Project Management Glossary

Here are some common project management terms that you will also find referenced in our Fundamentals Workbook.

8/80 Rule: Although this is named a rule, it really isn’t one – it is an occasionally used guideline that suggests that work packages in a WBS should be decomposed to equate to no more than 80 hours and no less than 8 hours of work. This guideline should be subordinated to the more appropriate guideline that the WBS should be decomposed to work packages at the level to which the work will be delegated.

 Acquire Resources: The processes of obtaining the team members, facilities, equipment, material and supplies necessary to complete the project work.  In a matrix environment this often involves working with the functional managers to help establish team member availability, skills, interests, and administrative actions required.

 Agile Project Management: Agile project management has six principles and five phases. The principles are 1) deliver customer value, 2) employ interactive, feature-based delivery, 3) champion technical excellence, 4) encourage exploration, 5) build adaptive teams, and 6) simplify.  The five phases are envision, speculate, explore, adapt, and close. Adherents of agile often believe it is a cultural phenomenon whose tenets are based more on chaos theory than didactic project management techniques.

Analogous Estimating: This form of estimating is very high-level and done quickly. It uses general experience with similar work to predict the time or cost of similar work in the future. It is often stated as, “This is similar to something we have done in the past. That took X amount of time and cost. This is a little bigger than that – so it will probably be about 15% longer and more expensive.”

 Apportioning: Apportioning begins with a total project estimate, then assigns a percentage of that total to each of the phases and subprojects or work packages.

 Approach Analysis: The work of consideration of alternative ways for how to technically or logistically achieve the project goals. This usually is performed during the planning phase. Approach analysis varies greatly depending on the type of project and the organization.

Archive Records: Putting the updated project records into a long-term storage location for later retrieval as needed.

 Assign a PM: The initiation process step of naming a project manager to lead the project responsibilities on behalf of the project sponsor. This is ideally done before a project charter is announced.

Baseline Project Plan: This is the initial, approved project plan which usually includes a work breakdown structure, schedule, budget, and plan for how the resources, quality, risk, communication, procurement will be handled.

Bottom-Up Estimating: This is the most accurate approach to project estimating. The process involves decomposing a project WBS into clear and assignable work packages and then gathering estimates for each work package from the responsible party. This form of estimating takes considerable time and effort; therefore, it often is not available during the early planning processes.

Brook’s Law: The complexity and communications of a project rise geometrically with the number of team members, expressed as [n(n-1)]/2 where n equals the number of team members. The law is named after Dr. Fred Brooks and named after his book The Mythical Man-Month.

Budget: Generally, the sponsor-approved total cost baseline of a project. This often includes the estimated amount plus any approved project contingency and management reserves.

 Burst Point: A point in the project network diagram where when one task is complete many other tasks can begin. This is an important time for project managers to focus on project communications. It is a good time for team meetings.

Change Control Plan: Deciding what the processes will be for handling the project changes that occur after the baseline plan is created until the end of the project. This usually includes informing team members and sponsors what the processes are for identifying, approving or rejecting changes to the project, recording the changes, and integrating them into the project plan.

Code of Accounts: The ID system used in work breakdown structures and other configuration management documentation during the project management process (e.g.: a common level 3 work package code of accounts would be 1.1.3).

Communication Plan: This involves determining the information and communication needs of the project stakeholders. This usually includes planning what the project status will be reported, how meetings will be conducted, and who needs what information. The project communication plan often needs to evolve during the project.

Complete Work Packages: This is executing the work of the project. This is the effort of creating the project deliverables as scoped in the project work breakdown structure.

Consult with SME’s: The input of subject matter experts (SME’s) is greatly valued in project management. Getting the input, advice, and recommendations from technical and industry experts should be a step performed by the project manager during the project planning phase.

Contingency: Contingencies are also called buffers, reserves, or padding. They are the funds or time needed above the initial estimate to reduce the risk to an acceptable level.  It is important to include contingencies in the project estimates.

 Contract Administration: The work of managing the agreement and performance between the buyer and the vendor/seller. This also involves managing contract-related changes.

Cost Budgeting: See the definition for budget.

 Cost Monitoring and Control: The work of gathering and reporting information on the project costs, managing the changes as they occur, and acting to bring any potential cost overruns into acceptable limits.

 Customer/Sponsor: The individual or group that has requested or who is paying for the project. This could be an internal department, someone in management, or an external organization or person.

Crashing: The technique of speeding up the project schedule by using more resources (i.e.: people, materials, or equipment) than what was originally planned.

 Critical Path: The series of activities that determines the duration of the project. The critical path is usually defined as those activities with no slack. It is the longest path through the project.

 Decomposition: Decomposition involves subdividing the major project deliverables into smaller, more manageable components until the deliverables are defined in sufficient detail to support future project activities (planning, executing, controlling, and closing).

Deliverable: Any measurable, tangible, verifiable outcome, result, or item that must be produced to complete a project or part of a project. Often used more narrowly in reference to an external deliverable, which is a deliverable that is subject to approval by the project sponsor or customer.

Develop Team: Taking steps to improve the team interactions and skill competencies for the project.

Divide Large Projects into Phases: The process of breaking large projects into a program of smaller time-based subprojects for the sake of better control.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP): Integrated applications involving forecasting and planning, purchasing and material management, warehousing and inventory management, finished product distribution, accounting, and finance.

Fast Track: The technique of speeding up the project schedule by altering the planned schedule through doing work simultaneously that would have ideally been performed consecutively.

Fallback Plan: a plan for an alternative course of action that can be adopted to overcome the consequences of a risk, should it occur (including carrying out any advance activities that may be required to render the plan practical).

Feasibility: The project initiation step of determining that a project is likely to be completed successfully. It is often an evaluation that there are enough available financial resources, technology, or skills to meet the needs of the project.

Formal Acceptance: Sponsor acknowledgement and approval of the final project deliverables.

Gantt Charts: Bar charts that list all activities vertically with corresponding bars which visually display the planned timeframe for each of the activities by use of a hollow bar, which is shaded in as percentages of the activity are completed.

Going Native: Another possible pitfall of project groups is going native. This phenomenon can occur within project teams working off site or when the project team becomes closely identified with the customer

Grade: A category or rank used to distinguish items that have the same functional use (e.g.: a Web site), but do not share the same requirements for quality (e.g.: different Web sites may have to provide much more functionality).

 Hammock: A point in a project network diagram where many tasks feed into Task X, and then many other tasks can start as soon as Task X is complete. It is an important time for the project manager to schedule sponsor reviews and approvals. It may be a natural start for a new project phase.

High Level Planning: The work done during the project initiation phase that helps set the general approach to be used by a project team. This may include an analysis of various potential approaches and providing a high-level recommendation on a preferred way to approach achieving the project goals.

Resource Management Plan: The process of identifying and documenting project roles, responsibilities and reporting relationships. This often includes the coordinating with functional managers and the process of creating a responsibility assignment matrix (RAM).

Hypercritical Activities: Activities on the critical path with negative float.

Information Distribution: This includes performing the communication management plan, often including providing project status reports and facilitating project meetings, as well as responding to unexpected requests for information.

Ishikawa Diagram: Sometimes called a fishbone diagram, this diagram is a problem-solving approach by Kaoru Ishikawa used to show how causes and sub-causes relate to cause possible problems or effects.

Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief Model: Named after Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Swiss psychoanalyst, the model stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Why is this in the project management glossary?  This model often forms the underpinnings of organizational change (which projects often are involved with).

Lessons Learned: Documented and stored information pertaining to the continuous improvement suggestions for handling similar projects in the future.

Loop: A network path that passes the same node twice. Loops cannot be analyzed using traditional network analysis techniques and are treated as errors.

Manage by Exception to the Project Plan: This is based on a philosophy that the project baseline plan should be well-planned, clear and understandable to the project stakeholders. When questions arise the project plan should answer most predictable questions. This frees the project manager to address the things that are differing from the baseline project plan – usually meaning they are spending most of their time managing the project changes to improve the project results.

Manage Team: Tracking team member performance, providing feedback, resolving issues, and coordinating changes to enhance the project performance. It usually involves communicating both formally and informally with team members and managing conflicts.

Manage Stakeholder Engagement: Communicating to inform, resolve issues, and set accurate expectations with the people who have interest in the project.

 Management Contingency: A financial or schedule reserve, or buffer, that is available to the project, but that the project manager must get permission to utilize. This reserve is for “unknown unknowns” unlike the project contingency, which is for “known unknowns”.

 Milestone: A significant event in the project, usually completion of a major deliverable.

Mind mapping: Nonlinear diagramming of words, ideas, or topics around a main concept. This was popularized by Tony Buzan, who reportedly developed the concept because he studied the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci.

Modern Project Management (MPM). A term used to distinguish the current broad range of project management (scope, cost, time, quality, risk, etc.) from narrower, traditional use that focused on cost and time.

Moses Factor: When a group subconsciously follows a charismatic leader and adopts their preferred risk attitude, even when it may contradict the personal preferences of individual group preferences.

Near-Critical Activity. An activity that has low total float.

Network Diagram: Any schematic display of the logical relationships of project activities. Always drawn from left to right to reflect project chronology (like a flow chart). Often referred to as a PERT Chart. Network diagrams should show the critical path of a project. The following information should be shown for each work package: the name or ID, early start date, duration, early finish date, the late start date, slack time, and late finish date.

Order of Magnitude Estimate: An initial, broad estimate with a broad accuracy range (the PMBOK defines it as +/-50%, but much of the industry defines it as +75% to -25% accuracy).

Integrated Change Control: This is the work of performing the project change management activities. The changes often occur at unexpected time and require time to properly manage and integrate.

Parametric Estimate: An estimating technique that relies on quantifying the project scope through metrics. For example, the cost may be based on a set cost per foot, per minute, per unit, etc.

Performance Reporting: This involves collecting and distributing performance information on the project status (often including schedule, budget, quality, risk and team performance information). This often also includes using the status information to forecast the future results.

PERT Estimate: The practice of basing an estimate on the calculation of three scenarios including a pessimistic scenario (P), most-likely (ML), and optimistic (O) scenario. The formula is generally calculated as (P + 4ML + O)/6.

Preliminary Project Scope Statement: A high-level initial description of the work and/or deliverables that are intended to be included in the new project. This is usually preliminary during the initiation phase and it becomes more well-defined during the planning phase.

Procurement Audits: The buyers work of inspecting and identifying any weaknesses in the seller’s work processes or deliverables.

Procurement Plan: Determining the approach that will be used for purchasing outside products and services for the project.

Product Breakdown Structure (PBS): A hierarchy of deliverable products which are required to be produced on the project. It forms the base document from which the execution strategy and product-based work breakdown structure may be derived. It provides a guide for configuration control documentation.

Product Verification: Evaluating a deliverable at the end of a project or project phase with the intent to assure or confirm that it satisfies the planned intent. This is often done immediately before the formal acceptance.

Program: A group of related projects managed in a coordinated way. Programs usually include an element of ongoing work.

Project: A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.

Project Charter: A document issued by senior management that formally authorizes the existence of a project. And it provides the project manager with the authority to apply organizational resources to project activities.

Project Contingency: A financial or schedule reserve, or buffer, that is available to the project, but may not have to be used. This reserve is for “known unknowns” (such as an artistic redesign if the client doesn’t like the first draft) unlike the management contingency, which is for “unknown unknowns”.

 Project Cost Management: A subset of project management that includes the processes required to ensure that the project is completed within the approved budget. It consists of resource planning, cost estimating, cost budgeting, and cost control.

Project Life Cycle: A collection of generally sequential project phases whose name and number are determined by the control needs of the organization or organizations involved in the project.

Project Management: The application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.

Project Selection Methods: The organizations techniques for selecting which projects get chartered. (Recommended reading: Chapter 2 of the Project Management Toolbox by Dragan Z. Milosevic

Manage Quality: This involves the work of applying the quality plan, or more specifically to ensure that the project has the necessary quality tools and techniques, performing the quality audits, and analyzing the processes. The results of quality assurance include making improvements to the project deliverables, processes, and/or plan.

Quality Control: Identifying and implementing ways to eliminate unsatisfactory results. This often includes prevention efforts, attribute sampling, identifying the causes of problems, defining acceptable and unacceptable variances, and managing defect repair.

 Quality Plan: The work of determining what quality standards will be important to the stakeholders of the project and coming up with plans to satisfy them. (Recommended reading: Managing Quality – An Integrative Approach.)

Release Team: Acknowledgement and communication that the project team members have completed the required temporary work and that their services will no longer be required for this project. Often this is a point of recognition of the individual team member contributions, appreciation of their efforts, performance reporting, and transition to other activities.

Request Seller Responses: This is a step when buying products and/or services from vendors/sellers. It is the work of requesting bids and proposals.

Resource Identification: The step of listing the people, equipment, and materials that are expected to be needed for the project. The outcome of resource identification is often a printed Resource Breakdown Structure (RBS).

 Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM) also often referred to as RACI for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed: A table form that relates the project team structure to the areas of work of the project to help ensure that all of the responsibility roles are understood.

Risk Categories: High-level groupings (such as safety, equipment, weather) used for aiding accurate risk identification. Categories should be well defined and should reflect common sources of risk for the industry or application area.

Risk Plan: The process of deciding how to approach and conduct the risk management activities of a project.

Risk Response: The work of developing options and to determine how to enhance opportunities and reduce threats to the project.

Schedule Control: The work of determining the current schedule status, influencing the factors that might affect the schedule, determining when a schedule change has occurred, and managing the schedule changes as they do occur.

Scheduling: Setting the project plan dates for executing project work and achieving project milestones.

Scope: The sum of the products, services and results to be provided as a project.

Scope Control: The work of influencing the factors that create project scope changes and controlling the impact of those changes. This includes noticing when changes are occurring, filtering out changes from inappropriate people, and ensuring that changes that are accepted into the project are beneficial.

Scope Statement: Usually a written document describing the project business purpose, objectives and goals, and scope. It often is begun in the project initiation phase (as a preliminary scope statement) and further evolves with the project planning. It is often similar (at least initially) to the project charter.

Validate Scope: The work of obtaining formal acceptance of the completed project deliverables. This usually involves some form of inspection.

Scrum: A project approach first described by Hiotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in their Harvard Business Review Article “The New New Product Development Game” (1986). Today it is one of the widely used agile methods that accepts that the development process is unpredictable. The term is borrowed from the game of rugby.

Select Vendors: This is the work of evaluating vendors/sellers ability to provide the requested products and/or services. Specifically, this relates to the final decision and negotiation involved with coming to the purchasing agreement contract.

Sink Point: A point in a network diagram where multiple tasks converge into one. This usually is a high-risk time for the project schedule. This is a time when the project manager should focus on quality and project control.

Soft project: A project that is intended to bring about change and does not have a physical product.

Solicit Stakeholder Input: The step of gathering input from various project stakeholders is often done during the project planning phase. This may take the form of interviews, surveys, or other information gathering techniques.

Stakeholder Analysis: The step of identifying and considering the interests of the various potential project customers and other individuals and organizations who will potentially be affected by your project. It is recommended that stakeholder analysis is done during the initiation phase. Actually, soliciting the input of stakeholders often occurs slightly later, during the project planning phase.

Statement of Work (SOW): A narrative description of products or services to be supplied under contract.

Sunk costs: Past costs in a project that can never be recovered. It is strongly suggested that sunk costs should not be considered a factor in deciding whether to terminate a project or allow it to continue to the next phase.

Time and Cost Estimating:  Making decisions regarding the duration of work or the financial resources required for a project (or individual tasks in a project) based on the best available information. This is required for schedule and budget creation. It is usually done during the planning phase, and refined during the control and monitoring phase.

Time Box:  A set time in which an activity, task, iteration, or other effort must be completed. Used in agile software development methods to fix the amount of time devoted to developing a particular iteration. Once the time box is closed, work stops and whatever was developed is used for the next step in the process. Sometimes called “time boxing”.

Tornado Diagrams:  A type of bar chart where the bars are sorted from widest on top down to smallest. They are useful for comparing the importance of variables.  The PMBOK references tornado diagrams as a tool for sensitivity analysis associated with “Quantitative Risk Analysis and Modeling Techniques”.  See Figure 11-14: Example Tornado Diagram, in PMBOK.

True-Up:  To make balanced or to integrate plans. Used in project and program management as an expression meaning to bring into alignment with plans and processes.

Update Records: Documenting the final information pertaining to the acceptance documentation, project files, closure documents, and lessons learned. This often includes the completion of any needed compliance documentation.

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS): The WBS is an outline of the work that is to be done to complete the project. It is a way to organize the project, it is the basis from which the project is controlled, and it ensures that the plan is complete. See the Project Management Institute Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structures.

WBS Dictionary: Work-package working instructions for the assigned party. This usually includes the time and budget allocated for this work.

Workload Leveling: The process of fitting the planned work into the availability of the resources assigned in a way that evens out the ups and downs of work performed and accommodates for the prior commitments of the team members. This generally has the effect of lengthening the project schedule and making it more realistic than a non-workload leveled schedule.

 Work Package: A deliverable at the lowest level of the Work Breakdown Structure, when that deliverable may be assigned to another person.