For veterans and newcomers alike, grasping PM-speak is no small feat, with an alphabet soup of terms and acronyms at every turn.
Covering everything from acceptance criteria to the nuances of takt time, this glossary of project management terms will bolster your project management vocab, sharpening your ability to steer projects while ensuring smooth communication with peers and stakeholders alike.
While this is by no means a definitive list, it does contain over 100 of the words and phrases you’re most likely to encounter day to day. Let’s dive in!
A is for….
These are the conditions that a project must meet before it’s accepted by the client, stakeholders, or project management team.
Actual cost (AC)
This is the total project cost incurred for the work performed on an activity during a specific time period. The actual cost is often compared to the budgeted or planned cost to measure performance.
Affinity diagrams help you organize ideas, data, or requirements into groups based on their natural relationships. For example, during a brainstorming session for product features, ideas that pertain to user experience might be grouped together.
Affinity diagrams made in Cacoo
A project management methodology characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work, with frequent reassessment and adaptation. Agile methodologies emphasize real-time communication and collaboration, such as daily stand-up meetings.
An all-hands meeting is one that includes the entire project team and any other key stakeholders. It’s often used to announce significant changes, celebrate milestones, and ensure everyone is aligned.
Automated Project Management (APM) tools
Software applications that automate various aspects of project planning and execution, from scheduling to resource allocation to communication. Backlog is one such tool!
Any document or deliverable produced as part of the project process. Artifacts include project plans, meeting minutes, contracts, and design documents, among others.
B is for…
A list of all the tasks or work items to be completed. In Agile project management, particularly in Scrum, the product backlog includes all the product’s planned features, fixes, and enhancements.
A snapshot of the project’s plans and schedules at a particular point in time, which serves as a standard to measure progress and performance.
A bottleneck is a point of congestion in a system that occurs when workloads arrive too quickly for the process to handle.
In project management, this often refers to the work breakdown structure (WBS), which is a hierarchical decomposition of the total scope of work to be carried out by the project team. But it can also refer to an Organizational Breakdown Structure (which lists divisions of tasks and responsibilities); a Risk Breakdown Structure (which is a hierarchical framework of potential risk categories that could impact a project); or a Resource Breakdown Structure (a hierarchical representation of resources by category and type).
The business case is a document that outlines the justification for the start of a project, used to secure stakeholder approval.
Burndown charts display remaining work against time, trending down as you tick tasks off. Burn-up charts show completed tasks rising towards the total scope, which can increase if new work is added. Both track project progress and help predict completion.
Business continuity planning (BCP)
The process involved in creating a system of prevention and recovery from potential threats to a company. The plan ensures personnel and assets can function quickly in the event of a disaster.
Business Process Modeling (BPM)
A method used to visually document, analyze, and design the flow of activities to achieve a specific business outcome. It’s often used in the planning phase of a project to map out the process improvements the project aims to deliver.
Business Process Design (BPD)
Business process design involves creating or optimizing a process to meet certain goals or standards. It’s more prescriptive than BPM, focusing on the ‘to-be’ state by changing existing processes or creating new ones. BPD often follows BPM, and uses the insights gained from it to create improved workflows.
C is for…
A formal proposal to modify any document, deliverable, or baseline in a project. It’s part of the change management process, and it may result in changes to the project’s cost or schedule.
Also known as a project charter, this document formally authorizes a project or a project phase. It includes the essentials such as a project’s objectives, stakeholders, scope, and the overall plan.
Cost Performance Index (CPI)
An indicator of the cost efficiency of project-related work expressed as the ratio of earned value to actual costs. A CPI ratio with a value higher than indicates a project is under budget.
Cost Variance (CV)
A measure of cost performance in a project calculated by subtracting the actual cost from the earned value. It reflects whether and by how much the project is over or under budget.
A contingency plan is a document that prepares you for outcomes other than the expected.
A limiting factor that affects the execution of a project, program, portfolio, or process. Common project constraints include scope, time, and cost, often referred to as the ‘project management triangle.’
The critical path in project management is the longest sequence of tasks that must be completed on time for the entire project to meet its deadline. Any delays on this path directly impact the project’s completion date.
Critical Success Factors (CSFs)
Specific variables, conditions, or factors that are necessary for a project’s success.
A fast-tracking technique used to shorten the schedule duration for the least incremental cost by adding resources.
A group of people with different functional expertise working toward a common goal. It may include people from finance, marketing, operations, and human resources departments.
D is for…
A deliverable is a unique and verifiable product, result, or capability to perform a service that must be produced to complete a process, phase, or project.
The relationships among tasks that determine the order in which activities need to be performed. There are four types of dependencies in project management: finish-to-start (FS), start-to-start (SS), finish-to-finish (FF), and start-to-finish (SF).
A method of eliciting estimates from a panel of experts over multiple rounds of questioning, where the responses are aggregated and shared with the group after each round. It’s useful when project managers need to make a decision on a complex issue.
Also known as Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), the Deming Cycle is an iterative four-step quality improvement and control process. It’s typically used in project management for controlling and continuously improving processes and products.
A project management diagram that maps out each possible outcome of a decision, enabling a project manager to compare the implications of different actions and thus choose the most strategic path forward.
A part of demand management, this is the process of making estimations about future customer demand over a defined period using historical data and other information.
In project management, due diligence refers to the process of verifying the feasibility of the project and ensuring all facts and risks are reviewed before starting the project.
Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)
A software development framework based on rapid application development (RAD) that prioritizes the delivery of projects on time, within budget, and with agreed features using iterative and incremental prototyping work.
E is for…
Earned Value Management (EVM)
Earned Value Management (EVM) is a technique that measures project performance and progress using earned value metrics, incorporating both the earned value (EV) to assess cost performance and the earned schedule (ES) for time tracking, all integral to effective Earned Value Project Management (EVPM).
The person or group who will use the project’s final product or service. Understanding the end user’s needs is essential for user-centric design and thus project success.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
A type of software that organizations use to manage day-to-day business activities, e.g. accounting, procurement, project management, risk management and compliance, supply chain operations, and more.
Entity Relationship Diagrams (ERD)
A graphical representation of an information system that depicts the relationships between people, objects, places, concepts, or events within that system.
An entity relationship diagram created in Cacoo
There are several estimation techniques to help PMs manage their budget, but the most popular include analogous, parametric, three-point, and bottom-up estimating. Also known as top-down, analogous estimating uses past similar projects for cost forecasts; parametric employs statistical models based on historical data; bottom-up sums detailed estimates of individual tasks; and three-point combines optimistic, pessimistic, and most likely scenarios for a balanced estimate.
Estimate at Completion (EAC)
A forecast of the most likely total project cost based on performance and risk quantification. Estimate at Completion gives stakeholders a projection of the final costs associated with a project.
A brief section at the beginning of a document used to summarize the key points.
F is for…
A technique where typically sequential activities are performed in parallel to save time. It’s a riskier way to shorten the project duration, as it can lead to rework if the concurrent tasks are not well-coordinated.
A feasibility study helps determine whether the project should proceed and which of the various project options is the best choice.
The excessive expansion or addition of new features in a product can lead to delays, budget overruns, or unnecessary complexity. Managing feature creep is essential to keep the project on track.
A logical relationship in which a successor activity cannot start until a predecessor activity has finished. It’s the most common type of dependency in project scheduling.
Also known as an Ishikawa or cause-and-effect diagram, this tool is used to identify the various potential causes of a problem to find its root causes.
A fishbone diagram created in Cacoo
Also known as ‘slack,’ this is the amount of time that a task in a project can be delayed without causing a delay to subsequent tasks or the project completion date.
G is for…
A popular type of bar chart that illustrates a project schedule. It shows the start and finish dates of the various elements of a project. Project managers use Gantt charts to track project progress and to communicate schedules with team members and stakeholders.
A Gantt chart created in Cacoo
A method for determining the steps to be taken in moving from a current state to a desired future state. In project management, it’s often used during the planning phase to assess what needs to be done to deliver a project successfully.
H is for…
The process of passing control over project deliverables or activities from one individual or team to another usually accompanied by a transfer of information and documentation.
Hierarchy of needs
A concept based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that ensures team members’ needs are met to keep them motivated and productive.
A quick meeting (often stand-up) designed to encourage open communication and collaboration among the team. It’s a common practice in Agile project management.
I is for….
A period of time allocated to accomplish a specified set of project tasks. In Agile project management, an iteration is a time-boxed effort that is a cornerstone of the iterative development process.
Impact analysis is an assessment of the potential consequences that changes in one area of a project may have on other parts, as well as on the project as a whole.
Mutual dependencies between project tasks and activities. Effective interdependency management is vital for keeping the project on track.
Incremental delivery means delivering components of the project as they are completed, rather than waiting to deliver the entire project at once. Incremental innovation is the process of making small, gradual changes to a product or service.
J is for…
Joint Application Development (JAD)
A management process that involves the client or end-user in the design and development of an application, through collaborative workshops called JAD sessions.
An inventory strategy companies employ to increase efficiency and decrease waste by receiving goods only as they are needed in the production process.
A phenomenon where a project’s expected performance initially drops below the starting point only to later exceed it, resembling the letter ‘J’.
Jidoka is a Lean manufacturing process that empowers employees to stop production when a defect is found, emphasizing quality control throughout the production process.
A strategy opposite to JIT, where a company maintains large inventories in case there is a demand spike or supply shortage.
K is for…
Kanban is a visual workflow management method consisting of columns and cards. It’s used for defining, managing, and tracking work.
A concept referring to business activities that continuously improve all functions, and involve all employees — from the CEO, to the assembly line workers. Kaizen sees improvement in productivity as a gradual and methodical process.
A product-market fit framework developed in the 1980s by Noriaki Kano that categorizes customer preferences into five categories. It helps PMs prioritize features, enhancements, and deliverables based on customer satisfaction.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Both KPIs and OKRs are quantifiable measures used to gauge the performance of a project. They help in determining how effectively the project is meeting its business objectives.
Key Risk Indicators (KRIs)
Metrics used to signal the increasing risk exposure in various areas of the project. They help project managers take a proactive approach to risk management.
A detailed plan for the kickoff meeting, outlining topics for discussion, the order of items, and the time allocated for each. Having a clear kickoff agenda keeps the meeting focused and helps ensure nothing gets missed off.
The act of spreading knowledge widely across team members or throughout an organization. In project management, this often involves ensuring lessons learned are shared with a wider audience to improve future work.
A phenomenon where knowledge is compartmentalized within one part of an organization and is not shared with others.
A Kanban board created in Cacoo
L is for…
Late Finish Date (LF)
In critical path method (CPM) scheduling, this is the latest point in time by which an activity can finish without delaying the project finish date.
Late Start Date (LS)
The latest possible date an activity can start without delaying the project. It’s a critical piece of data in the development of the project schedule.
The delay between tasks that have a dependency. For example, if you have to wait for concrete to cure before beginning construction, the curing time is considered lag time.
A methodology that focuses on minimizing waste and maximizing value.
Lean Six Sigma
A methodology that relies on a collaborative team effort to improve performance by systematically removing waste and reducing variation. It combines Lean manufacturing/Lean enterprise and Six Sigma to eliminate the eight kinds of waste.
The amount of time that lapses from the start of a process until its conclusion. See: Takt time.
The act of smoothing out the resource utilization by re-distributing the workload to address peaks and troughs. Leveling often involves delaying non-critical tasks to ensure consistent team engagement and efficiency.
M is for…
A framework for grading the capability and performance of a project or organization. Examples include the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) and the Project Management Maturity Model (PMMM).
A significant point or event in a project, program, or portfolio. Unlike regular tasks, milestones typically have zero duration and signify a moment in time, such as the completion of a crucial report or the end of a phase.
A visual tool used in project planning and brainstorming that involves creating a diagram that represents tasks, words, ideas, or items linked to and arranged around a central concept.
A mind map created in Cacoo
Milestone Trend Analysis (MTA)
A technique used to review and analyze the progress of projects in terms of milestones.
A document that outlines the strategies and actions to reduce the likelihood or impact of risks. Project managers create mitigation plans as part of the risk management process.
A prioritization technique used in management, business analysis, project management, and software development to reach a common understanding with stakeholders on the importance they place on the delivery of each requirement. The acronym stands for Must have, Should have, Could have, and Won’t have this time.
N is for…
A visual representation of a project’s tasks and their interdependencies. Network diagrams are pivotal in planning and scheduling, as they help identify the sequence of activities, critical path, and potential bottlenecks.
These define the operational aspects of a project’s deliverables, describing how a product should behave, such as reliability, efficiency, and scalability.
Notice of Intent (NOI)
A declaration that an entity plans to undertake certain actions, typically submitted to a regulatory body. In projects, an NOI may be used to communicate the commencement of work to relevant stakeholders.
O is for…
An objective is a specific, measurable outcome that project teams aim to achieve within a set timeframe. For example, a project objective could be to ‘increase software processing speed by 20% by Q1.’
A cost estimating approach where a single value is provided for each cost element, assuming that figure represents the expected outcome.
Order of magnitude
An early estimate of time or cost, often used in the project initiation phase, providing a rough idea of the scale of the project, usually with a range.
This occurs when someone is scheduled to work more hours than are available in their workday or workweek. Resource leveling is a technique used to resolve overallocation.
A situation where the project exceeds its budgeted cost or scheduled completion date.
P is for…
Also known as the 80/20 rule, Pareto analysis is a decision-making technique used to identify the tasks that will yield the most significant benefits. It’s based on the principle that 80% of the project’s benefits come from 20% of the work. This technique helps prioritize work to focus on high-impact tasks.
PERT Chart (Program Evaluation Review Technique)
The PERT chart is for scheduling, organizing, and coordinating tasks within a project. It provides a graphical representation of a project’s timeline that can help PMs identify the critical path and bottlenecks.
A PERT chart created in Cacoo
PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge)
PMBOK is a set of standard terminology and guidelines for project management published by the Project Management Institute (PMI). It’s a widely accepted standard that helps project managers understand and apply accepted best practices within the profession.
Precedence Diagramming Method (PDM)
A network diagram used in project scheduling where nodes represent activities and arrows show dependencies. It’s essential for visualizing the sequence of activities and understanding project structure.
Process improvement plan
This is a strategic plan outlining the steps to analyze, identify, and improve existing business processes within an organization to meet new goals or standards.
A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. Each project should have clear objectives, defined start and end dates, a budget, and a set of deliverables.
Q is for…
Quality Assurance (QA)
Quality Assurance in project management is the process of systematic monitoring and evaluation of the various aspects of a project to ensure that standards of quality are being met. It includes Quality Control (QC) and the Quality Management Plan (QMP).
Quantitative and qualitative risk analysis
Quantitative risk analysis numerically quantifies risks by estimating their impact and likelihood, often using statistical methods. Qualitative risk analysis assesses risks based on their nature and severity using subjective methods like expert judgment and risk matrices without focusing on numerical data.
The quadruple constraint adds quality as a fourth constraint to the traditional triple constraint model, which includes scope, time, and cost. Managing the quadruple constraint involves balancing all four factors so a project meets its objectives without compromising on quality.
These are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) objectives that have been assigned a numerical value or quantity.
A quality baseline is a specific set of quality objectives agreed upon by stakeholders and used as a measure to assess performance.
Quantitative and qualitative analysis
Quantitative analysis refers to the use of mathematical and statistical modeling, measurement, and research to understand behaviors and predict outcomes. Qualitative analysis refers to a type of research focused on gathering non-numerical data.
R is for…
RAG (Red, Amber, Green) Status is a project reporting method used to indicate project performance and risk.
Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM)
Also known as a RACI matrix, which stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed, the RAM is a visual tool that depicts project resources assigned to each task. It clarifies roles and responsibilities.
A retrospective is a meeting that’s held after a project phase, iteration, or the project itself comes to an end. In this meeting, the project team discusses what went well, what didn’t, and how processes could be improved.
A risk register is both a project management tool and a way to ensure regulatory compliance. It lists all identified risks and, for each one, includes information like probability, severity, and mitigation strategies.
Rolling wave planning
Rolling wave planning is an iterative planning technique in which the work to be accomplished in the near term is planned in detail, while work in the future is planned at a higher level. It is a form of progressive elaboration.
Root cause analysis
Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a method of problem-solving used for identifying the underlying causes of faults or problems.
Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM)
ROM is an estimation of a project’s level of effort and cost to complete. It is usually given as a range, like ‘-25% to +75%’, and is used in the early stages of project planning.
S is for…
Project scope is the detailed outline of all aspects of a project, including its objectives, deliverables, tasks, costs, and deadlines, defining what is and isn’t included in the work. When the projects go beyond these predefined parameters, it’s called scope creep.
Scrum is an Agile framework for completing complex projects. Originally formalized for software development, it works well for any complex, innovative scope of work.
Schedule Performance Index (SPI)
A measure of schedule efficiency expressed as the ratio of earned value to planned value.
In Agile project management, a Sprint is a set period of time during which specific work has to be completed and made ready for review. Sprints allow teams to break down complex projects into manageable chunks and make progress in a controlled manner.
SWOT Analysis is a strategic planning technique used to identify Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to project competition or project planning. It’s a foundational assessment model that gauges what an organization can and cannot do.
A SWOT diagram created in Cacoo
A stakeholder is anyone who has an interest in or is affected by the project. Stakeholders can have both positive and negative influences and may include clients, customers, partners, team members, and more.
SMART goals are objectives that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, ensuring they are clear and reachable within a set timeframe.
Statement of Work (SOW)
A Statement of Work is a document that describes the project’s work requirements for a vendor or contractor, including the deliverables, timeline, and detailed specifications.
Systems thinking is an approach to integration based on the belief that the component parts of a system will act differently when isolated from the system’s environment or other parts of the system. In project management, this perspective helps in understanding both the detailed workings and the broader interactions within the project scope.
A status report is a document that describes the current state of a project, usually shared with the team and stakeholders.
Statement of Objectives (SOO)
A Statement of Objectives (SOO) outlines the basic objectives of a project or negotiation, giving potential suppliers more freedom to propose innovative solutions. It differs from a Statement of Work in that it focuses on desired outcomes rather than the process of work.
Sunk cost refers to money that has already been spent and cannot be recovered.
T is for…
A task is a basic unit of work that needs to be completed as part of a project. Tasks are usually defined with a start and end date and assigned to specific team members.
A framework used by the Project Management Institute (PMI) that outlines the skill sets needed by project managers: technical project management, leadership, and strategic and business management.
Takt time is a concept borrowed from lean manufacturing and used in project management to match the pace of work to customer demand. It’s the rate at which a team needs to complete a product to meet the customer’s demand rate.
This refers to the time it takes to develop a product and make it available for sale. It’s a crucial metric in project management, as it can significantly influence the competitive advantage and profitability of the product.
A timeline is a visual representation of the sequence of events or steps in a project. It outlines when tasks should begin and end, helping project managers keep things on track.
A time management technique where a fixed time period, called a timebox, is allocated to each planned activity. This technique is often used in agile project management to keep the team focused and on track.
Total Cost Management
Total Cost Management (TCM) is a systematic approach to planning, estimating, and controlling costs within an organization. It aims to achieve the best possible balance between cost, quality, and schedule, maximizing project value.
This is the amount of time you can delay a scheduled activity without delaying the project finish date or violating a schedule constraint. It’s a crucial metric in the critical path method.
Triple Bottom Line (TBL or 3BL)
The Triple Bottom Line (TBL or 3BL) expands the traditional reporting framework to take into account ecological and social performance in addition to financial performance. It’s a principle increasingly integrated into project sustainability considerations.
A Turnkey Project is one that is delivered in a completed state. For the project client, the project is metaphorically ready to be turned on and start operating immediately upon delivery.
U is for…
Unearned value is a concept in Earned Value Management (EVM) representing the cost of work planned to be completed by a certain date but has not been completed. It helps in identifying the variance in project progress.
Upstream processes are the actions taken at the early stages of a project. These include ideation, feasibility studies, and design. They set the foundation for downstream processes and the overall success of the project.
User Acceptance Testing (UAT)
A type of exploratory testing where end users test the system or product to ensure it meets their needs before it goes live. It’s the last step in the testing process, acting as a final verification against business requirements.
A use case is a description of a system’s behavior as it responds to a request from one of the stakeholders, or ‘actors.’ In project management, use cases help PMs identify, clarify, and organize system requirements.
V is for…
Variance is a statistical measure of the dispersion between numbers in a data set. In project management, it often refers to the difference between what was planned and what is actually occurring, such as cost variance or schedule variance.
This defines why a prospect should buy from you. In project terms, it’s the justification for the project’s existence — why the output of a project will be of value to its stakeholders.
Value stream mapping
Value stream mapping is a visual tool that illustrates the flow of materials and information as a product makes its way through the value chain, from customer order to delivery, highlighting areas of waste and opportunities for improvement.
A cross-section through the layers of the project’s deliverables that shows performance across all components at a given moment in time.
Version control refers to the management of changes to documents, computer programs, large web sites, and other collections of information. It’s critical for maintaining consistency and traceability across project documentation.
A vision statement outlines what a company or project aims to be in the future. It serves as a guide for choosing current and future courses of action, providing clear, long-term direction.
X is for…
XaaS (Anything as a Service)
This term is an umbrella for the various services delivered over the internet, rather than provided locally or on-site, such as SaaS (Software as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), and IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service).
XP (eXtreme Programming)
XP is an Agile software development framework that aims to produce higher quality software, and higher quality of life for the development team. XP emphasizes customer satisfaction and encourages rapid and flexible response to change — principles that transfer well to a range of project types.
Y is for…
YAGNI (You Aren’t Gonna Need It)
This is a principle of extreme programming that states a programmer should not add functionality until it is necessary. Project managers adopt this philosophy to avoid scope creep by focusing on current requirements only.
In project management, yield refers to the quantity of completed products or deliverables that meet quality standards. It’s an important measure of productivity and efficiency, often used in manufacturing and production-oriented projects.
In project management, yellow flags are early warning signs or indicators that a project may be facing issues or risks that could lead to problems if not addressed.
Z is for…
Zero-Based Budgeting (ZBB)
This budgeting approach requires all expenses to be justified for each new period. In project management, ZBB is used during the planning phase to build a budget from the ground up with no assumptions based on past budgets, ensuring every dollar allocated is necessary and efficient.
A tool used in planning and problem-solving, which can help project managers map the various steps involved in a complex process or identify the root cause of issues.
ZOPA (Zone of Possible Agreement)
In negotiation terms, relevant to project managers when they need to negotiate contracts, resources, or scope changes, ZOPA refers to the range in which two parties can find common ground.