The A To Z Of Project Management Terminology

Paul Naybour

Project management is one of the rare types of careers which allows those with the necessary qualifications and skills to work in any sector of business, from finance and software development to construction and retail. Every type of business requires good project managers, and large organisations of every kind are increasingly beginning to understand the advantages of project management. If you are considering a career in this growing employment sector and want to understand more about what it entails, read our quick A to Z guide of project management terminology.


Agile is a form of project management methodology. Agile methodology involves breaking down more complex projects into smaller bite-sized segments, which are referred to as sprints. These are short cycles of work, mini goals within the project that allow project teams to achieve and celebrate small successes along the way to full project completion. The purpose of this is to ensure the service or product that is being created is continually improved throughout the project lifecycle so that it delivers what the client and stakeholders envisioned at the start. For an agile approach to work, it is important that central behaviours and values of collaboration, empowerment, flexibility, and trust need to be well developed.

Some of the benefits of agile project management are as follows:

  • You can quickly and effectively identify any incorrect assumptions being made
  • Less time is required to put together technical documentation
  • The final product will be better quality
  • The final product will have the features expected by clients
  • Reduction of waste as a result of resources being minimised
  • Increased flexibility within the team, making it easier to adapt to change
  • Millennials find the working environment more appealing, helping attract younger team members
  • Better control over your project from start to finish
  • Decisions are made quickly, so avoiding progress bottle-necks
  • Product defects and issues can be identified more quickly

There are a number of different Agile certification courses that a project manager may wish to enrol on in order to get the professional qualification that will form a part of the overall packages of skills and experience that a project manager can take from one role to another.


Benefits realisation management (BRM) is a method where the risk of failure is minimised for a project with the clear identification of the benefits early in the project lifecycle. It also involves ownership being assigned to those responsible for the management and planning of achieving the specified benefits.


Change management is clearly always an important element of project management because all projects involve change to some degree. Change management offers a structured approach for supporting changes that occur throughout the lifecycle of a project and so helps to ensure that only changes that are necessary are implemented (thereby avoiding scope creep). It involves implementing standard and organisational processes in order to achieve the desired outcome that you might want from your project.


C is also for communication, arguably one of the single most important tools in the project manager’s arsenal. This applies to all forms of communication, verbal, and written and also to listening skills which form a very important part of how you communicate with everyone involved in a project, from stakeholders to team members.


Pretty self-explanatory – a deliverable is essentially the end goal that is desired from the project, the thing that you will be delivering to your stakeholders or clients. A deliverable is something that needs to be specific and measurable. It also needs to be described in such a way that the project team can implement it. For example your deliverable could be a new building, road or bridge; it could be a new piece of complex software, or it could be a new business process.


Emotional intelligence is something that all good project managers (should) have. Not only do you need to be aware of how other people are feeling, but you should also pay attention as well as to how your actions impact others around you. You need to be self-aware and empathetic to those around you – particularly team members to ensure they are well-motivated and capable and willing to deliver the project successfully.


F is for failure, but failure should not have negative connotations – rather, it should be seen as an opportunity to learn and improve where possible (every day is a school day). In other words, your mistakes should be seen in a positive light. Every project manager is going to experience some sort of project failure at some point; it could be a simple failure of one individual task within a project or it could be a total collapse and abandonment of the whole project. Rather than dwelling on what has happened or playing the blame game, it is important for a project manager to see each failure as an opportunity to learn and improve going forward  – both for you and your project team.


Gantt charts are frequently used in project management. They are charts that use a series of horizontal lines so that you can easily see the work that has been completed or the work that has been done in specific periods of time in comparison to the work planned for these periods. These charts are a simple way of determining whether your project is on schedule or not, where milestones are set along the way, which tasks are dependent on other tasks, and if there are problems with the schedule where they are.

Gantt charts are amongst the most popular and useful tools that a project manager will commonly use in order to show and track activities and events. They show a snapshot of the various events and activities associated with your project all in the same place so you can quickly see everything at once. In other words what has to be done and when.


This is a plan that will explain the relationships and the roles of the people that make up your project team. It also takes a look at how these roles and relationships will be managed. People deliver projects so managing what they do and how they interact is essential. A good Human Resource Management plan will not only relate to the individual members in any project team but will also help the project manager when it comes to identifying team members, ensuring the best assignment of roles, and even tracking the professional relationship dynamic that exists between members of the team.


An issue, as the name suggests, is a problem that will have a detrimental impact on the project progress if it is not resolved. An issue management process is usually put in place to track all problems (and, of course, a project will rarely be problem free) to ensure that project managers proactively deal with each problem situation.


When you consider just how much demand there is, and how much this demand is increasing,  for well-qualified and experienced project managers, it is only right that ‘J’ represents jobs. The most recent Talent Gap report from PMI indicates that a staggering 2.3 million individuals will be needed on an annual basis if the significant amount of project management-related roles that they expect to open up in 2030 are to be filled. To say the profession is booming would be an understatement. Project management, as we know, is used across all industries, and it is especially flourishing thanks to the tech sector where new products are being created all the time. For those who are considering a career in project management, there really has never been a better time to make a move and get those all-important project management qualifications sorted.


A KPI is something that is used to measure the performance of your project. For example, there are standard measures such as timeframes and financial performance indicators. To put it simply, they look at whether the project schedule and budget are on track. But there could also be project-specific KPIs related to this as well, for instance, technology innovations. KPIs can be useful but only if they are specific and measurable and add value to the project and those using them. A good project manager should watch out for them just being used as a tick-box exercise that adds no value to their project, and ensure that they are being used in the correct way.


Lean project management is another approach that project managers can adopt for their projects. This particular approach is all about minimising waste and maximising value within a project. The purpose of this approach is to use fewer resources yet create greater customer value. Value can be delivered from a customer’s perspective by cutting down on waste within the project and by continually striving to improve the help given to project managers that will allow them to increase the efficiency of their projects, which will, in turn, allow them to deliver more results with less resources.

Unlike more traditional project management, which follows a structure made up of phases which have the effect of separating planning from execution, Lean project management manages a project team to manage their workflow more effectively in order to deliver better value.


Monitoring is essential for all projects. You need to have an effective system in place so you can oversee all tasks, as well as the budget, timeline and the project scope. You will need to ensure that your team is on track. If not, you need to put the measures in place to react quickly, either to make changes to the way your team is working or to inform the client that you need more time. When your monitoring is working properly you will be able to see exactly where you may be encountering issues in your project and potentially put measures in place to avoid them before it is too late.


Next, we have nonlinear management, which is a very broad term that is used to describe practices in management that have a large focus on adaptation to changing circumstances, self-organisation, and flexibility. As the name suggests, it is the opposite of linear management, which seeks to implement structure at businesses. Some of the defining characteristics of NLM are as follows: flexible working arrangements for team members, responding in a proactive manner to challenges, and out-of-the-box thinking being encouraged amongst all. Some of these characteristics of nonlinear management, in particular, flexible working arrangements have become more commonplace in recent years as employers work to adapt to the needs of employees and adopt an approach that is overall more flexible having realised that this can in fact aid productivity rather than hamper it.


Scope creep is a common problem for all projects. Clients will often request extras that were not in the original scope and hence have no time or budget allocated to them. This can cause delays and budget overruns, which is why you need to be careful about what you agree to. Yes, you can accept the changes and they will likely make the final outcome better, but make sure the client is aware of the impact this will have on the project overall.

Here are some scope management tips to follow…

  • Keep it simple
  • Put yourself in the client’s shoes
  • Involve end users when defining the initial scope
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate
  • Make it visual

It is worth remembering that whilst some of those ideas that are out of scope may, in fact, improve the outcome of the project, there will almost certainly be others that your client suggests that will not. Part of the role of the project manager is being able to communicate this effectively to the client whilst also pointing out the issues that may occur with the budget and timescales. In some cases, it may be possible to renegotiate one or both of these with the client.  


Project management is made up of a number of different phases. Generally, the different phases can be categorised as the initiation, the planning phase, execution or production, controlling and monitoring, and closing. Complex projects or very long projects are likely to have more interim phases than simple or short projects, and this is not a bad thing because it allows for better structure within the project as well as plenty of mini-deadlines along the way, which you can celebrate with your project team, and which will help to motivate them to work towards the end of the project.


For most projects, there is a need to balance quality, time, and budget. Quality is often considered the most important factor at the outset but, in reality, time and budget practicalities frequently result in quality levels requiring adjustment. However, this is not always the case and so you need to discuss this with the client throughout the project. When there is scope creep within your project, this can quite often have a negative effect on the quality of the project because you still want to bring everything in on budget and within the allotted timescale.


Risk management is an essential part of any project because no project is without risk of some sort. Risk management needs to be considered during the planning phase. You need to assess the potential risks to the project, and put measures in place to mitigate them, as well as a plan of action should these risks arise. By planning for the occurrence of risks you are better able to deal with them if or when they happen.


Scrum is one of the most popular forms of agile project management. Some people mistakenly believe that agile project management is scrum. This is not the case. While scum is agile, it is not the only approach regarding the implementation of agile principles. It is merely one of several approaches. This type of agile project management makes the most of collaborative decision-making and frequent feedback.


Training is an essential part of your journey when becoming a professional project manager. There are many courses available for you to choose from that have the potential to lead to internationally recognised qualifications and, ultimately, chartered status. As a project manager, it is vital that you never stop learning. Project management courses aren’t just designed to give you a foot in the door; they are designed so that you can continually improve your skills and achieve more.  A very basic part of that is understanding simple project management terminology. CPD should also form a part of your ongoing training and can take a variety of different paths. This will show your current employer, or indeed a future one, that you are keeping up to date with your learning and are not the kind of person who will rest on their laurels but rather someone who is always looking for new things they can bring to a role.

Whether you are using your project management training as a standalone qualification or are using it within a specific industry alongside a qualification that is specific to that industry, these skills are highly portable ones that can lead to roles within many industries.


User stories are used to outline what the end user needs from the product or service. For example, if you are designing an app, the user story will provide an overview of how people will use the apps and what they expect from them, as well as their current pain points. This ensures you can build the best end product possible.


Remote and virtual teams are increasingly becoming the norm. Rather than hiring team members at the same location, business owners are prioritising a balance of skills, experience and cost, and this means you could end up managing team members working from all different parts of the country or a whole team in a completely different country and timezone. Research has indicated that offering teams a more flexible approach to how they work with the option to be part of a remote or virtual team can help accommodate a better home/work balance. It is ultimately more productive because employees feel more valued in their roles.


When it comes to project management methodologies, purely waterfall methods have been declining, as more and more project managers favour the agile approach, an iterative approach or a combination. Nevertheless, it is important to understand what waterfall project management is as it is still used in some organisations and industries. In simple terms, it is a linear, sequential process of project management where requirements are fully documented up front before the project tasks begin. It is one of the less flexible approaches, which is why its use has been declining over the years in favour of the more flexible approaches.


Earlier we mentioned Gantt charts, and another type of chart you may use as a project manager is an X-bar control chart. This involves two separate charts, which show the average sample ranges of a certain product, for example, temperature and weight, over a certain time frame.


There aren’t many terms beginning with Y, but we didn’t just pluck a random colour out of the air for this guide to project management terminology! Yellow is often used on project management reports as a warning indicator when, for instance, the project isn’t on track at the moment but there is a plan to get the project back on track. It is part of a simple traffic light system used as a status indicator.


Last but not least, we have zero float, which is a condition along the critical path where activities do not have any buffer time in between them.

So there you have it: a simple A to Z guide to project management terminology. Hopefully, you now have a better understanding about some aspects of project management and some of the terminology that is used. There is, of course, much more to project management than this short guide, so watch out for future updates.

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