83 Project Management Terms & Concepts to Know

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Learn the most important project management definitions, concepts, and terms in our searchable glossary. Plus, we’ve included dozens of helpful new links to supporting articles on important project management topics.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A

acceptance criteria

Specific requirements or conditions that must be fulfilled in an individual project deliverable—or the project as a whole—for the client or stakeholder to accept it as complete. Acceptance criteria may include specific functional or performance requirements, quality standards, user training or UX expectations, or other details to ensure this part of the project is operational and satisfactory before moving on.

activity

Well-defined task or set of tasks that can be broken down into several subtasks that must be completed to make progress in a particular project. Project activity segments often include information about duration and resources, relevant dependencies,  and other more specific details to help manage tasks and make sure project work stays aligned with overarching goals or milestones.

Agile

Project management methodology and framework that takes an iterative approach to project implementation, most often with software and technology development projects. Here, the final product may be different than originally planned due to discoveries and feedback that come up during project sprints. Development is nonlinear to make room for innovation. See also: Agile project management; Agile manifesto, Agile methodology, iterative process


B

backlog

A project backlog is a collection of high-priority tasks, subtasks, and other items that project teams should regularly refer to in order to keep their projects focused on users’ hoped-for features and functionalities, deliverables, and corrections or improvements that are needed for top performance. Backlogs may focus on priority items in agile product development or priorities in a more generic project approach.

baseline

A project baseline is the set scope, budget, deadlines, and other performance-related norms that are set up at the start of the project so users can compare how they’re doing against these predetermined benchmarks. Baselines should be set immediately and with realistic metrics; otherwise, they will not be helpful measurement tools. See also The Baseline in Project Management

bottleneck

A bottleneck is a point of congestion in a project workflow. It can be caused by faulty equipment or tools, user errors, gaps in expertise, or a lack of available resources or budget.

budget

The financial allocation for a project based on a client’s or company’s capacity and the project team’s work estimates.

budgeted cost

A cost that has been forecasted within the project plan. Budgeted costs are expected expenses that have been considered ahead of the time they are incurred.

burndown chart

A type of project management performance tracking graph that uses a line and X and Y axes to show how much work is left to do over time. For a burndown chart, the X or horizontal axis usually represents time, while the Y or vertical axis usually represents how much work still needs to be done. This type of chart is frequently used to visualize progress in agile project management. 

burnup chart

Similar to a burndown chart, a burnup chart is a performance tracking graph that uses lines and X and Y axes. However, instead of just showing how much work is left to do over time, there are two lines on this graph: one is the top line that shows how much work needs to get done in total (or by certain points in time) while the other line that approaches this one shows progress toward that goal over time. The Y or vertical axis typically shows how much work is getting done while the X or horizontal axis shows times or sprint number, for example. This is another type of chart that is often used in agile project management. 

business case

The business case for a project is the rationale used to determine if there’s real value in completing this project right now. Typically, a business case will assess the prospective project based on its overall benefits, time and costs associated, and any other risks that may arise in the process. A business case may be made for either the client or stakeholder who wants project work done or the project team that is determining if they will take on this project work or not. See also: What is a Business Case?

business process management (BPM)

Business process management is an ongoing effort and strategic commitment to reviewing and optimizing business operations throughout an organization. Though it often looks different from traditional project management workflows, individual BPM initiatives—like improving employee onboarding or adopting a new CRM across departments—often rely on project management best practices.


C

change order 

A change order is a formal rewriting or reworking of existing project contracts and plans. This approach to changing project scopes, timelines, costs, tasks, goals, and other items ensures that both the project team and stakeholders are on the same page and agree to these changes.

contingency plan

A preplanned set of actions and disaster recovery tactics that are designed to address events or bottlenecks that arise unexpectedly. This is what you prepare for worst-case scenarios in a project.

cost performance index (CPI)

CPI is a calculation that helps determine if a project is financially effective, efficient, and valuable. The calculation for CPI is this: CPI = earned value (EV) / actual cost (AC).

crashing

The concept of flooding a project with additional resources, budget, and/or workers to get it completed on a more compressed timeline than initially planned. Typically, the project scope will remain the same, though it can be adjusted if necessary. Fast-tracking may also be part of crashing, where the project team begins to complete tasks simultaneously rather than sequentially. See also: Definition of Crashing in Project Management Terms

critical path

During the planning phase of the project lifecycle, the critical path method identifies a set of tasks that are crucial to project completion. Project managers use the critical path method to identify a tentative schedule for the completion of these tasks while leaving additional time for possible work slowdowns or derailments. The critical path is the longest string of sequential activities needed to get the project done. It typically comprises a list of tasks, their dependencies, and the total duration the team needs to finish them. See also: What is the Critical Path of Project Management?

critical path method 

A planning method that identifies a set of tasks that are absolutely crucial to the completion of a project during the planning phase of development. Project managers use the critical path method to identify a tentative schedule for the completion of these tasks while leaving additional time for possible work slowdowns or derailments.


D

dashboard

A dashboard is a visual reporting and performance management tool that allows project teams to get a comprehensive, easy-to-digest summary of different performance metrics. In many cases, these dashboards can be filtered to the specific data project managers want to review, whether that’s the workloads of individual project team members, progress toward significant milestones, or alignment with project budgets. Dashboards are often built into project management systems and software. See also: Top Dashboard Building Tools

deliverable

A distinct, incremental output that can moves a project toward meeting its objectives. They can be external or internal, and either a process or product. See also: What Are Project Deliverables?

dependency

A relationship between tasks where one or more tasks must be completed before another related task begins. Dependencies can be created or exist between shared resources, prerequisites, or timing.


E

earned value management (EVM)

Project management technique and strategy that heavily emphasizes earned value as a metric for performance management and progress tracking. This earned value may be measured in hours, dollars, or some other growth metric.

execution phase

The project execution phase is the third stage of the project lifecycle and comes after the planning phase. The execution stage is when plans are put into action through implementation. This phase involves coordinating with people, ensuring quality work, keeping track of resources, and updating stakeholders on progress toward deliverables, milestones, and objectives.


F

fast tracking

Fast tracking (fast-tracking) is a time-saving project management technique that involves overlapping project tasks or initiatives that would normally be completed sequentially. By overlapping or completing this work simultaneously, teams can speed up the timeline for project completion, though there may be additional risks or costs involved in taking this step.


G

Gantt chart

A horizontal bar graph representing the tasks needed to complete a project and the schedule of when they’re expected to start and end. It illustrates dependencies, critical paths, and other details, depending on its level of complexity. See also: What is a Gantt Chart?

gate

Gates are distinct separators or bookends that indicate when a project phase is completed. When using gates, most often in stage-gate project management, teams that reach a gate use this moment to determine if the project should continue, and if so, how or if it may need to be adjusted. Gate decisions may involve approving movement to the next stage, killing the whole project, holding the project until certain issues are worked out, or revising certain segments of the current phase before moving on.

goal

A project goal lays out the intended outcome(s) of a project, often with subordinate deliverables attached. Project goals are most useful when they’re identified at the outset of a project. While a project goal implies a singular objective, there are often multiple project goals for more complex projects. These goals are high-level goals with strategic aims, such as delivering the final product within a specific timeframe or executing a task a certain percentage under budget.


H

hybrid project management

The practice of combining project management concepts from two different methodologies. A common approach is using Waterfall to plan while using the Agile method and sprints to execute, gather information, and work towards project goals.


I

issue management and tracking

Related concepts that involve identifying, monitoring, and correcting issues that could derail project progress, timeline, or quality. Many project management software solutions include built-in features to help project teams track issues easily and efficiently.


K

Kanban

Kanban is an Agile approach to workflow management and continuous improvement. It’s also a popular type of project management view or board. A kanban board can be physical or digital and presents tasks and work items in a user-friendly board. It is typically composed of cards, which represent tasks, and columns, which represent progress or status. See also: Top Kanban Software Buyers’ Guide

kickoff meeting

The kickoff meeting is the first meeting a team holds to formally start a project. Along with the project team, relevant stakeholders may attend to better align the project’s goals, vision, plan, expectations, and responsibilities with business goals. The meeting may also allow team members to address early issues and anticipate ones that might come up in the future.

KPI

Acronym for key performance indicator. KPIs are quantifiable results that the team strives for. They also help gauge the progress, effectiveness, and overall success of a project.


L

lean project management

A project management methodology and strategy that borrows from the lean manufacturing concepts of low-to-no waste in production. Lean project teams are committed to closely reviewing and optimizing their resources and time so little goes to waste throughout the project lifecycle.


M

milestone

Checkpoints during the project’s execution that mark significant progress toward completing project goals. Typically, deliverables are nested under milestones, and milestones are nested under project goals. See also: What are Milestones in Project Management?

minimum viable product (MVP)

A product that is designed with bare-minimum features. This enables project and product teams to get their products out of the gate quicker, which may be necessary for early testing and validation.

monitoring and controlling phase

The fourth stage of the project management lifecycle. It involves keeping track of your progress, expenses, time consumption, tasks, and other relevant information; making adjustments when issues are noticed; and reporting relevant data, improvements, and recommendations to stakeholders.


O

Operational Readiness

Measures how prepared project teams and stakeholders are to transition from preparing the final project to putting that new project or initiative into operation. Operational readiness strategies typically focus on creating proactive checklists or benchmarks that must be met before a handoff can be made between project execution and project closure/ongoing use. See also: All About Operational Readiness in Project Management


P

PERT chart

The program evaluation and review technique (PERT) chart is a visual diagram that project teams often use to get organized. It helps them visualize bigger tasks as well as the dependencies, interdependencies, and subtasks that are part of the equation.

planning phase

The planning phase is the second phase of the project lifecycle. It comes after a project is successfully initiated. Here, project team members dive into the project requirements, finalize the scope, and lay out the resources, approach, deliverables, schedule, and other important details that they’ll need to fulfill project objectives.

PMBOK

Acronym for Project Management Body of Knowledge, a book published by the Project Management Institute (PMI). It’s a compilation of best practices, terms, and guidelines that are accepted as standards in the project management industry.

portfolio

Compilation of an organization’s programs and projects. They may or may not be related to each other.

product manager

Person responsible for the development of products for an organization. Product managers own product strategy, specify a product’s functional requirements using the necessary tools like the requirements traceability matrix, and manage feature releases.

program

Group of projects within an organization that are related to one another.

project

Time-bound efforts that aim to produce value by meeting predefined objectives and success indicators. Project results can be processes, products, or services that contribute to the goals of companies, communities, or individual parties.

project activity

Task or set of tasks that can be broken down into several sub-tasks that must be completed in order to make progress in a particular project.

project charter

Document that acts as a mission statement and an official authorization of a project or a phase of a project. A project charter typically includes project objectives, scope, and responsibilities. A project charter differentiates itself from a project plan by remaining broad rather than dictating a specific timeline or responsibilities, and its position as an official authorization of a project makes it indispensable for releasing resources and project documentation.

project closure

The fifth and final part of the project lifecycle. It can be caused by the project’s completion, cancellation, termination, or transfer to a new organization. This phase may involve the submission of a final deliverable, fulfilling contractual obligations, terminating relevant agreements, releasing project resources, or turning over project documents.

project control & monitoring phase

The fourth stage of the project management lifecycle. It involves keeping track of your progress, expenses, time consumption, tasks, and other relevant information usually reported to relevant stakeholders.

project execution

The third stage of the project lifecycle, project execution follows the planning phase. The execution stage is when plans are followed through. It involves coordinating with people, helping ensure quality work, keeping track of resources, and updating stakeholders.

project goal

Intended outcome or result if a project. Project goals are most useful at the outset of a project. While a project goal implies a singular objective, there are often multiple project goals set at the outset of a project. These goals are high-level goals such as delivering the product within a specific timeframe or executing a task a certain percentage under budget.

project initiation

The first stage of the project lifecycle. At this stage, the team needs to help stakeholders understand how the project can help them meet business goals. The team’s performance can result in a new project being authorized, delayed, or discontinued.

project management

The application of specific knowledge, skills, methodologies, and techniques aimed at achieving specific and measurable project goals, including, ultimately, successful project completion. Read more in What Is Project Management: Definition, Types , and Examples.

project management office (PMO)

A project management office (PMO) is an internal team or group that oversees projects from the view of standardization and best practices. PMOs typically exist so best practices and issues can be identified and projects’ best features can be repeated at scale in future project work. See also: The Project Management Office

project management software

Applications used to plan, schedule, track, collaborate, and report on projects. Used by project managers, teams, and other contributors to complete tasks; record and track requirements; streamline resources; and manage time, budget, and scope constraints. Whether used as a stand-alone tool or as a suite of solutions, project management software—often shortened to PM software—is a must for any organization looking to maximize time and money while minimizing human error.

project manager

The team member responsible for the planning, procurement, execution, and delivery of a project. Their primary responsibilities include planning and overseeing goal-setting and task execution with the help of a set of strategies, such as risk management, and a variety of tools, such as a RACI matrix, in pursuit of project completion within a set project budget and timeframe. Project managers are often the primary liaison between the project team and the client or stakeholder.

project phase

A designated set of project tasks and activities that happen at a certain point in the project lifecycle. A project phase is usually defined by specific tasks or milestones that collectively lead to the completion of a goal. Project phases are also referred to as milestones, sprints, chunks, or pillars.

project plan

A formal, agreed-upon document or set of documents that delineates all of a project’s most important details including timelines, goals, and tasks. A project plan is often the single source of truth that both project teams and stakeholders refer back to at different stages of the project lifecycle.

project planning

Activity of identifying and ordering the stages of development, and the tasks to be executed with a pool of resources with the end goal of completing a project or presenting a deliverable within a specified timeframe. Typically project planning is done in tandem with planning tools such as digital dashboards and KPI trackers.

project planning phase

The second phase of the project lifecycle. It comes after a project is successfully initiated. Here, project team members dive into the project requirements, finalize the scope, and lay out the resources, approach, deliverables, schedule, and other important details that they’ll need to fulfill the project objectives.

project portfolio management (PPM)

The holistic strategy that goes into managing all of your projects and the best practices, frameworks, and methodologies that go into them. With effective PPM, all teams will be aware of and operate with standardized tactics and strategies, which are usually defined by the project management office (PMO) and then distributed throughout the portfolio.

project risk

Uncertainties that pose a threat to the timely delivery of a project. Project risk can be a budgetary, temporal, labor-related, or an act of nature beyond the control of the team. Project managers specialize in risk management solely to mitigate the constant threat of project risk.

project sponsor

Person that is responsible for the delivery of a project, without necessarily taking a hands-on approach. Project sponsors handle high-level facilitation of a project such as budget or timeline approval. A project sponsor may be a senior executive of a corporation who has a stake in the project’s outcomes and some degree of responsibility when it comes to the success or failure of said project.

proof of concept (POC)

The analyses, studies, and other pieces of evidence that are presented to the project team and/or stakeholder to prove that a specific project or initiative is both possible and valuable. In many cases, these studies illustrate how the proposed concept will play out in specific business use cases and scenarios. See also: What is a Proof of Concept?


Q

quality management

Process of regular investigation and measurement of the quality of the work done and quality achieved during the process of completing tasks in order to complete a deliverable.


R

retrospective

A type of project review session that happens after a project is completed; in certain cases, it may look like a more formal Agile Scrum ceremony. In essence, it’s a short meeting where project teams review finished sprints. The meeting’s objective is to evaluate what was done and identify things done well, things that weren’t done well, and improvements that can be implemented in future projects.

request for proposal (RFP)

A request for proposal (RFP) is a formal invitation that prospective buyers send out to project companies or teams they’re interested in working with. The document explains the problem they’re facing and requests that the vendor submit a formal solution proposal/bid. From these bids, the buyer will select the vendor they feel best aligns with their project goals and budget, or a longer bidding and tendering process may begin. See also: RFP, RFQ RFI: What Are the Differences?

resource management

The practice of procuring and optimizing resources at the right times and phases of a project for the most efficient and high-quality outcomes. Resources may include people, equipment, budget, or third-party tools and teams.

risk management

The process of keeping a project within its budgetary and temporal bounds by controlling the probability of a negative effect on a project. A project manager will do so by identifying blockages and prioritizing problem-solving methodology in a timely manner.


S

scope 

A document that lists the features and functions of a project. Defining scope allows project managers to concretely identify and establish the boundaries of their project plan and identify what the deliverable will look like upon completion. This includes all necessary tasks, budgets, resources, timelines, and deliverables

scope creep

Changing or adding requirements to a project beyond what was originally planned and agreed on.

Scrum

Agile project management methodology wherein a large project is broken down into smaller, but shippable, deliverables. Deliverables are created, tested, and released in short time intervals called sprints.

slack

Time in a project’s schedule that is kept clear to accommodate unforeseen circumstances, unexpected delays, and sudden issues.

SMART Goals

SMART is an acronym that is used to help project teams think through and solidify more strategic and measurable goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable (or attainable or actionable), Relevant, and Timely. When you set SMART goals, you review them through each of these qualities to ensure they are goals that will lead to the best possible results.

sprint

Short intervals of work that usually span two weeks. They’re used in the Scrum project management method, and they typically result in shippable deliverables whose features are enhanced over time.

stakeholder

Individuals, teams and organizations actively involved in a project or whose interests may be positively or negatively affected due to project execution or project completion. See also: Types of Stakeholders and Their Roles.

statement of work (SOW)

A statement of work (SOW) is essentially the skeleton or outline for a more detailed project plan that will come later. It is often submitted right after the proposal/bid phase but before the project planning phase. A SOW includes information about the expected cost, timeline, resources, and overall scope of the project that’s been proposed. 

subtask

A subtask is a more specific piece of work that may need to be completed as part of a larger task. For example, if the overarching project is a website redesign, a task may be revamping the homepage. The subtasks involved here may include rewriting the homepage copy, designing a new layout for the homepage, testing different buttons, and updating images.

SWOT analysis

SWOT is an analytical framework that many project teams use to better visualize all of the variables that may impact their project. It stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats and is usually set up in a four-square box layout.


T

task

Smallest possible work unit of a project.; an activity that must be accomplished within a defined period of time or by a particular project-dictated deadline in order to push the project forward toward work-related goals. See also: Top Task Management Software Buyers’ Guide

timeline

A project timeline is the length of time that has been approved for a project’s duration. Typically, a timeline includes several milestones, deadlines, and other checkpoints to help everyone stay on task and schedule. Timelines frequently change, especially if scope, resources, or other factors change over time. See also: Project Timelines for Any Project


W

waterfall

A project management strategy that’s linear in nature. Nearly all project planning happens at the beginning. Each project step builds on the next one, and revisiting previous stages to make adjustments is not part of the typical structure. This is good for small projects with clear goals. Read more about the waterfall methodology and its differences from the Agile approach.

work breakdown structure 

A work breakdown structure is a deliverables-focused organization of a project into multiple tasks. A work breakdown structure is crucial for organizing a team of colleagues and the multiple component parts required for the completion of a deliverable.

workload management

Focuses on equitably distributing work and tasks across a project team. By considering each individual’s workload, capacity, and what goes into the type of work they’re doing, you’ll ensure that no one team member is overburdened with tasks and that all resources are used efficiently and not left sitting idle.



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