5 Project Management Terms You Should Know

Notebook and pen
Notebook and pen. Nico De Pasquale Photography/Moment/Getty Images

Project management is a job that comes with a lot of jargon and terminology. Once you know what it all means, it’s pretty easy to follow the discussions and contribute effectively. It will boost your confidence at work if you can understand what everyone else is talking about, and help you get taken more seriously at work if you use the right terms yourself.

Here’s our guide to the 7 project management terms that you should know.

1. Risk

‘Risk’ is a term that relates to what might go wrong on your project. For example, if you are building a new office block, the price of steel might go up and that might have an effect on your budget. But it might not go up. Equally, if you are planning on hosting your annual corporate picnic outside, it might be fine weather, but it might rain. In short, a risk is something that hasn’t happened yet.

It’s important to know what risks surround your project because then you can plan for them. You can put your ‘Plan B’ or contingency plans into action to try to avoid the risk happening in the first place. With the price of steel and the weather there’s not much you can actually do to stop them from happening, but you can make plans in case they do.

For example, you could hire a marquee or stock up with umbrellas so that if it does rain on picnic day, people can still have a good time.

This article about what to include in your risk register will help you get started.

2. Issue

Issues and risks are often confused by project team members and it’s important as a project manager to make sure you are talking about issues when you mean issues and risks when you mean risks.

If a risk is something that hasn’t happened yet, an issue is something that has happened.

Issues are just problems that your project team is facing.

You might have seen it coming (and handled it as a risk to start with) or it might be completely unexpected. Either way, it’s happened now and you have to do something about it!

3. Milestone

Milestones are points in time that mark key moments during the project. They are often used for:

  • Start of a phase
  • End of a phase
  • End of a major piece of work or a big task
  • Noting a particular fixed-in-time deadline
  • Immovable dates on the plan

Think of milestones as the kind of date that you would write on your calendar at home – the big important moments in a project such as finishing the testing, or the launch party.

Milestones are one of the 9 components of a Gantt chart, so you’ll see them on your project schedules displayed as a diamond.

4. Sponsor

Your project sponsor sits on the Project Board. They are the person who ‘owns’ the project and they receive the benefits. For example, if you are launching a new IT system for the factory team to use, the Factory General Manager would be the project sponsor. The IT team would form part of the project team but they wouldn’t take on a sponsorship role.

The project sponsor is the person you can turn to when you need senior management direction. This could be to:

  • Unblock a problem
  • Find some resources
  • Approve the budget
  • Make decisions
  • Agree the final specification

And so on. The project manager effectively reports to the sponsor for the duration of the project, both in terms of line management structure and also literally, with weekly or monthly (or real-time) project reporting.

Find out more about the role of a project sponsor.

5. Stakeholder

Stakeholders are the other people involved in and affected by your project. Some projects will have wide stakeholder groups, covering every department in the organization. Others will have a more limited scope.

Some stakeholders are outside your organization, like the government or regulatory bodies. They also need to be kept informed with information that is relevant.

Most stakeholders will be supportive (or ambivalent) to the changes brought about by your project, but not all of them will be!

You’ll meet stakeholders who are not are going to welcome your project with open arms! Get some tips for dealing with difficult stakeholders in this interview with project management expert David Bryde.