Project management is the practice of overseeing unique, time-limited initiatives that have a defined scope, timeframe and budget.
Project management is defined as a collection of proven techniques for proposing, planning, implementing, managing, and evaluating projects, combined with the art of managing people.
Project management definitions and terms
Project management terms can get technical, but it all comes back to things that keep projects on track. Here’s a list of definitions every project manager should know:
Agile methodologies are based on the mindset that self-organizing software development teams can deliver value through iteration and collaboration. The Manifesto for Agile Software Development was formally developed in 2001 by 17 practitioners and is based on a core set of values of delivering value and collaborating with customers. These principles include:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
When you or your team make assumptions, you have to communicate them because project assumptions can affect scope, goals, deliverables, and outcomes. In fact, assumptions can set the context for how a project is defined and even executed.
You’ll see project managers bringing up assumptions and turning them into larger conversations, scope line items, milestones, deliverables, and anything else to ensure the team operates on concrete facts.
Projects change often, and it’s your job as a project manager to make sure everyone—clients, team, and any other related parties—is aware of the change and its impacts.
As the scope or business requirements change during the project, it’s very likely the estimated effort, associated cost, and original deadline may no longer be valid. In this case, the project manager will draft a change order or change request document to formalize the change and its associated impacts.
This can mean a couple of things. Project managers in a consulting space—like an advertising agency or construction company—work with clients to build or deliver a product. They need to take those clients into account when crafting process, presenting work, and gaining approvals.
At the same time, those clients might have clients or customers they’re trying to please in production. Often, in the digital space, you’ll hear those people referred to as “users,” and a lot of work is done to ensure a product is built to please these people.
Constraints are limitations outside the control of the project team that need to be managed to. A project constraint might include scope, budget, or timeline. There’s only so much you can do within those bounds, so they set a constraint on the work product. Project managers are hyper-aware of these constraints because it’s their job to deliver projects on time and budget.
The critical path is the sequence of stages determining the minimum time needed for an operation, especially when analyzed on a computer for a large organization. It’s a formal, step-by-step project management technique for process planning that defines critical and non-critical tasks with the goal of preventing scheduling or timeline problems and process bottlenecks.
A deliverable is any tangible outcome produced by the project. It’s either produced along the way to gain consensus or delivered at the end as the final work product. Deliverables include visual designs, documents, plans, code, prototypes, blueprints, proofs, buildings, apps, websites, products, etc.
In project management, a dependency refers to a task that cannot happen without its predecessor being completed. This is an important detail for project managers to consider when planning projects. Planning tools like TeamGantt make it easy to point out and track dependencies.
A gantt chart is a chart with a series of horizontal lines that show the progress of work done over certain periods of time in relation to the time planned for those periods. TeamGantt produces beautiful gantt charts to help you keep track of your project tasks, dependencies, resources, and even communications. Learn more about gantt charts!
A project goal or objective is a documented statement of the intent and outcome of the project. Goals are used to help make decisions when a project arrives at a crossroads or point of indecision (or runs into scope creep) because the goals determine project success.
Project managers constantly hunt for project issues so they can knock them down before they become bigger problems. Issues typically impede the progress of the project and cannot always be resolved by the project manager or project team without outside consultation.
A common issue in marketing project management is when content is missing or late. When that happens, it holds up progress and often requires the deadline to be moved.
There are several ways to manage projects, as methodologies have been formalized and taught for several years—Waterfall and Agile methods included.
It’s good to know how methods were created, and decide for yourself how they can be adapted in the work you’re doing today. If you’re looking to learn, see our chapter on project management methodologies, which covers the following categories:
- Traditional methodologies
- Agile methodologies
- Change management methodologies
- Process-based methodologies
A milestone is an action or event marking a significant change or stage in the production or development of a project.
By its project management definition, a milestone has a duration of zero and no effort because no work is associated with it. It’s essentially a point in the project plan that signifies important work has been completed, and the project will transition to a new phase.
Working on several projects that are connected in some way (goals, product, client, etc.) is often referred to as a program. The program itself is not a project with deliverables. It provides overall management to ensure there’s a central point of communication that provides consistency and alignment for the proper timing, pacing, and approval of all interconnected projects.
Program managers are often not only responsible for projects, but also for larger strategic initiatives and sometimes teams of project managers. When it comes to programs—or sets of projects—they help articulate the goals and objectives of those connected projects and how their outcomes will impact the business overall. Knowing these goals helps them focus on the strategy of each project’s implementation and how to get them done with the appropriate resources and team members.
This was mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. Projects are unique operations that are conducted to meet specific goals. Examples of projects might be the development of software to increase employee productivity, the construction of a building to house community events, or the design of a website to decrease call volume to a business.
Also mentioned earlier in this chapter, project managers are the people who work on the front lines of projects, defending their teams, clients, and projects from miscommunication, missed deadlines, scope creep, and any other failures. They champion the well-being of the people involved in their projects and facilitate strategic decisions that uphold the goals of their projects.
Project managers will break a series of tasks or deliverables into phases to keep the project organized. On a website redesign project, logical phases might be definition, design, development, and deployment.
Project managers build project plans to chart the course for how a project will be completed. Good project plans show overall process in phases, deliverables, and tasks, along with corresponding details on who’s responsible, dates when work will start and finish, and any relevant notes for each task.
The project plan is a form of communication and arguably one of the most important deliverables on a project, as it provides detail on what should be happening at any point during the course of a project. You can find plenty of sample plans and templates on the TeamGantt website.
The project team includes the people who are responsible for conducting tasks and completing deliverables on a project. Project teams vary by industry and project type, and companies recruit the proper team members with expertise to conduct the work.
Requirements are critical to getting a project done right. Project requirements are often included in a detailed scope of work and define how the product should act, appear, and function within the stated goals.
This is a term that is by far the least human of all project management terms. Resources are the people who do the work on projects. A better term here would be “staff” or “team,” but for some reason, we revert back to this.
Resourcing plans are created to ensure staff are properly assigned to projects and not being over- or underutilized. A simple way to sort this out is by using the resource management features in TeamGantt, which allows you to assign people to tasks and estimate the time needed to complete them.
Issues cause risk! When project managers talk about risk, they’re thinking about potential issues or events that cause things to go wrong, along with the probability the event will occur and its potential impact on the project.
A good way to keep a team tuned in to potential risks is by including a risk register (or a list of risks, issues, and a mitigation plan) in a regular status report.
A scope defines in detail what the project will and won’t deliver. In a consulting agency, this takes shape in a formalized project scope document. On an internal team, it might take shape as a project brief or even a less formalized format, like an email.
Sponsor (executive sponsor and project sponsor)
When working on large projects, you might hear the ultimate decision-maker or funder referred to as the project sponsor. This person has ultimate authority over the project and will be involved in making funding decisions, resolving issues and scope changes, approving deliverables, and providing overall strategic direction.
At the same time, the sponsor is often held responsible for championing a project within an organization, ensuring everyone’s on board with the initiative.
Stakeholders are the people who have an actual stake in the outcome of the project. They may be internal to the project (marketing, IT, and other departments), as well as external to the project (suppliers, investors, partners, etc.).
Project managers work with stakeholder groups to make sure they’re aware of project developments and are part of the decision-making process when necessary.
The Waterfall model is certainly among the most widely known and practiced project management methodologies. The key ingredient in running a Waterfall project is to complete a task and hand it down to be used, or built on, in a following task or phase.
The Waterfall process requires a fair amount of planning and requirement-gathering before work begins. Without that initial planning, steps can be missed, incomplete, or even out of line. Further, any alteration to project requirements can cause a change in scope.
Define what project management means to you
Educating yourself on project management is the first step in defining what your organization needs. So take this information, and adapt it to your situation.
One way to ensure you’re headed in the right direction is to ask yourself these questions:
- Now that I know what project management is and understand the role, do I think it fits in my organization?
- What are the things a project manager would do for my team? And what benefits would they provide?
- Is our process right for us? If not, what avenues should I explore?
- What else do I need to learn about project management?
There are tons of questions you could ask, but give these a shot. Or even better, talk to a project manager who can help you determine the right path for your organization.