Words Used in... Project and Program Management

Words Used in ... Project and Program Management

© iStockphoto

Find the right words to use when you're project managing.

The terms "project management" and "program management" are familiar ones in most businesses and industries.

Yet these terms, and other specialist words in the field, can mean different things to different people. Often, this is because people pick these buzzwords up and start using them, without ever really understanding the ideas behind them. This can lead to a great deal of confusion!

This "Words" page is designed to help you navigate your way through the minefield of project and program management "speak:" it provides a quick reference glossary of words commonly used in the field of project and program management, with typical definitions.

If your organization uses a specific project management methodology, always refer to your methodology-specific glossary.

This page covers the following terms:

People and Organization


Monitoring and Reporting



General Terms

Terms are defined below:


Agile Project Management uses short development phases and integrated testing phases, rather than the single development phase associated with traditional "waterfall" project management approaches. It's most suitable for projects that are fast-moving or subject to frequent change, such as IT projects and business start-ups.


The initial approved project plan (including scope, budget and schedule). The progress of the project is monitored against the baseline, and any changes to the plan are expressed relative to the baseline.

Business Case

The business case sets out the benefits the project is designed to deliver, how it will achieve them, what it will cost and how long it will take. It is usually produced in two stages: the Initial Business Case is used to get approval in principle for the project. Once this is secured, the project manager's first responsibility will be to develop the full business case, including detailed costings and schedules. Usually, this will also have to be approved by a senior management group before the project can go ahead.


A CARDI Log records Constraints, Assumptions, Risks, Dependencies and Issues that are associated with a project. For each type, it will usually show who identified the constraint, assumption, risk, dependency or issue; who is responsible for managing it; and the action that is being proposed or taken.

Of the five parts of the log, the Risk Log is generally the most used. A risk is potential issue: conversely, an issue is a risk that has actually happened.

Change Control

If a change needs to be made to some aspect of the baselined project plan, a Change Control document needs to be filled in, and approved. This will record the justification for the change, who approved it, and the impact the change has on cost and schedule. Approved changes are gathered together in a Change Log.

Cost Plus Pricing

Cost Plus Pricing is a form of contract pricing where the contractor calculates the price of work based on the cost, plus a fixed fee or (more usually) a percentage fee. This form of pricing is attractive to contractors as it limits the risk to them. It's usually less attractive to project managers because it makes budgeting difficult, and means that the project risks additional costs if timescales are extended, or if additional equipment needs to be brought in. Cost Plus Pricing is particularly risky for project managers because contractors are not motivated in any way to work quickly or efficiently (in fact, it incentivizes contractors to prolong projects.)


When the overall project schedule needs to be reduced, and it's acceptable to incur extra cost to do this, the project's critical path is "crashed" or shortened by allotting extra resources to key activities on it.

Critical Path

During a project, many activities take place at the same time. However, some activities have to be done in sequence. The critical path of a project is the sequence of tasks which defines the minimum possible duration of the project. Delays in any of the activities on the critical path will delay completion of the project.

Free "Build a Positive Team" Toolkit

When you join the Mind Tools Club before midnight PST September 27

Find out more


If a problem occurs in a project that the person responsible can't resolve, it is escalated up the project or program management hierarchy until it reaches someone who can authorize a solution.

Fixed Price

A form of contract pricing where a price is agreed in advance with the contractor for the delivery of specified works. Project managers like this form of pricing because it allows them to be in control of their project costs. Contractors dislike it because they risk making a loss if unforeseen circumstances mean that they have to do more work than they had expected; or if they had under-estimated the amount of work that would be needed to deliver in the first place. As a result, the prices quoted for fixed price contracts may be inflated to cover this risk.

Gantt Chart

A Gantt Chart is a planning tool that helps project managers organize and schedule the tasks that need to be completed in a project. It can also help managers communicate this schedule.


Many large projects are divided into stages such as investigation, development, testing, and release. There is a gate before each stage, and the project manager will decide when the project is ready to go through that gate, so that the next stage can be started.


Milestones are major points of achievement, or significant events in a larger project. They are usually monitored in a Project Milestone Report.

PERT Chart

PERT charts are visually like Critical Path Analysis charts, but they attempt to estimate the time that each activity will take more accurately by using a formula to calculate the most likely activity duration based on the shortest and longest possible times as well as the expected time.

Time estimation is a key issue in time management, and there's a tendency for people to under-estimate the time needed to complete an activity. Use of PERT helps people to make better time estimates.


The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) is an internationally-recognized standard for project management practice and information. It is published by the Project Management Institute, based in the US.

Post Implementation Review (PIR)

A PIR is a review done a few months after a project goes live to assess whether or not it has delivered the business benefits its outputs were designed to deliver.


Standing for PRojects IN Controlled Environments, PRINCE 2 is probably the most widely-used project management methodology. Originally developed for use with IT projects in the public sector in the UK, but is now used world-wide across a wide range of private sector industries as well.


A set of related projects. While projects are finite in duration, programs are often ongoing – for example, a new product development program.

Program Manager

The person in charge of a program.

Project Analyst

Someone who supports the Project Manager of a larger project by carrying out research, drafting documents, and tracking budgets and schedules.

Project Charter

Project charters are drawn up early on in a project's lifecycle, and set out: the overall purpose and scope of the project; and the names of the sponsor, main stakeholders, and proposed project manager. They are often necessary during the first stages of gaining approval for the project.

Project Dashboard

A project dashboard is a highly-visual report showing the progress of projects within a program. They are most useful when issued regularly – typically on a weekly basis, and are particularly useful to Program Managers and sponsors.

Project Initiation Document (PID)

Drawn up early on in a project's lifecycle, the PID is a guide to a project, clearly laying out the justification for a project, what its objectives will be, and how the project will be organized. This helps ensure that everyone knows what's going on right from the outset. It is more detailed than a Project Charter, and will contain the detailed Project Business Case as well as an initial project plan. It is produced after the project has been approved.

Project Manager

The person responsible for ensuring that a project is delivered to specification, on time, and on budget. Project managers have to co-ordinate the activities of a great many specialists.

Project Mandate

The document that usually triggers a project. It is produced by senior manager; it usually refers to what the project needs to achieve and how it fits into the overall strategy. It usually identifies any key constraints and scope boundaries. It may also include an outline of the business case, or alternatively, the development of this initial business case may be the first task required, before the project is fully approved for implementation.

Program Office/Project Office

In larger projects and programs, there is often a Program Office, staffed by a Program Office Manager, and possibly an administrator and even an accountant as well. The program office function consolidates regular progress reports from the managers of individual projects for the Program Manager; maintains a central database of project documents; rolls out and enforces consistent document templates and formats; and carries out other centralized administrative tasks to support the project staff.

Project Sponsor

The "champion" of a project, who wants the projects intended benefits delivered to improve the part of the organization for which he or she is responsible.

RAG Status

RAG stands for Red-Amber-Green and describes the status of a project or a part of a project on a Project Dashboard.

Risk Log

See CARDI Log.


The extent of what the project is designed to do. This covers functionality, systems, interfaces, processes, departments and external stakeholders (such as suppliers and customers). As well as stating what is included in a project and its boundaries, it is sometimes helpful to specify certain things that are out of scope for the project as well. Projects which suffer from "scope creep" are highly likely to exceed their original schedule and budget.


This is the amount of time a project, or an activity within a project is behind schedule.


Stakeholders are the groups or individuals who have an interest in the outcome of the project, although the interest that each group has is usually specific to them. Typical stakeholders can include shareholders, customers, suppliers, alliance partners, and members of the project team. Stakeholder Management can be a very important part of a project manager's and project sponsor's job.

Time and Materials Pricing

A form of pricing similar to Cost Plus Pricing where the work done is charged according to the amount of time spent on it and the cost of the materials used.

Turnkey Projects

The name "turnkey" comes from the idea that the project sponsor can simply "turn a key" on an delivered project which then "switches on". Turnkey projects are often part of larger programs – for example, a property developer might hand over the plumbing or the soft furnishing provision of a development to an external contractor. The developer would expect all aspects of the work to be fully functioning when the plumber's or furnisher's sub-project was complete.

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

A Work Breakdown Structure splits large project tasks into more manageable pieces of work, or actions. These can then be allocated to teams or individuals using a Responsibility Assignment Matrix.


Rate this resource