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101 Project Management Basics

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Project management is the practice of planning, directing and controlling resources to deliver a project. It is a mature profession and practice that is associated with a number of methodologies, tools and techniques. The following is an overview of project management basics.

Acceptance Criteria

A set of conditions for accepting project deliverables. Helps to avoid arbitrary or frivolous rejection of project outputs.

Project Activity

A distinct package of project work.


Documented facts, statements or interpretations that are reasonably expected to hold true for the purposes of a project. Agreeing on project assumptions is a fundamental way to align expectations amongst stakeholders.


An approved version of requirements and other project documents that serve as a basis for project work. Requirements not in the baseline are handled as change requests.

Business Analysis

The practice of researching business goals, capabilities and processes to develop project artifacts such as requirements.

Business Case

A project proposal that is often used as a source document for project artifacts such as a project charter.

Project Change Control

A process whereby changes to baseline requirements and project documents are identified, documented and reviewed. Approved change requests often impact project scope and schedule.

Change Control Board

A formally identified group that governs and manages the change control process.

Change Control System

A set of procedures and tools for managing the change control process. Includes a procedure for submitting change requests.

Change Request

A formal proposal to change baseline requirements or any other aspect of a project such as an assumption.

Communications Log

A running list that details all project communications that have occurred.

Communications Management Plan

Describes the process, timing and responsibilities for disseminating project information.

Cone Of Uncertainty

A model for project uncertainty whereby projects begin with a great deal of uncertainty that gradually declines as the project progresses.

Configuration Management

Procedures and tools for managing change to project artifacts including access control, tracking, versioning, audit trail and monitoring.


A limit or restriction on a project such as budget, resources or time.

Contingency Plan

A plan listing actions the project team can take if risks are triggered.

Contingency Reserve

Resources such as time and money built into baseline budgets and plans to handle issues should they occur.

Corrective Action

Actions that are taken to correct an issue when it occurs.

Cost Baseline

An approved version of estimates and contingency reserve that general correspond to an approved version of requirements.

Cost Management Plan

A plan that describes how costs will be estimated, budgeted and controlled.

Cost Variance

The difference between budgeted and actual costs at a point in time. Often expressed as the ratio of earned value to actual cost.


Adding resources to a project in an attempt to speed things up.

Critical Path

Looking at the minimum time that your project will take to complete by determining your longest path of dependencies between activities.

Critical Path Activity

An activity that is on your critical path. That is to say, a member in the longest path of dependencies between activities.

Critical Path Method

Analysis of the critical path to determine scheduling options.


Dividing projects or activities into smaller parts to make them more manageable. In many cases, large scale projects are more likely to fail than small, quick iterations of smaller projects that achieve the same end results.


A nonconformance to requirements.


A verifiable tangible or intangible result of work. In other words, something that is delivered to the customer as part of a project.


A logical relationship between activities usually described as finish-to-start, finish-to-finish, start-to-start or start-to-finish.

Earned Value

A measure of work performed expressed in terms of the budget authorized for that work.


The labor required to complete an activity often expressed in days.

Estimate To Complete

The estimated cost to complete remaining project work.

Feasibility Study

An investigation of a project or requirement to see if it is technically, economically and legally feasible.


Projections of costs, task completion times and resource needs for a project broken down by activity.

Fast Tracking

An attempt to compress a schedule by doing tasks in parallel that are normally done in sequence.

Functional Organization

An organization that grouped by specialization such as information technology and accounting. Implies the project manager has limited authority to assign work and resources.


A risk that occurs or is about to occur.

Lessons Learned

A document that captures the knowledge gained by a project including an account of what happened and what could have been improved.

Level Of Effort

The duration of a task that doesn't produce a deliverable and isn't on the critical path of a project. Associated with management activities such as budget administration.

Matrix Organization

An organizational structure with multiple reporting lines as opposed to a tradition hierarchy. Implies the project manager temporarily shares authority to assign work with functional managers.


A significant point or event in a project or program.

Most Likely Duration

An estimate of the most probable project duration that takes into account risks and constraints.

Organizational Breakdown Structure

A hierarchical representation of a project organization that depicts the relationship between project activities and organizational units.

Performing Organization

The organization that is most directly involved in doing the work of the project.

Project Phase

A distinct stage in a project associated with a number of logically related deliverables.

Phase Gate

A review held at the end of a phase to review progress. At each gate an explicit choice is made to continue with the next phase, continue with changes or end the project.

Planned Value

The authorized budget that is assigned to schedule work.

Portfolio Management

The management of a group of related programs, projects and operations.

Preventive Action

An advance action that is taken to prevent an issue or improve project execution.

Procurement Management Plan

A plan to manage the procurement of project resources, goods and services.


A group of related projects and activities that are managed in a coordinated way.

Program Management

The direction, coordination and control of a group of related projects and activities.

Project Budget

A budget for a work package including contingency reserves.

Project Calendar

A calendar of days that are available for project work.

Project Charter

A document created by the project sponsor that outlines the scope, objectives, roles and responsibilities of a project. The project charter serves to initiate a project.

Project Management Office

A team that standardizes project management practices, processes, tools and techniques for an organization.

Project Management Plan

A document that guides the execution and control of a project. Typically includes assumptions, decisions, scope, cost and schedule baselines. In many cases, artifacts such as a communication plan or risk management plan are bundled with the project management plan.

Projectized Organization

An organization in which the project manager has full authority to assign work.

Quality Management Plan

A plan for directing and controlling project quality.


A specification of a need or want.

Requirements Management Plan

A plan for the analysis, development, documentation, review and control of requirements.

Requirements Traceability Matrix

A table that allows each requirement to be traced to those who requested and approved it. Also may match requirements to deliverables, business capabilities and anything else that needs to be traceable.

Residual Risk

The risk that remains after risk treatment.

Resource Breakdown Structure

A hierarchical depiction of resources by function and type. Makes it clear how each skill and ability fits into a project. Also provides a hierarchy of resources such as materials, equipment and software.

Resource Calendar

A calendar of work days available to a project for each resource. Tracks things such as training, vacation and non-project work commitments of a project team.

Resource Leveling

A process of resource optimization and resolution of resource conflicts such as a person who is scheduled for two tasks simultaneously. Generally results in changes to the schedule that may impact the critical path and all project dates.


The potential for a negative event or condition to occur that impacts a project. Most project management methodologies currently embrace the idea of positive risk, meaning that a risk can also be the chance of something good happening.

Risk Acceptance

One way to treat a risk is simply to formally accept it.

Risk Avoidance

Avoiding a risk typically involves changes to project approach or requirements.

Risk Breakdown Structure

A hierarchical representation of project risks by category.

Risk Management Plan

A document that describes how risks will be managed. Typically includes the Risk Matrix and documentation of risk treatments.

Risk Matrix

A table that lists the probability and impact for each identified project risk.

Risk Mitigation

Taking actions that reduce the impact or probability of a risk.

Risk Owner

The person responsible for treating and monitoring a risk.

Risk Register

A repository that documents risk management information such as risks, impacts, probabilities, treatments, triggers and risk owners.

Risk Sharing

A risk treatment that distributes a risk in order to improve commitment to a project or improve risk mitigation. In some cases, a project risk will be seen as an opportunity to a particular team or department. For example, a resource risk may be an opportunity to a team that has idle resources.

Risk Threshold

A risk level that's used to make the decision to accept risk. Risks below the threshold are accepted and risks above the threshold are treated.

Risk Tolerance

The level of risk that an organization is willing to take on.

Risk Transfer

Transfer of project risks to a third party using techniques such as outsourcing.

Project Schedule

The schedule of a project broken down by activity including resources, durations, planned dates and milestones.

Schedule Baseline

The approved version of a schedule that is used to evaluate project results.

Schedule Compression

An attempt to deliver faster without reducing project scope using techniques such as fast tracking and crashing.

Schedule Variance

A measure of performance to schedule commonly defined as the difference between earned value and planned value. In other words, how late or early a project, milestone or phase is delivered.

Project Scope

Scope is the work required to complete a project, phase or activity.

Scope Baseline

An approved version of a scope statement. Modifications to baseline scope typically require a change request.

Scope Creep

Uncontrolled expansion of scope. Expanding scope without making adjustments to time, resources and budget is a common cause of project failure.

Scope Management Plan

Defines how scope will be identified, monitored and controlled.

Project Scope Statement

Outlines the work required for a project including assumptions, deliverables and constraints.

Secondary Risk

A risk that results from efforts to transfer, share, mitigate or avoid risk. In some cases, efforts to manage risk end up increasing risk. For example, attempting to transfer risks by outsourcing to a partner can result in a variety of partner management risks.


The client who owns the project. The sponsor plays a variety of project roles including developing the project charter and project governance functions.

Staffing Management Plan

A plan for the acquisition and management of human resources.


An individual, group or organization who affects the project or is affected by the project. Includes everyone who participates in the project or who needs information and notifications from the project.

Stakeholder Management Plan

Describes how stakeholders will be engaged in decision making, process execution and communications.


According to common project management terminology, a threat is a negative risk. It should be noted that threat has a slightly different meaning in the context of risk management.


An action that is taken to manage risk.

Trigger Condition

An event that causes a risk to occur.

Variance Analysis

An analysis of the difference between baseline and actual performance. Usually focused on determining why a project is late or over budget.

Variance At Completion

The degree to which a project meets budget and cost commitments.

Work Breakdown Structure

A hierarchy that breaks project work into manageable phases, deliverables and work packages.

Work Package

The lowest level of work that is measured and represented in a work breakdown structure.


A tactical action that overcomes a project issue or removes an obstacle.

Project Management

This is the complete list of articles we have written about project management.
Acceptance Criteria
Acceptance Testing
Actual Cost
Basis Of Estimate
Behavioral Requirements
Burndown Chart
Change Control
Change Control Board
Change Fatigue
Change Request
Concept Note
Cone Of Uncertainty
Corrective Action
Cost Baseline
Cost Contingency
Cost Control
Cost Overrun
Cost Variance
Defect Density
Definition Of Done
Document Control
Earned Value
Estimate At Completion
Estimate To Complete
Feasibility Analysis
Fudge Factor
Full-Time Equivalent
Human Factors
Issue Management
Lead Time
Lessons Learned
Level Of Effort
Opportunity Study
Out Of Scope
Parametric Estimate
Phased Implementation
Planned Value
Program Management
Project Charter
Project Communication
Project Complexity
Project Concept
Project Controls
Project Failure
Project Goals
Project Management
Project Metrics
Project Planning
Project Productivity
Project Proposal
Project Risk
Regression Testing
Requirements Quality
Return On Investment
Risk Register
Schedule Baseline
Schedule Chicken
Scope Baseline
Scope Creep
Set Up To Fail
Smoke Testing
Stakeholder Management
Statement Of Work
Story Points
Use Case
User Stories
Variance Analysis
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Project Risk

A list of common project risks.


A definition of workaround with examples.

Project Branding

A list of project branding techniques.

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An overview of project stakeholder management with examples.

Action Plan

A definition of action plan with examples.

Cost Overrun

The primary types of cost overrun.

Document Control

The definition of document control with examples.

Project Oversight

A guide to project oversight.

Design-Driven Development

A definition of design driven development with examples.


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