Please Share

Project Management Dictionary: 20 Essential Terms you Must Know

Project Management Dictionary - 20 Essential Terms you Must Know

I have made over 100 ‘What is…’ and ‘What are…’ videos about project management terms and jargon. It just crept up on me. To the end of 2020, I count 107. That makes an awesome Project Management dictionary in video format.

So I thought it would be helpful to pick out my top 20 Essential Project Management terms.

What about the Rest of the Project Management Glossary?

If you want or need more, here are your options:

PM Dictionary on YouTube

All of our Project Management Dictionary videos are in our PM Dictionary Playlist on YouTube

OnlinePMCourses on YouTube

Project Manager’s Starter Kit

I have also curated over 100 of them – along with other selected videos – into our Project Manger’s Starter Kit. This is astonishing value at only $27. And, I constantly update this course with new content. All the YouTube goodness, loads of added extras, and none of the adverts!

Project Manager's Starter Kit

Project Manager’s Beginner’s Bundle

For even better value, our Project Manager’s Beginner’s Bundle combines the Starter Kit above with our Project Manager’s Secret Success Formula (also worth $27), for the ridiculous price of only $37.

Project Manager's Beginner's Bundle

Decode the Jargon of Project Management

Our Free eBook, Decode the Jargon of Project Management contains over 200 project management dictionary entries. It’s bundled into the Starter Kit, but, if you have no budget at all, you can get Decode the Jargon of Project Management on me!

Decode the Jargon of Project Management
Decode the Jargon of Project Management

How Have I Chosen my Essential 20 Project Management Dictionary Entries?

In selecting entries for my essential Project Management dictionary, I have set myself a few rules. You may not agree that they are the right ones. And, if so, you can always look up any of the complete set of project management terms at our OnlinePMCourses YouTube Channel.

  1. Project Management only
    Not: Program Management, Portfolio Management, or other close relatives. This also means (sadly) that I had to say no to my ‘What is a PMO?’ video.
  2. Project Skills only
    This meant also saying no to the many leadership skills-related videos, like what is… Situational Leadership, Transformational Leadership, and Servant Leadership.
  3. General Principles only
    This meant not going into details. As an example, you’ll find below the answer to what is Risk Management. But there are none of my many and popular videos on aspects of Risk Management, like the Cone of Uncertainty, Risk Tolerance, and Monte Carlo Simulation.
  4. General Project Management only
    By which I mean no specific methodologies, like PRINCE2 or the PMBOK Guide. And nor do I include videos on PM organizations like the PMI or APM – nor their qualifications.
  5. Agile in General only
    Here, I am reluctantly excluding all the specific Agile Methodologies, like Scrum, Kanban, and Scrumban. And also Agile methods and ideas, like Design Thinking, Planning Poker, and T-shaped People.

As a result, my 20 Essential Project Management Dictionary Entries are unashamedly about the basics of (largely) traditional predictive project management. But no, I have not included ‘What is Waterfall Project Management?’

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Project Management Dictionary - 20 Essential Terms you Must Know

Before we Start: What is Project Management?

Okay… fair cop!

I got to 21 and couldn’t find one more video to cut. Until I realized that this one can stand alone…

20 Essential Project Management Dictionary Entries


Agile Project Management is becoming a mainstream discipline. But there are still plenty of Project managers who only know the planned, predictive, traditional approach. So, what is Agile Project Management?

To learn more, we have created a Roadmap for learning and a guide to all of our resources on Agile Project Management: I Want to Study Agile Project Management.

Benefits Management

Benefits Management is not yet a mainstream specialism of Project management – but it should be. In February 2021, we’ll be launching our new Project Benefits Management Course, with a big discount for Newsletter Subscribers. In the meantime…

Business Case

No project should proceed without a strong Business Case (sometimes known as a Project Proposal).

To learn more abut building your business case, check-out:

Change Control

Change control is an essential project control mechanism that plays a key role in preventing the dreaded scope creep!

We have a detailed article, All You Need to Know about Project Change Control, if you need to know more.


They sound scary – but what are they really, in Project Management terms?

Having watched this, you may be asking yourself: ‘Milestone or Deadline? What’s the Difference? | Video

Definition (Project Definition)

I don’t mean ‘the definition of a Project‘. But a Project Definition is an essential early step in managing a project well…

This is so central an idea, that we have loads of additional content for you to explore:

Dependencies (Task Dependencies)

How do tasks link to one-another? Let’s find out…

I also did a video on What are External Dependencies, which you might also enjoy. And, for a comprehensive survey, we have an article: ‘Are You Making Proper Use of Dependencies and Constraints?‘.

Earned Value Analysis (EVM)

Earned Value Analysis (EVA) is what we do when practicing Earned Value Management. It often sounds scary to new Project managers. So, start with this short video and then look below it if you need to know more.

For more details on how to carry out Earned Value Management – including all of the formulas, see our article, Earned Value Primer: The Basics of EVM.

Gantt Chart

This one is my most popular video:

Project Handover

It feels like you are nearly there…

For full details, we have one of our ‘Big Articles’: Ultimate Project Handover Guide: What You Need to Know.

Iron Triangle

Time – Cost – Quality – Scope. What’s going on?

To put it into context, you should also view our video on the Primary Project Hierarchy.

Issue Management

In our comprehensive guide, I describe Issue Management as the PMBOK Guides missing Process. But what is it?

Milestone Plan

This is really the simplest way to create a project plan – and it is entirely suitable for many projects. This video will show you what it is and how to do it.

RACI Chart

Who’s doing what?

A RACI Chart is a (more widely know) alternative to the (in my view, better) Linear Responsibility Chart, LRC. So click to find out What is a Linear Responsibility Chart?

And, for more detailed content on managing the people resources on your project, we have a detailed article: ‘Project Human Resource Management: A Complete Primer‘.

Risk Management

Risk management is the most widely known specialism within Project Management. Not surprisingly, we have a huge number of free resources on this topic, gathered together in our article: Ultimate Guide to Project Risk Management.


This is my second most popular video on YouTube:

I always say scoping is the hardest part of Project management. So, for more indformation:

Stage Gates – or Gateways

I wasn’t able to include my video on What is governance on this list. But, in practical terms, Stage gates (or gateways) are the governance process that can most transform your project’s rigor.

Find out How the Stage Gate Process Will Make You a Better Project Manager. And learn How to Run an Effective Stage Gate Review (Video).

Stakeholder Management

After Risk management, I’d say that Stakeholder Management (or Stakeholder engagement) is the second best known (and arguably the most critical) project specialism.

As with Risk Management, we have so much great content, we have gathered it together into one large resource: Project Stakeholder Management Knowledge Area: A Guide to Stakeholder Engagement.

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

This is my third most popular YouTube Video:

And we have a super article on The Secret to Creating a WBS with a Mind Map.

The ‘Nearly Gang’: The Five Project Management Terms I Wish I had Space for

Business Acumen

This one is important because it is linked to one of the three sides of the PMI’s Talent triangle. So, why not learn the answer to ‘What is Business Acumen?’

Critical Path Method (CPM)

The Critical Path Method (CPM) is also known as Critical Path Analysis. It is one of the longest-established and most widely heard of methods in Project management. So, why not in our list of 20 essential Project Management Dictionary entries?

Because, although many people have heard of it, very few ever get to need it. It’s a useful concept, but a tool that is only used by advanced project managers on large and complicated projects.

But do find out the answer to ‘What is the Critical Path Method?’

And, of course, a closely related methodology is the PERT Method. ‘What is a PERT Chart?’ you ask. Well, click to find out.


What could be more fundamental than knowing the Goal of your Project? So, what is a Project Goal?

And this is part of the Primary Project Hierarchy.


We have loads of great content on Governance. Starting, of course, with our answer to the question: ‘What is Project Governance?‘.

We also have:

Do take a look at the Essential Project Management Dictionary entry above, to Stage Gates, or Gateways.


Another part of the Primary Project Hierarchy are your Project objectives. So, what are your Project Objectives?

What Should We Add to Our Project Management Dictionary?

What other project management terms deserve a place in our essentials list? And what jargon would you like me to cover in future YouTube videos?

Put your answers in the comments below and if i make a video based on an idea of yours, you’ll get a small gift from us, to say thank you.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

follow me on: