a task takes, or the categories of tasks that go into a larger project.

Team building

Any activity geared towards strengthening the bond and workflows between a group of individual contributing employees. The goal is to create a cohesive team that can strive to meet the needs of their customers.

Time blocking

A time management method that is built around dividing your day into blocks of time. Each block is specifically dedicated to accomplishing a specific task, or group of tasks.

Project management acronym terms

If you’re familiar with the world of project management, you are probably aware that there’s no shortage of acronyms to simplify longer or more complex PM terminology. But as the ever-changing list of acronyms grows, it can be tough to remember what means what. So, here’s your list to make sure you’re up to date with all the common acronyms.

BCWP (Budgeted cost of work performed)

The cost of work that has actually been accomplished or completed to date. It can be used to reflect the entire project, individual task, or work packages and is compared against the Actual Cost of Work Performed (ACWP).

Estimate At Completion (EAC)

The expectation of total costs at the end of a project at present. The EAC represents the final project cost relative to the costs incurred to date and the predicted costs to complete the project. In contrast, BAC (budget at completion) is the approved spend for a project.

PERT

A project management planning tool used to realistically calculate the amount of time it will take to finish a project by taking tasks into account — making it easier to schedule and coordinate team members.

Planned Value (PV)

The cost budgeted for the scheduled work to be done. This is the portion of the budget planned to be spent at any given point in time in the project. It is also referred to as the budgeted cost of work scheduled (BCWS).

RAID log

Stands for risks, assumptions, issues, and dependencies. The RAID log is used in project management to record developments in these four aspects of project work in order to benefit stakeholders and act as a resource for an end-of-project review.

Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

The set of step-by-step instructions compiled by an organization to effectively carry out routine operations. SOPs aim for quality output and uniformity while avoiding miscommunication and failure to meet industry regulations.

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

A hierarchical outline of the tasks required to complete a project that helps the project team plan, define, and organize scope.

MoSCoW prioritization method

Also known as the MoSCoW method or MoSCoW analysis, this is a popular prioritization technique for requirements. The acronym represents four categories of initiatives: must-have, should-have, could-have, won’t-have, or will not have right now.

PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge)

One of the most popular project management terms amongst project managers. This guide includes terms, best practices, strategies, and procedures for project management and is provided by The International Organization for Standardization.

Earned value (EV)

A project key performance indicator (KPI) that represents the quantified value of the work accomplished by a certain point. To calculate it, take the the sum of the budget for all completed work, either for the entire project or a portion of it.

Project management methodology terms

Project management methodology is the set of principles and practices that guide project managers when organizing projects.  Many of the previously listed techniques fall under these different methodologies.

Agile Crystal

The crystal agile methodology places emphasis on individuals over procedures and tools used so teams can discover their answers rather than be restricted by rigid methods. This agile approach is often used for product development.

Iterative process

The practice of building, refining, and improving a project, product, or initiative in fixed periods of time. While most common in product development, any team can use this methodology to create, test, and revise until they’re satisfied with the end result.

Earned Value Management (EVM)

A project management methodology that brings together factors like schedule, costs, and scope to measure project performance. Using planned and actual values, EVM seeks to anticipate the future and enables project managers to make adjustments.

Business Process Management (BPM)

Any combination of methods used to manage a company’s business processes through discovery, modeling, analysis, measurements, optimization, and automation.

PM Charts and Diagrams

Project managers are always searching for the most effective tools to help visualize their project’s plan and trajectory. Here are some of the most commonly used tools that help bring projects to life.

Precedence diagram

A graphical tool used for scheduling a project plan’s activities, critical paths, and dependencies. It is also called a project schedule network diagram.

Arrow diagram

A chart used to show the required sequence of tasks in a project or process, such as the best schedule for the entire project as well as potential scheduling and resource problems and their solutions.

Bar graph

Also called a bar chart, this graph is meant to organize data in a visual way. Some of them have activities, start date, duration, and completion date that are plotted on a project timescale. The detailed level of the bar chart depends on your project complexity and the intended use as either a schedule or something else.

Pareto chart

A tool to assess the relative importance of problems. It contains both bars and lines with individual values represented in descending order by bars, and the overall total of the sample is represented with a curved line.

Originally from New York, Danielle is a writer and storyteller currently serving as a content marketing manager at monday.com. When she’s not busy writing, you can find her playing with her 100-pound rescue dog or catching a spontaneous flight to explore a new country.
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