VIII. Project Management Glossary

Project management, like any other industry, has its share of unique terms. Don’t be overwhelmed. Here is our alphabetical list of terms that every project manager should know on day one.

Project Management Glossary



Actual Cost of Work Performed (ACWP) – This measures the actual cost of work done as opposed to what was budgeted in the Budgeted Cost of Work Performed (BCWP).


Adaptive Project Framework (APF) – A project management methodology that grew from the idea that most IT projects can’t be managed using traditional PM methods. Work is done in stages, and evaluated after each stage.


Agile – A project management methodology characterized by building products that customers really want, using short cycles of work that allow for rapid production and constant revision if necessary.


Allocation – The act of assigning available resources.


Baseline — The original cost and schedule you set for your project. It helps you determine how far the team has deviated from the original plan. Based on this knowledge, you’ll be able to better estimate the time and resources your team needs to complete the next project.


Benefits Realization – A PM methodology that focuses on whether your deliverable gives the customer the benefit they’re expecting to get from it. This methodology ensures you deliver real value to customers and stakeholders.


Budget – A general list of planned expenses.


Budgeted Cost of Work Performed (BCWP) – Measures the budgeted cost of actual work done. Not to be confused with the BCWS.


Budgeted Cost of Work Scheduled (BCWS) – The approved budget allocated for the completion of a project deliverable (or WBS) within a specific time period.


Burn Down Chart – An X-Y axis graph that shows the number of tasks that need to be completed (on the vertical axis) versus the time remaining (on the horizontal axis). These charts are often used in Scrum.


Business Process Modeling (BPM) – The analysis of an organization’s business processes in order to improve and optimize procedures.


Change management – An area of management that looks at organizational change. The goal is to efficiently manage change so that negative impact to the infrastructure or budget is negligible.


Constraint — The limitations of your project, including: cost, human resources, time limits, quality, and potential ROI.


Cost overrun – An excess cost that is above budget.


Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) – A PM methodology that puts a primary focus on resources. You build a project schedule, identify the most crucial tasks — the “Critical Chain” — and reserve resources for those high-priority tasks.


Critical Path Method (CPM) — A method used to model projects that includes all tasks, time estimates, task dependencies, and final deliverables. By taking these factors into account, CPM helps you calculate your optimal project timeline. CPM was developed by the private sector in the 1950s, while the US Navy developed its own version, PERT.


Deliverable – A work product, delivered on a date and in a state that has been agreed upon by stakeholders, and as stated in the project charter. A deliverable can be a physical product, a file, or a software.


Dependency – A condition where a task or milestone relies on other tasks to be completed (or started) before it can be performed.


Earned Value Management (EVM) – A way to measure project progress using scope, schedule, and cost.


Event chain diagram – A visual representation of how project events affect each other. Typically used in ECM.


Event Chain Methodology (ECM) – A PM methodology built on the concept that there are potential risks that often lie outside the project’s scope. It’s important to prepare for these risks and plan what to do if they occur.


Extreme Programming (XP) – A PM methodology designed to improve the quality and simplicity of software and the team’s ability to adapt to customer needs. Work is done in short cycles (AKA sprints) with frequent iterations, and constant collaboration with stakeholders.


Extreme Project Management (XPM) – A PM methodology wherein you can change the project plan, budget, and even the final deliverable to fit changing needs, no matter how far along the project is.


Float — Also known as “slack,” this is the amount of time you can potentially spend on a task before it affects the project timeline. Float is the extra cushioning protecting important deadlines. Note that items on your Critical Path will have “zero free float,” and if you want to maintain your schedule, they cannot be delayed.


Gantt Chart — This horizontal bar chart devised by Henry Gantt at the turn of the 20th century has been used to visualize project schedules by project managers all over the world. It includes all of a project’s tasks, milestones, and deadlines, start and end dates, and illustrates task dependencies.


Goal – An objective or milestone set by an individual or organization.


Goal setting – The act of creating objectives that are specific, measurable and time-bound.


HERMES – A less popular PM methodology created by the Swiss Government to manage software projects.


Iteration – A variation or improvement on the original.


Iterative development – A process where instead of pouring all work into one final deliverable (as in the Waterfall method), work is instead done in a series of smaller stages to keep the project moving forward.


Kanban – A visual approach to project management where teams create physical representations of their tasks, often using sticky notes on whiteboards (or via online apps). Tasks are moved through predetermined stages to track progress and identify common roadblocks.


Key Performance Indicator (KPI) — Measurable indicators of where your project stands, determined before project work begins. Did we hit 10,000 page views today? Make 50 sales calls this week? Have we doubled revenue ? It’s helpful to use KPIs to navigate the project path and, if needed, get back on course.


Kickoff meeting – The initial meeting for a new project, during which a project manager lays out all the goals, plans, and expectations for the team and its stakeholders.


Lean – Also known as “lean manufacturing” or “lean production,” this PM methodology focuses on streamlining and cutting out waste. The goal is to do more with less: i.e., deliver value to the customer using less manpower, money, and time.


Lean Six Sigma – Combining the minimalist approach of Lean (“no waste!”) and the quality improvement goals of Six Sigma (“zero defects!”), Lean Six Sigma focuses on eliminating waste and defects so that projects are more efficient, cost effective, and answer customers’ needs.


Management – The act of marshaling people and resources in order to accomplish a set of objectives.


PDU (Professional Development Unit) – A continuing education unit. To maintain certification as a Project Management Professional (PMP), you will need ongoing professional development, which is measured in PDUs.


PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) – A statistical tool used to visualize a project’s schedule, sequence of tasks, and even the critical path of tasks that must be completed on time in order for the project to meet its deadline. Developed by the US Navy in the 1950s, the private sector had its own version called Critical Path Method (CPM).


PRINCE2 (Projects In Controlled Environments) – A PM methodology for managing projects characterized by a product-based planning approach. Especially popular with the UK government, it gives teams greater control of resources and the ability to manage risk effectively.


PRiSM (Projects Integrating Sustainable Methods) – A project management methodology that aims to complete projects while reducing a company’s negative environmental and social impact. Quite literally: green project management.


Process-Based Project Management – A PM methodology that aligns all project objectives with a company’s stated mission and corporate values.


Project management – The act of managing all aspects of a project, from team to tasks to tools.


Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) – Overseen by the Project Management Institute, this book collects a set of standard terminology and guidelines for project management.


Project Management Professional (PMP) – A certified practitioner of project management. Certification is offered through the Project Management Institute.


Project manager – The professional in charge of planning and executing a project and leading a project team.


Project plan – A formal document outlining the details of a project, including its scope, objectives, budget, and criteria for success. The project plan is approved before any work is started.


Project portfolio – A suite of an organization’s best projects and a repeatable process to


Project Portfolio Management (PPM) — A method used by organizations to ensure that all their projects align with the overall business objectives.


Project team – The group of people who work with a project manager to execute a project plan.


RASCI Chart – A tool used at the initiation phase of a project which details who is: Responsible (those doing the work), Accountable (the one person who ensures the work is done), Sign-Off (those who will approve the work), Consulted (those whose input is needed to complete the work), and Informed (those who receive status updates on the work). Also known under various names as a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM), Linear Responsibility Chart (LRC), ARCI matrix, or RACI matrix.


Resources — Anything and everything needed to complete a task. These may include: people, tools, money, time, and facilities.


Risk management – The process used to plan for and minimize risks that may derail a project.


Risk register – A document used to analyze the different risks facing a project and plan the appropriate response should risks occur.


Scope — For project managers, scope is the information that defines a project’s parameters: How will we fund it? What are our milestones? How will we define success? Documenting your project scope should be a part of your planning process. Controlling it becomes the challenge once you begin.


Scope Creep — This refers to how a project’s scope can change over time, ballooning in size from the original parameters. When it occurs, you risk overspending or missing deadlines. Update your budget, schedule, and resources with every project addition to eliminate scope creep before it can surprise you.


Scrum – A PM methodology where a small team is led by a Scrum Master whose main job is to clear away all obstacles to completing work. Work is done in short cycles called sprints, but the team meets daily to discuss current tasks and roadblocks that need clearing.


Six Sigma – A statistics-based methodology that seeks to improve the quality of a process by measuring the defects or bugs present and getting it down as close to zero as possible.


Stakeholders — People who have an interest in the completion of the project: your boss, customers, team, investors, etc. Anyone whom the project affects.


Task – An individual unit of work.


Timeline – A graphical representation of a sequence of events.


Waterfall – Possibly the oldest project management methodology. In Waterfall, one task must be completed before the next one begins, in a long, connected sequence of tasks that produce the final project deliverable.


What-If Scenario Analysis (WISA) — WISA anticipates many different possible project outcomes and creates solutions before they occur. Examples include a delayed deliverable, going over budget, or a change in available resources. By preparing for those “what-if” situations, you will be able to react quickly.


Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) — A hierarchical tree structure that breaks down a project into smaller deliverables.


Hopefully this glossary is able to give you a sufficient explanation of a project management term. Note that some of these same terms also appear in more depth in our next section: the most frequently asked questions from new project managers.

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