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Project Management Terminology – Terms And Phrases You Need To Know

Paul Naybour Paul Naybour

Published: 18th April 2019

As a project manager, you will come across many terms and phrases to describe critical aspects of project management and the process of managing small to large scale projects. Some are industry-specific while others address issues and activities within the project management cycle. We take a look at some of the most commonly used project management terminology and, more importantly, what they mean.

From a project management apprentice to an experienced chartered project professional, there are keywords and phrases that need to be in your vocabulary…


The Agile family of methodologies is a developmental approach that aims to meet changing customer requirements. Its development as part of a project depends on what are known as sprints. In these sprints, the improvements are incremental, making it a responsive process for projects in which the approach needs to adapt and change.

As part of an Agile approach project management focuses on teamwork, improved collaboration and stakeholder involvement by using what is known as iterative development methods.

Agile software development is often used in conjunction with these working methods. Software stresses the importance of being reactive in a changing project management environment.

Analytical Estimating

This is a technique in which total project time and costs are estimated by examining each project activity and adding them together. It is considered the most accurate estimation technique within project management.


This is an acronym that stands for Background, Objectives, Scope, Constraints, Assumptions, Risks and Deliverables. It is a method that examines all of these components of a new project.


As you would expect, this refers to the total sum of money allocated to a project. Within this, there are two further phrases that you will come across;

  • Budgeted cost of work performed (BCWP) – is the portion of the budget allocated to scheduled work in a period of time. You may also see this referred to as earned value.
  • Budgeted cost of work scheduled (BCWS) – is the portion of the budget set aside to pay for upcoming works schedule as part of the project and also refers to a period of time. You may see this referred to as planned value.

Capability Maturity Model (CMM)

This is the model used to assess the maturity of a process within the overall project management process. It allows the assessment of an organisation or project management process against external benchmarks. Essentially, this is a process of improving delivery.


Referring to capital expenditure, this is the money that a company spends to acquire a fixed physical asset or to upgrade existing ones.


A project champion is an informal role but one that is increasingly used to drive a project team forward. This person cajoles, enthuses and pushes the project team to deliver on a project. They support the project manager and will also liaise with the project stakeholders.

project management definitions

Decision Tree Analysis

A diagrammatic technique that shows the chain of decisions within a project. It examines the implications of multiple decision making, a technique used to improve both delivery and the process of project management.

Do Nothing Option

This is the element of a project that defines what would happen if the project was not undertaken. It may be that there are very few, if any, consequences of the project not happening.


As the name suggests, this is when a part of the project management process is compressed so that results are seen quickly. However, it is a planned process over a duration which means that the quality of delivery is still maintained.

Fixed Price Contract

Also known as FPC, this is when a fee is agreed upon that covers the entirety of the project and does not include variables such as time or costs.

Hammock Activity

Seen in a schedule network diagram, a hammock activity is a type of summary process that represents a number of groups but often unrelated smaller activities that occur between two points in time.


Created by the Swiss government, this is a project management method that is used by many IT and business organisations. It is a simplified project management tool that can be adapted as per the complexities within a given project. For it to be successful, a project manager needs to use the set templates within the system.

Hypercritical Activities

This is when an activity is not given enough time to be completed, and yet when it cannot be finished in the time allocated, it collides with future activities considered essential for keeping the project on time. Negative slack time refers to when there is not enough time to complete a project.

Initiation Phase

This is the official or formal start of a new project. This means that authorisation has been received as well as clear definition for the project.

Integrated Master Plan (IMP)

This is a project management tool that is used to break down a large, complex project into more manageable pieces or activities. It lists the tasks and events needed to happen for the project to be completed using a hierarchical structure and also shows the relationship between one activity and another.

Integrated Master Schedule (IMS)

Produced from the IMP, this is a list of all project tasks as well as a networked schedule. Notice how both definitions talk about the relationship between one task or activity and the others on the plan.

project management phrases

Management Process

This is the act of planning and delivering a project or the process needed to meet the desired objectives and goals. There are multiple levels at which this is carried out, especially in larger projects.

Management Reserve

This is the allocation of variables such as money and time (or both) that addresses unforeseen circumstances that can and do crop up during the lifecycle of a project. A contingency reserve is when money or time is ‘kept back’ to serve known possibilities. This reserve is for things that are not foreseen. Any withdrawals from this reserve need to be agreed by all senior managers.

Management Science

This is the study of how to improve organisational decision-making by using quantitative and scientific research methods. It looks at management decisions and outcomes, seeking to find optimal solutions to problems. Essentially, it is about studying how better decision making can happen.


Merge Point

In any given project, there will be a point – the merge point – in which the train of smaller project tasks and activities will meet. The successor activity (the activity that continues when all these smaller tasks have merged) cannot happen until all the smaller tasks have been completed.

Near Critical Activity

This is an activity that has only a small amount of slack time. These activities have a high chance of becoming critical since they are up against a deadline, within which there is little time to be able to make changes.

Near Critical Path

This refers to a series of activities that has a small amount of slack time which means that again, the slack time could be easily and quickly exhausted, turning these sets of activities into the critical band.

Operations Management

This is a duty of some or all project managers, depending on the project and position, that ensure the optimum operations function. In other words, it is managing the resources of the project, people included, to be continually working at the highest level of efficiency. By doing so, the project budget is optimised too.

Order Of Magnitude Estimate

At the very early stages of a project, when an estimate of costs is given, it is known as an order of magnitude estimate. It is a cost estimate that has a range of between -25% to +75% of what the actual budget ends up being.

Qualitative Risk Analysis

This is a project management technique that is a subjective analysis of risk probability and impact.

Quantitative Risk Analysis

This is the mathematical or objective analysis related to risk probability and impact. It is conducted after a qualitative risk analysis as one informs the other, especially as during this earlier process, areas of significance are often defined.


RAID is an acronym for Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies. It is a project management tool that records developments across these four areas as they relate to the project in hand. It is normally carried out for the stakeholder’s benefit and is often used at the end of project review.


A RASCI chart is created at the start of the project and sets out who is responsible and accountable for ensuring that work is done and who signs off key parts of the project. A RACI chart is a simplified version of RASCI.


This is used to describe a sequence of activities that can be easily and efficiently repeated. Such processes are economical since they avoid negative impacts on a project and come from established processes that work.

project management terminology

S-Curve Analysis

S-curve analysis is used to compare the cumulative costs of a project at any one time. It allows a project manager to assess performance and progress at any time in the project.

Scheduled Performance Index (SPI)

This is the ratio of earned value to the planned value at any given point in the project. It shows whether a project is running to schedule. An SPI rating of lower than one means the project is behind schedule, whereas a rating above one shows that a project is ahead of schedule.


A word that is used often, this refers to the entirety of the project and what it needs to accomplish in order to be successful. A scope baseline refers to expectations and requirements to deliver the project while scope creep is the changes that occur during the project life. This is considered negative, however, as it affects costs and schedule of a project.

Scope Change Management

This deals with any amendments in the baseline. Because changes in the initial scope will have time and cost implications, this process will mean revising estimates of both. Stakeholders will need this information and will underpin any new or different resources needed to complete the project.

Six Sigma

This is the approach to project management that focuses on the near-elimination of product or service defects. Using quality management methods, it seeks to improve and optimise processes in the product of a product or service so that 99.99966% of the process outcomes are defect free.

Slack Time

This refers to the length of time between one activity and the next that can be delayed without affecting the duration of the project overall.


In project management, a task is a unit of work that is time-bound and needs to be completed to meet project goals. A task can be broken down into assignments or sub-tasks.

Task Analysis

This details the actions of resources needed to complete a task.

Three-Point Estimating

This is an estimating technique that uses averages of three types of cost – most likely, optimistic and pessimistic. It also refers to the duration of these costs.

Time And Material Contract

Unlike a fixed contract, this is a contract type that refers to payment per unit of time and also the costs of materials for the contracted work or project.

Time Chainage Diagram

This is a visual representation of the scheduled activities for a project. It is often used in projects, such as civil engineering projects from road laying to pipeline work. This is because the diagram is in sequence, providing a scheduled time of completion at each geographical location, and the activity involved.

In summary

There are any more keywords, phrases and linguistic terms that you will come across within project management. They are often used to succinctly paint a picture of how well the project is progressing, as well as identifying issues that require a remedy. Getting to know what they are and what they stand for is essential for effective project management at all levels.

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