Whether you’re just getting introduced to all things project management or you’re looking for a refresher on key terms, we’ve compiled a list of common project management terms that you may encounter when managing a project.
As you gain familiarity with these terms, you’ll see that sharing a common language with your team members can help your project progress more smoothly. Your team will be more organized, have a stronger sense of what needs to be done, and have a clearer roadmap of how to achieve your goals.
Project management can cover a wide array of topics, but here are a few terms that are common to project management regardless of what industry you're in:
A business case is a type of document that highlights the benefits your company will gain if you pursue a specific business initiative. For example, you could create a business case for creating additional headcount on your team or for choosing a new work management software.
A contingency plan is a plan set in place in the event that your original plan doesn't go quite right. A contingency plan is a pre-set Plan B in project management. Contingency plans are often used for larger, more complex projects and initiatives to ensure that everything goes smoothly - even if there’s a smaller hiccup in the execution process.
Deliverables are the product or products of what you expect to have at the end of your project. Deliverables can be a wide range of assets, both internally facing towards your team members, or externally facing towards customers. Some examples of deliverables include an entirely new product, a sales deck, an increase in traffic, or a feature update.
Dependencies are tasks that rely on the completion of other tasks before they can be performed. A good example of this would be legal review. Certain tasks—like presenting a sales deck—cannot progress further until they get approval from the legal team. That means the sales deck presentation task is dependent on the legal team's approval.
A Gantt chart is a type of visual project management that displays a project in the form of a timeline. It's an easy way to track a project lifecycle and estimate end dates for certain project activities.
Gantt charts enable project managers to easily see what work needs to be done, who is doing it, and when. Tasks are represented by a horizontal bar that represents how long that specific initiative should take.
A key performance indicator (KPI) is a metric that showcases how your team is progressing toward a specific goal or project objectives.
KPIs are an easy way to track project performance. An email marketer may have a goal set to increase email open rates, and the KPI they track would be the average open rate percentage of all marketing emails sent that quarter.
A kick-off meeting is an opportunity for you to gather with all of the stakeholders of a specific project to make sure that everyone is aligned on the project plan. It enables team members to ask questions and ensures that everyone who has a stake in the project has an opportunity to voice any opinions.
Project portfolio management (PPM) is the process of creating a centralized portfolio of many different projects. This allows you to get more insight across a few different projects so you can see how your team's daily work connects to business goals.
A project budget is the set amount of resources you're able to use for a specific project. A project budget can be set in hours, like in the agency world, or dollar amount.
A project charter is a document that highlights your project's key objectives, scope, and main responsibilities. Project charters are a way for key stakeholders to get a high level overview of the work that is going to be done before approving the project. Project charters are often used to persuade key stakeholders to approve a project.
Project management software is the specific type of software you use to manage a project. Some project managers use specific project management software in their project management process, like Asana, and others use more generalized software for their planning, such as Excel. Although using project management software is not required when you’re managing a project, it can help align your team to be more efficient by saving time, organizing assets, and tracking your milestones as the project progresses.Try Asana for free
A project objective is the goal you set to achieve by the end of a specific project. This is the main reason why a project is happening. A project objective could be a tangible finished asset, such as a new product, or it could be a specific goal you want to accomplish, such as increasing your social media followers by 300%.
A project plan (or project management plan) is a detailed map of all of the elements your team needs to accomplish to reach your project's goals. Project plans are important because they set the stage for an entire project. This project management plan provides direction to every single person working on the team to help maintain accountability. The project plan is the main source of truth for every team member involved. If there’s any question, the project plan is the go-to source for information.
A project scope clearly identifies the goals, deadlines, and deliverables that a project is set to complete in a specific period of time. Setting a project scope ahead of time can help team members individually manage their time and stakeholders will know when to expect changes as the project progresses.
A project timeline is a project management tool that helps you visualize how pieces of your plan all fit together. A project timeline can help you list out specific dependencies during the project planning process.
A project manager is the role a person plays to ensure that a project goes smoothly from beginning to end. A project may have a dedicated project manager, though in some cases the person in the project manager role may have a different title altogether. The project manager is responsible for every step of the project—from ideation to completion—as well as key workflows throughout the entire process.
Resource allocation is the process of identifying exactly how many resources you can use for any one given project. A resource can be:
Resource management is the process of planning and scheduling the resources you need to use for any one given project. This is different from resource allocation, because you are actively planning where and when to use the set resources that you have budgeted for a project.
Scope creep is what happens when a project's tasks and deliverables begin to exceed the allotted project scope a project manager has set. While scope creep is not inherently bad, it can drastically shift the amount of time it takes to complete a project if not monitored and managed carefully.
Project stakeholders are the people who are directly impacted by the project you are working on. This could mean the team directly working on it, tertiary teams who need to learn a new process, or the company CEO to ensure that the business continues to run smoothly.Read: Guide to project integration management (7 step process)
A statement of work is a formal document that describes specific project requirements. It clearly outlines the project activities, deliverables, and schedule. This is often used when an agency or contractor is providing work for a client to make sure that everyone is on the same page about what work needs to be done.Read: Client management: How to attract and retain happy clients
The project management process can vary depending on the industry that you’re in or the size of your team. No one project is the same, which is why there are different types of project management processes. The most common project management methodologies include:
The Agile methodology is an iterative form of project management. Software development teams often run Agile, since their project needs can change very rapidly. Instead of working in one big chunk of work, Agile instead focuses on smaller increments so that work can quickly shift towards a different strategy if needed. This ensures that the changes made to the product are focused on what's best for the end user.
Earned value management is a way for project managers to track the work completed against the slated project plan. You can calculate earned value by multiplying the percent complete of a project by the total cost of the project budget to see how much your project's earned value is. This process can help you track your project's budget and timeline.
An iterative process in project management describes a process that changes continually as the project progresses. Often organized by specific time periods or sprints, iterative processes involve periods of reflection to look back at what has been done and see what can be changed for the next iteration.
Kanban is a form of visual project management often represented by Kanban boards. In a Kanban board, work is displayed in a project board that is organized by columns, with each task being a “card” in the appropriate column. Columns often represent a stage of work, and cards are “pulled” from a backlog as they progress through the next stage of the process.
PRINCE2 is a process-based project management methodology that focuses on the structure of the project management team and the business justification of the project.
There are seven main steps to the PRINCE2 process:
Start up the project
Initiate the project
Direct the project
Manage product delivery
Manage stage boundary
Close the project
Scrum is a subset of Agile methodology in which teams learn about past experiences to influence the next steps of their project. In a Scrum team, there is one individual, known as the Scrum master, who helps guide teams through each of the scrum stages.
There are four common stages within the Scrum methodology:
Waterfall project management is a linear form of project management in which each step of the project is dependent on the previous step. The waterfall model often involves a large amount of planning before the execution begins to ensure that all dependencies are accounted for. The waterfall model is often visualized in a Gantt chart.
As you dive into project management, you’ll encounter a range of acronyms, including:
Business process management (BPM) is the practice of using various methods to improve, optimize, and automate business processes. This term covers a wide range of different strategies, but it’s most commonly used when streamlining or automating workflows.
The CAPM title is a certification you can receive from the Project Management Institute. It is an entry-level certification designed for those with less work experience.
The critical path method (CPM) is a project management modeling tool. The project manager lists all of the project work that needs to be completed, the estimated time, and the dependencies of each of those tasks. You then measure out the project from start to finish to see the entire process of the project in one large timeline.
The program evaluation review technique is used to identify and calculate the amount of time it takes to finish a specific task or activity. A PERT chart is a flowchart that represents the steps that need to be completed in the sequence necessary in combination with the time requirements. When a PERT chart is not available, a Gantt chart is used.
The Project Management Body of Knowledge is a set of standard terminology and guidelines set by the Project Management Institute. The PMBOK Guide® covers project management methodologies such as the critical path method (CPM) and work breakdown structure (WBS).
The Project Management Institute is a professional organization dedicated solely to project management. The Project Management Institute offers certifications and classes to those interested in pursuing a career in project management.
A project management professional (PMP) is anybody who works in the project management profession. You don't necessarily need to have the title of project manager to be considered a project management professional.
A RACI chart is used to identify your teams’ roles and responsibilities for any task, milestone, or project deliverable. RACI charts are also commonly known as a responsibility matrix. RACI stands for:
A SMART goal is an acronym that’s used to help establish clear and attainable goals. SMART stands for:
A SWOT analysis is a decision making tool that can help you identify key facets of your project. SWOT is an acronym that stands for:
A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a condensed project plan organized in a visual hierarchy. This means that it contacts key elements of a project plan, such as objectives, deliverables, timelines and key stakeholders. Project managers use work breakdown structures to visualize projects and dependency related deliverables.