When I started with project management, I was a wet-behind-the-ears comms major with (limited) experience in nonprofit marketing.

I had no business in operations, and less business managing projects.

But tech startups are wild places, so I dove in.

I got my ass kicked, of course, but I learned something.

If I’d had a primer — a complete breakdown of project management terms, models and paths to success — I may have fared a bit better.

And that’s what we’ve built here.

If you’re a seasoned project manager with years of experience under your belt, or a complete newbie who barely fits into his belt, it doesn’t hurt to have a few definitions locked and loaded to save yourself time and confusion, and the ass-kicking I had all those years ago.

This article will outline five of the most-commonly used (and regularly misunderstood) terms in project management. So, once you’ve brushed up on the terminology yourself, be sure to share it with your workmates, so you’re all on the same page!

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Project management terminology and definitions you should know

Each of the project management terms covered here are ones you’ll probably come across sooner or later, so make sure you master them before diving into a project plan.

What is Agile project management?

Agile is a project management methodology that was originally designed to manage your software development project plan. Soon enough, it was adopted by project managers of all kinds for its ability to improve project success rates. KPMG’s 2019 Survey on Agility reports that 68% of companies jumped on the Agile bandwagon to adapt better to changing customer needs and achieve faster product delivery.

Agile project management takes an iterative approach, meaning a project team will work in short development cycles known as sprints — each of which has a strong focus on continuous improvement.

The nature of modern project plan management is that throughout the project life cycle, scope and objectives can change. In some cases, the entire project can change path!

The Agile methodology seeks to counteract the challenges these changes can present by allowing a project team to move swiftly and change track where required (that’s where the name ‘agile’ comes from!)

With the majority of teams experiencing a greater ability to adapt (70%), higher project visibility (65%), and improved business alignment (65%), it’s easy to understand the popularity of this project management methodology.

The challenge is, many team members, and indeed many a project manager, don’t fully comprehend the intricacies of the project management process. This can diminish the benefits offered by Agile.

That’s why we’ve put together a step by step guide to Agile project planning, which we recommend reviewing after you’ve read this piece.

What is a Gantt chart?

A Gantt chart is a way of displaying project tasks scheduled over time.

It looks like this:

Monday's Gantt Chart

(Image Source)

Using Gantt charts, project managers can gain a high-level overview of task due dates, assignees, and sub-task timeframes.

This enables leaders to allocate tasks more effectively, make sure deadlines are met, and quickly identify (and address) those who might be dragging the chain.

A key benefit of using a Gantt chart to manage your projects is that it enables you to see percentages of completion, which means you can easily prioritize tasks that are close to being finished, or see at a glance the status of your projects.

“There’s a huge misconception that in order to be more productive and achieve great things, we need to become masters of project management. Here’s the thing, and it’s the core philosophy our product is built upon: You don’t manage projects; you only manage people.”

Gantt charts focus on how work used to be — a complicated maze of role hierarchies, task dependencies, and subtasks, all combining to overwhelm and hinder your ability to actually get anything done.

We recommend a more modern approach for managing your projects (namely, our custom “Work OS” model), which is awesome and focuses on what’s important: your team and the way you work best together.

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What is scope in project management?

In project management, project scope is a well-defined understanding among stakeholders as to project requirements and factors that define its success.

It’s crucial that team members not only understand the concept of scope, but also the individual scope of each project they’re working on.

If a project’s scope is not accurately defined, documented, and understood, then you could quickly become a victim of scope creep.

Scope creep is the tendency of a project’s scope to grow over time, as each stakeholder adds more tasks and requirements to a given project without adjusting the timeline and budgeted cost.

It’s that meeting which ends with your head of sales saying, “ooh, why don’t we do this other thing while we’re at it?”

And it’s so easy to do.

Unfortunately, failing to control project scope creep puts you at risk of blowing budgets and completing projects beyond their deadlines.

This is a major issue for the project manager, with 48% of projects going over the estimated project schedule and 43% ending up over the budgeted cost for the project.

Need help controlling scope? Check out monday.com’s project tracker template.

What is Kanban?

Kanban is one of the most popular approaches for workflow management, originally designed from production lines at Toyota.

Kanban-style project management uses vertical columns to represent a certain project stage (such as completed), each of which then houses a number of cards or items, which represent your individual tasks.

Kanban-style project management from Monday.com

(Image Source)

It’s popular among those who consider themselves visually motivated and allows project managers to instantly recognize (and then prioritize) tasks that are closest to completion.

A particularly powerful feature of digital Kanban-style project management (you can also recreate this style of project management using post-it notes on a whiteboard) is its ability to assign individual or group responsibilities, set due dates and reminders, and hold task-specific conversations within a card.

If your project involves a number of team members working on separate tasks, then Kanban is an excellent way for everyone to collaborate efficiently.

What is float in project management?

Float (also known as slack) is a project management term that refers to the amount of time a given task can be delayed before it starts to impact a subsequent task or the overall project, allowing you to determine a project’s critical path.

If you’re scheduled to complete the design of a new marketing ad by the end of day Wednesday, but the review isn’t planned until Friday morning, you have one day of float (Thursday).

The benefit of knowing how to calculate, control, and account for float is that you’re able to keep tabs on how much stuff can slip without it throwing off your entire timeline, and blowing out your critical path.

When someone asks for more time to complete their work you can instantly see whether you can grant the extension without missing your committed delivery date.

Calculating float can get pretty nerdy, especially when you start looking at the three different types of float:

  1. Free float (leeway between two consecutive tasks)
  2. Total float (total extra time built into the project schedule)
  3. Negative float (when there’s less time than you need between two tasks)

A simple calculation for total float looks like this:

Your project team may not need to know the ins and outs of calculating float, but it is vital that they understand how working within float times can have a major impact on subsequent tasks within a project.

Conclusion

Knowing your Gantt’s from your Kanban’s is one thing, but being able to put these project management terms into play is another.

The good news is that monday.com makes it simple and straightforward to embed all five of these ideas into your project management workflow and hit your overarching project objective.

For Agile teams, our real-time reporting allows you to keep on improving, monitoring the results of each sprint, and making subtle adjustments to improve efficiencies.

And, with our drag-and-drop building blocks and ready-to-go templates, you can control for project scope and float easily, instantly sharing updates with team members through email and push notifications.

Ready to dig into a new project? Get started with monday.com’s project tracker template.

Project tracker from Monday.com

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