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.