In this post, I will try to demystify some of the common project management terms you may hear every day if you are a member of a project. These aren’t unique or new words, but terms that have been used and defined by people for many many years. If you haven’t seen them by now, you may not have been involved in many formal projects, but you should know them if you want to work on projects in a corporate environment.
Project “issues” have a more meaning in a project than in your everyday conversation. A project issue is something that has impacted the project. It is different from a risk because it has already happened. The impact of an issue can vary from massive to tiny, but issues will have an impact. Your challenge is to handle the issues as they occur and thereby reducing the negative impact to your overall project.
The term “risk” is used in project management when there is something that may have a negative impact on a project, but hasn’t happened yet. One example of risk is a traffic accident delaying the movement of equipment to the intended destination. The accident hasn’t happened, but could happen. If an accident does happen, it would adversely impact the timing of the delivery or even the possibility of any delivery.
Understanding the potential risks to your projects is an important part of managing risk. As you better understand the risks to your project, you can better address them as they actually impact the project. It also means you have a better understanding of what you can do to mitigate the risks. The work around for any predicted risk is documented in the form of an action plan, which is how project team members know what should be done to reduce or eliminate the risk from having an impact on the project overall timeline.
A “baseline” is a snapshot in time, and is usually used when you refer to the project plan. It captures the plan status at any given moment, allowing you to report the progress of the project while work continues. Baselines are usually important because project plans change almost every day, so what you think you’ll do today may not be the case in a couple of weeks. With a baseline, you can compare what you thought you’d do then to what you think you’ll do now.
The Gantt chart is one of the most common ways of presenting a project plan. These easy to read charts are made up of a list of tasks on the left and a line showing how long each task will take on the right. The duration of tasks is shown by a horizontal bar: the longer the bar, the longer the task will take. The chart has dates across the top so that you can reference when something is going to happen and when it should be complete.
The term “resources” is a just a fancy word for stuff, but it is also a rather impersonal way of talking about people. While the project team members are resources, so is money, office equipment, computers, vehicles, and anything else your team needs to complete the assigned project. Resources are important because if you can’t get the correct resources when you need them, you can’t finish your project on time and budget.
A “change” on a project is something that changes. It is usually used to discuss a requested modification to the original project plan. This usually happens when someone changes their mind about what they want your project to do or what items it should include. A change could be extending the project to cover an additional department, including new functionality in the software you are building, or something simple like changing the color of the new product you are designing.
A project plan is made up of several tasks, and you often have to do them in a certain order to get everything done to make the project successful. A “dependency” is a link between two or more tasks in you project plan. For example, you can’t paint the new wall until the drywall has been installed. The drywall can’t be put up until the studs have been nailed into place. The paint is dependent on the drywall, and the drywall is dependent on the studs.
A dashboard is a a way of showing the project report, with key indicators for the project in an easy to read and understand format. Normally a dashboard is produced electronically from information within your project management software. It usually shows things like overall project progress, cumulative levels of risks, the number of open issues, key dates, the status of resources and what other items you want to include.
A “milestone” is a project task with a duration of zero days, and is just a point in time. It’s not usually a task that you have to actually do, but is normally a statement that marks the end of a set of tasks, like indicating a phase is complete, or a major group of tasks has been completed.
A “program” is a group of projects that all contribute to a common objective. Your project may be part of a program, and you’ll probably have to provide information to the program manager about the status of your project so that they can track the progress of the overall program.