17 MOST IMPORTANT Project Management Terms to Know in 2023

The American educator and diplomat, Kingsman Brewster Jr. once said: ‘Incomprehensible jargon is the hallmark of a profession.’

And let’s be honest: project management, at times, is a classic example!

Project management terms and buzzwords are used so widely and frequently that they lose all meaning – and it can be super intimidating for people coming to the industry to work out what people are talking about.

In this post – true to our mission of simplifying project management for everybody! – we’ll choose the 17 most important and widely used project management buzzwords, and demystify exactly what they mean. 

Let’s jump in…

Project scope

1. Project scope

Project scope is the size, extent, and nature of work to be completed during a project.

You might think of it as the ‘boundaries’ or ‘guidelines’ of a project: a pretty clear specification of what is, and isn’t, to be done.

Scope generally defines the processes, deliverables, and activities that make up the project. 

  • What’s going to be made or done?
  • How? 
  • By who?
  • What is and isn’t included?

It’s often confused with schedule or timeline, but it’s important to remember that scope refers to what work that needs to be done – while schedule and timeline refer to when it needs to be done.

Project plan/Project charter

2. Project plan/Project charter

A project plan or charter is a document that officially starts a project and provides an overview of its goals, objectives, and deliverables.

It’s a pretty formal document that generally includes milestones, tasks, and deadlines. It’ll also generally define roles and responsibilities, as well as set expectations.

This document is super important to the success of a project. It helps to keep everyone on track and ensure that everyone knows, from the very start of a project, what’s expected of them. And, frankly, it can be your saving grace if a project ever goes off the rails.

Without a project plan or charter, it can quickly become more difficult to coordinate all the different aspects of a project and keep everybody accountable throughout the process. 

Scope creep

3. Scope creep

We’ve already talked about ‘project scope.’ So what is scope creep?

As the name suggests, it’s about the scope of a project changing or ‘creeping’ over time, beyond what was originally agreed upon. 

It’s a well named thing – scope creep ‘creeps up’ on you in a slow, gradual and insidious way.

But it’s far from harmless: it can lead to projects going over budget, missing deadlines, and ending up with lower quality outcomes.

Scope creep can happen for a variety of reasons, but is often the result of poor planning or inadequate communication between the project manager and the client.

We’ve written a full article about scope creep that’s well worth checking out…

RELATED READING: What Is Scope Creep? (Causes, Examples and Top Tips!)

Critical path method

4. Critical path method

‘Critical path’ may sound like a bad daytime hospital drama, but it’s actually about the order in which tasks need to be completed. 

It’s an important model because it allows managers to see which tasks are dependent on others, and how much time each task will take. 

This information is super important for keeping projects on schedule.

The critical path method dictates that each task must be completed before the next one can begin. It’s represented as a diagram that shows the order of tasks and their dependencies, and the length of each arrow represents the amount of time needed to complete the task.

Critical path method

It’s called ‘critical path’ because it’s the longest path through the diagram, which represents the minimum amount of time needed to complete the project. 

Any task that’s on the critical path is considered to be critical. This means that if any of these tasks are delayed, it will cause a delay in the entire project.

Work breakdown structure (WBS)

5. Work breakdown structure (WBS)

Work breakdown structures are important tools that help project managers and teams to break down large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. By doing this, it allows for a better understanding of the interdependencies between different parts of the project, and can ultimately lead to a more successful outcome.

While work breakdown structures can be helpful in a variety of different ways, it’s important to note that they are not always perfect. In some cases, a work breakdown structure can actually make a project more difficult to manage, as it can create too much detail and bureaucracy. When used correctly however, work breakdown structures can be invaluable tools in the project manager’s toolkit.

Resource allocation

6. Resource allocation

The process of assigning resources to tasks. This includes human resources, material resources, and financial resources. The goal of resource allocation is to ensure that the project is completed on time and within budget. 

‘Resource allocation’ is the process of matching up resources with specific tasks or projects. Or, to put it less tediously, it’s about working out what needs to be done, and then making sure that there’s enough human resources (people), material resources (stuff) and financial resources (money) in place to get those things done.

It’s an important project management term because it ensures that all the necessary resources are available when they’re needed, and that they’re being used efficiently.

There are a couple of different ways to approach resource allocation. The most common is to start with a list of all the tasks that need to be completed, and then assign resources to each task based on its importance or urgency. 

You might also do it the other way around – start with a list of all the available resources, and then match them up with the tasks that need to be completed.

Project life cycle

7. Project life cycle

The project lifecycle is a fancy name to describe the process that a project goes through from start to finish.

It’s often helpful to think of a project as a living, breathing thing – that goes through similar stages of life to any other living organism.

There are four main stages in the classic project lifecycle: initiation, planning, execution, and closure. 

Initiation is the first stage of the project lifecycle and it is when the project is first dreamed up. In these early days, the project team is formed and the project scope is defined.

Planning is the second stage of the project lifecycle and it is when the project team develops a plan for how the project will be executed. This stage includes developing a schedule, budget, and risk management plan.

Execution is the third stage of the project lifecycle and it is when the project team carries out the plan. This stage includes tasks such as executing the project schedule, tracking progress, and managing risks.

Closure is the fourth and final stage of the project lifecycle. This is when the project is completed and the project team is disbanded. Closure also includes activities such as conducting a post-mortem analysis and updating project documentation.

It’s an important term to be aware of, and an important component of your overall project management framework, because it helps you keep things in order: ensuring that every project you work on gets the same structured treatment, from conception through to review. 

This gives you the best chance of projects being successful – but also gives you a valuable chance to review and learn lessons from every project you work on.

Project management tool

8. Project management tool

Project management tools (like Project.co!) are used to help manage and monitor projects. There are a variety of project management tools available, each with its own set of features and benefits. 

Broadly speaking, project management tools can be used to:

  • Plan your project
  • Execute your project
  • Monitor your project’s progress
  • Communicate with your team members
  • Track project milestones, tasks, and deadlines
  • Assign tasks to team members
  • Resolve issues and risks
  • Identify and solve problems

Most importantly, project management tools can be used to manage basically anything from a small team’s daily tasks, to huge, multi-million dollar projects.

Earned value management

9. Earned value management

Earned value management (EVM) is a project management technique that allows you to track the progress of your project in terms of its budget.

By taking into account both the planned value and the actual value of work, it provides a more accurate picture of progress. 

EVM is a valuable tool for project managers because it allows them to track progress and identify potential problems early on.

By understanding where a project is value-wise, they can make more informed decisions about how to allocate resources and move forward with the project. 

Additionally, EVM can help stakeholders understand the project’s status and progress as it moves along.

There are a few key concepts that are important to understand in order to properly utilise EVM in your project management:

– The value of work completed (or earned value) is the measure of progress used in EVM. This value is determined by multiplying the scope, or magnitude, of work completed by the agreed-upon price per unit of that work. For example, if you are managing a construction project and the price per square foot of concrete is $100, then the earned value of 100 square feet of poured concrete would be $10,000.

– The planned value is the budgeted cost of work that should have been completed at a given point in time, based on the project schedule. In our construction project example, if the budget for the concrete pour was $10,000 and that work was scheduled to be completed at the halfway point of the project, then the planned value would also be $10,000. (Meaning the project would be on track!)

– The actual cost is the actual amount of money that has been spent on the project at a given point in time. In our example, if the actual cost of the concrete pour was $9,500, then that would be the actual cost.

EVM is a powerful tool that can be used to track progress, assess performance, and make decisions about where to allocate resources. 

When used correctly, EVM can help you complete your project on time and within budget.

Contingency plan

10. Contingency plan

A contingency plan is a key part of any project manager’s toolkit. It’s a plan that outlines how to deal with unexpected events or risks that could impact the success of a project.

No project is without risks, and even the best-laid plans can go awry. That’s where a contingency plan comes in. By having a contingency plan in place, project managers can be prepared for the worst and ensure that their projects stay on track.

A contingency plan is not a crystal ball, of course. It cannot predict the future or eliminate all risks. But it CAN help project managers keep their projects on track in the face of unexpected events. By being prepared for the most foreseeable risks, project managers can increase the chances of success.

The first step in creating a contingency plan is to identify the risks that could impact the project. Once the risks are identified, the project manager can develop strategies to mitigate them. For example, if there is a risk that a key supplier could go out of business, a contingency plan could be put in place to find a new supplier. 

Think of it as an “If this, then what?” test for when the you-know-what hits the fan! 

Of course, the contingency plan should be reviewed and updated regularly as the project progresses and new risks emerge.

Change management

11. Change management

Change management is a process that project managers use to deal with changes to the scope, timeline, or other aspects of a project. 

It’s important to have a good change management plan in place before starting a project, as changes are inevitable.

Change management includes four main phases:

1. Identification of changes: This is the first step in change management and involves identifying what changes have occurred or need to occur in a project.

2. Assessment of impact: Once changes have been identified, their impact must be assessed in order to determine how they will affect the project. This is very much an unpacking process, working out all the different people and tasks who’ll be affected as a result of the change in question.

3. Control of changes: After the impact of changes has been assessed, they must be controlled in order to ensure that they don’t adversely affect the project.

4. Communication of changes: Finally, all stakeholders must be kept up-to-date on the changes that have been made to the project. 

Change management is an important part of project management because it helps to ensure that changes are made in a controlled and safe manner. 

By following a change management process, project managers can avoid the chaos that can often result from uncontrolled changes.

Key performance indicators

12. Key performance indicators

There’s an old saying that ‘You can’t improve what you don’t measure.’

Most people are familiar with the idea of key performance indicators (KPIs) in different industries.

But specifically in a project management context, KPIs are measures that help you track and assess progress towards your project goals. 

There are many different types of KPIs that you can use, depending on the nature of your project and what you want to track. 

However, some common project KPIs include measures of cost, schedule, and quality.

It’s a good idea to work out KPIs at the beginning of your project as these can not only keep your project on track – they can make the difference between a project that does and doesn’t deliver on its original goals.

Triple Constraint

13. Triple Constraint

The triple constraint is one of the most important project management terms to be aware of. 

It refers to the three main factors that can have an impact on the success of a project: time, cost, and scope. 

All three of these factors need to be managed carefully in order to ensure the success of the project.

Projects can often fail if one of these factors is not managed properly. 

For example, if the scope of a project is not well-defined, it can lead to scope creep, which – as we’ve already discussed – can cause the project to go over budget and schedule. 

Similarly, if the project timeline is not realistic, it can lead to delays and cost overruns.

The triple constraint is a helpful way to think about the three main factors that need to be managed in any project. By keeping these factors in mind, you can increase the chances of success for your project.

Burndown Chart

14. Burndown Chart 

A burndown chart is a graphical representation of work remaining versus time.

 It’s used to track the progress of a project and identify any potential problems that may arise. 

The name “burndown” comes from the fact that the chart typically looks like a downward-sloping line, indicating the amount of work that has been “burned down” over time.

Burndown charts are a valuable tool for project managers because they provide a clear picture of progress and can help identify potential issues early on. 

For example, if the burndown chart shows that the amount of work remaining is not decreasing at the expected rate, this could be an indication that the project is in danger of falling behind schedule.

While burndown charts are a helpful tool, it’s important to remember that they should only be used as one part of the project management process. 

They’re certainly no substitute for regular communication and collaboration with the team!

Check out our article “What is a Burndown Chart and How Do I Use It?” for more info.

Kanban

15. Kanban

Kanban is a popular project management technique that can be used in a variety of ways to help improve efficiency and coordination. 

The word “kanban” comes from the Japanese words for “signboard” or “billboard.” 

This refers to the fact that kanban uses visual cues to signal where work is up to, and when it needs to be done.

Kanban is based on the idea of “just in time” production, which is a lean manufacturing technique designed to minimise waste and maximise efficiency. 

In kanban, work is divided into small pieces (called “cards”) and each card is assigned to a specific person. As work is completed, the cards are moved from one person, team or status to the next until the project is finished.

There are many benefits to using kanban, including:

– improved communication and coordination between team members

– better visibility of work progress

– reduced waste and improved efficiency

Check out our related post, “Everything you need to know about kanban project management” to find out more.

Sprint

16. Sprint

Sprint is a project management term that refers to a set period of time during which a specific set of tasks or a goal must be completed. 

Sprints are typically used in agile or Scrum project management, and help to break down a large project into smaller, more manageable pieces.

Sprints are particularly well suited to ‘iterative’ undertakings like software projects because they allow for a more agile approach to development. 

With Sprints, teams can iterate more quickly and respond to feedback more effectively. This makes for a more efficient and effective development process overall.

Agile project management

17. Agile project management

Agile project management is an iterative and incremental approach to managing projects. This means that instead of trying to do everything all at once, you break the project down into smaller pieces and work on them one at a time. This allows you to make changes and adapt as you go, instead of having to stick to a set plan.

This approach is especially important in today’s world, where things can change very quickly. By being agile, you can make sure that your project is always relevant and up-to-date.

Conclusion

Every industry has its own jargon and buzzwords and, in some ways, it’s important to keep on top of this and be able to speak the lingo.

But in another sense, project management can be much more simple than people so often make it: it’s about managing people, teams, projects and tasks.

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