The three most misused terms in project management

Although PMI has had a glossary of PM terms in the marketplace for many years, too many people continue to confuse others (and themselves) through the use of some common terms.

Sure, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but in our profession we have a hard enough time bridging expectation gaps to make things worse by calling a spade something other than a spade.

In no particular order, here they are:

Project charter: The document that PMI defines as “a document issued by senior management that formally authorizes the work of the project to begin (or continue) and gives the project manager authority to do his job” has been confused with everything from a project plan to a vendor contract to a Statement of Work.  As the name itself implies, a charter is needed for “chartering” – it is not the plan.  The plan should follow the charter and not the other way around.

Project plan: As per PMI, the project plan is “a formal, approved document that defines how the project is executed, monitored and controlled. It may be summary or detailed and may be composed of one or more subsidiary management plans and other planning documents”.  However, if you were to ask most people what a project plan is and they will very likely say “that’s what you create in MS Project”.  Not only does this create confusion, but it also reduces the perception of the planning phase of a project to “creating the schedule”.  Forget about risks, budgeting, quality, scope, communications, procurement, human resource planning and so on.

Risks vs Issues: This has become a standard part of every risk management presentation or consulting engagement that I do.  I’ll never assume that the audience understands that a risk is “an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a project’s objectives”.  Although PMI does provide a definition for an Issue, I prefer  to define an Issue as an event that has occurred that, if left unresolved, will impact one of the objectives or success criteria for a project.  Many times when I ask a client to describe their project risk management methodology what I will get is a review of their project issue practices.

You may wonder why I wrote an article on this – this lack of consistency and precision is a contributing factor to why project management has struggled to be recognized as a profession.  The work of associations like PMI, IPMA and others is helping, but we (as the practitioners of the profession) need to incorporate this consistency into our daily interactions.

Categories: Project Portfolio Management | Tags: | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “The three most misused terms in project management

  1. Hi Kiron,
    I just read your article about three misused project terms,
    and I must say I agree with you.
    The definitions are there to help, but many times this is
    just skipped for various reasons.
    Instead of Project Plan though, I use Project Specification,
    all according to Ericsson PROPS methodology.

    Thanks also for the comment in LinkedIn on one of my questions about project information flow.

    Best regards,


  2. kbondale

    Thanks for the feedback Jari!



  3. A Project can be a tough animal to tame depending on how you structure it. Having the right tools and methodology behind you to define and run a project can go a long way towards a successful deployment or development effort.

    Since a project can span several months and involve a variety of resources and skill sets, your role as a PM is to define the rules and manner in which the team will work under so the entire project does not falter.

    Most team members often feel overwhelmed with the prospect of having to worry about timelines and tasks they need to accomplish over the duration of the project. Helping them to stay focused and organized is a key skill that a PM must bring to the table when running a project.

    One of the tools you can use to get things structured and organized is the “Project Checklist”. This checklist is a roadmap to setup and put a framework around the project before it gets started.

    Each PM has their own style and set of tools, but if you are working on building your own toolbox, the project checklist is an important item to have when defining the project itself.

    Some of the standard project checklist items can include:

    1. Project Charter Template
    2. Roles and Responsibility Chart
    3. Project Definition document
    4. Project Rules and management structure
    5. Project review definition and schedule
    6. Project planning and reporting tools
    7. Executive briefing schedule
    8. Communication plan
    9. Phase Definition document
    10. Project Schedule document

    In summary, each project manager can develop their own project checklist to help them define the rules and framework for each project they manage. Building the checklist and tools that support the methodology will help keep the project organized and easier to manage.

    Gravity Gardener


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