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Project Management Glossary: Construction Project Management Terms for 2024
It’s no secret that the need for talent in the industry outweighs the industry’s access to it. For example, construction job openings were up in September, though a greater demand for workers has remained unmatched to the available skilled talent in the talent pool industry-wide.
As the industry looks to execute work, the role of a project manager—equipped to efficiently oversee projects and ensure they are completed on-time and on-budget—is increasingly important. I recently wrote an article in the Project Times in which I contended that the construction industry should look to big tech’s recent mass layoffs as a critical hiring source of quality project managers and possibly even construction technologists looking to join an industry with greater job security and demand for workers.
As new project managers enter the construction industry, we’ve compiled a list of important construction project management terms to know:
- A - Construction Project Management Terms
- B - Construction Project Management Terms
- C - Construction Project Management Terms
- D - Construction Project Management Terms
- E - Construction Project Management Terms
- F - Construction Project Management Terms
- G - Construction Project Management Terms
- H - Construction Project Management Terms
- I - Construction Project Management Terms
- J - Construction Project Management Terms
- K - Construction Project Management Terms
- L - Construction Project Management Terms
- M - Construction Project Management Terms
- N - Construction Project Management Terms
- O - Construction Project Management Terms
- P - Construction Project Management Terms
- Q - Construction Project Management Terms
- R - Construction Project Management Terms
- S - Construction Project Management Terms
- T - Construction Project Management Terms
- U - Construction Project Management Terms
- V - Construction Project Management Terms
- W - Construction Project Management Terms
A – Construction Project Management Terms
1. Acceptance Criteria
Acceptance criteria is the metric by which a project is measured to determine whether it’s successful or unsuccessful. The project must meet these predefined requirements in order for the project to be considered completed.
The term “agile” is generally applied to software development, a set of processes and methodologies that (like lean manufacturing principles, which practice Kaizen, or continuous improvement) take an iterative, team-based approach to software delivery that emphasizes deploying rapid functional products in a short period of time (known as sprints). This approach diverges from the more traditional “waterfall” approach that focuses on slow, sequential, monolithic releases of finished software products.
Agile software development shares similarities with lean construction methods, and companies in this space may look to these processes and methodologies when implementing their own procedures in order to boost productivity with the cards they’re dealt.
Antifragility is a business model first put forth by scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb which seeks to decentralize org structures such that individual team members are empowered and critically grow stronger when exposed to stressors, uncertainty, or risk.
Construction automation refers to the wide range of technologies that reduce human intervention in processes in order to streamline workflows among short-staffed onsite project teams as well as helping mechanize dangerous tasks while also improving quality.
Examples of construction automation include:
- Construction robots
- Construction drones
- Automated Construction Equipment and Smart Power Tools
- Building Information Modeling
- Smart PPE, Construction Wearables, & Exoskeletons
- Industrialized Construction
- Data Automation & Software Interoperability
- Artificial Intelligence
B – Construction Project Management Terms
The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) define backlog as follows:
Backlog is the amount of work, measured in dollars, that construction companies are contracted to do in the future. The greater the value of the backlog, the more comfortable contractors can be with respect to their near-term economic circumstances. The smaller the value of the backlog, as a share of annual revenues, the less comfortable are the circumstances in which contractors are.
A baseline is the starting point of any project, used to measure a project’s performance across all team members and should be updated as team members, managers, or clients make significant changes (see also: change order). Base lines help establish project expectations for all involved stakeholders.
Bidding in construction is the process through which a construction company submits a proposal (tender) to a potential customer in which they propose why their company should build or manage the construction of a structure. Bidding may also be used to allow subcontractors to pitch their services to general contractors.
Bidding is typically achieved through one of six methods:
- Open tendering – advertising and inviting tenders.
- Single-stage selective tendering – making a selection of a few contractors who are invited to quote (i.e., prequalified).
- Two-stage selective tendering – also known as “negotiated tendering,” prequalified contractors are asked to submit their pricing parameters, after which point the client requests them to create drawings based on these quoted prices.
- Selective tendering for design and builds – selecting one or a few contractors and asking them to submit design and commercial proposals together.
- Negotiation – negotiating costs before awarding a contract to a preferred contractor the client has an established working relationship with.
- Joint ventures – a business agreement where two or more contractors temporarily combine their businesses into a single business entity to complete a specific project, with the combined entity becoming a separate business from the parent companies involved in the arrangement.
With access to skilled talent narrowing and materials prices continually influx, bidding is more competitive than ever—hence why I’ve pointed to the proposal specialist as one among many emerging roles in construction. These individuals are specialists in telling your company’s story and can help give you a competitive when submitting bids.
8. Big Data
Big data refers to any dataset that is too large, too fast, and too complex for ordinary computers to process.
A bottleneck is any project workflow stall, often occurring when a project’s workflow is greater than the resources available to address it. Bottlenecks can lead to lost productivity and money, hence why it’s important that managers work to quickly identify, address, and prevent future bottlenecks from occurring.
BREEAM is an acronym for Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method and is an internationally recognized “badge of assurance” that a building meets a high level of sustainability criteria.
11. Building Information Modeling (BIM)
Building information modeling (BIM) broadly refers to the array of digital tools that architects, engineers, and contractors use to create unified, collaborative, multi-dimensional representations of built environments and infrastructure. BIM can be used to mitigate risk and cut down on rework. See also: City information modeling (CIM), which takes BIM one step further to take data collected from a variety of sources and weave it all together to create a highly interactive 3D model of large-scale urban environments.
12. Business Case
A business case is a proposition, either written or verbal, used to educate and influence decision-makers within an organization to take on a project, initiative, or perhaps additional resources because it or they will deliver return-on-investment (ROI) or provide meaningful benefit for the business.
13. Business Plan
A business plan is a formal document that clearly defines the business goals of a project and how to achieve these goals. The business plan may also include background information about the organization or team tasked with achieving these goals.
14. Burndown Chart
A burndown chart is a graphical representation of remaining work versus time in a project which helps visually depict progress by showing how much work is left to be completed an whether the team is on track to meet its goals within the remaining allotted time.
C – Construction Management Terms
15. Change Management
Defined by the Harvard Business School, change management (or organizational change) refers “broadly to the actions a business takes to change or adjust a significant component of its organization” (e.g., company/team culture, internal processes, underlying technology or infrastructure, or another critical aspect) and is typically categorized into two types of change:
- Adaptive change – small, gradual, iterative changes to evolve a business’s products, processes, workflows, and strategies over time (e.g., hiring a new team member to increased demand, or implementing a new policy, like that new project managers are Construction Professional in Built Environment Projects certified to ensure they’re qualified).
- Transformational change – larger-scale and -scope changes that often signify a dramatic (and occasionally sudden) departure from the status quo (e.g., launching a new product or business division or expanding internationally. See also: antifragility for how to build organizational adaptability through any transformational change.
16. Change Order
A Change Order is defined as a document that redefines the scope, budget, and timeline of a previously agreed upon construction job.
Contingency refers to a plan in case of possible disaster during a project (whether man-made or force majeure), whereby every detail of a project is taken into consideration so that project managers can respond dynamically to both short- or long-term events that would otherwise derail a project.
18. Continuous Improvement (CI)
Continuous improvement is the process of iteratively improving performance and refining processes within an organization. A key focus is improving delivery (customer value) by increased quality assurance as well as increased efficiency by removing waste.
See also: Lean Construction
19. Cost Benefit Analysis
A cost benefit analysis is the calculation of potential benefits of a project in terms of monetary gain subtracted by the cost of the project from that figure. A cost benefit analysis can, in turn, determine if the project is worth the investment or whether the project can proceed or be passed on.
20. Construction Professional in Built Environmental Projects (PMI-CP)™
Construction Professional in the Built Environmental Projects is a certification program offered by the Project Management Institute specifically designed for construction and built environment professionals to provide verification of their expertise, knowledge, and skill in real-world construction project scenarios.
PMI-CP stands for Project Management Certified Professional.
21. Construction Technologist
A construction technologist is a critical role dually proficient in both the digital and nitty-gritty dimensions of the jobsite, melding high level competency in technology with deep experiential knowledge of construction processes. Leveraging this multifaceted outlook, construction technologists are positioned to more effectively address the complex challenges that the industry pros of tomorrow are already facing today.
22. Critical Path Method (CPM)
A critical path method is a project management algorithm used for scheduling of set project activities, first developed within the DuPont and Remington Rand company in the 1950s.
23. Cross Teaming
Cross Teaming refers to organizing resources among a cross-functional team of wide-ranging experience and expertise in order to accomplish a common goal.
D – Construction Project Management Terms
A dashboard is a display of project data, analytics, and other resources essential to a project’s completion as accessible through the team’s project management system. Project management systems and software may differ by industry. For example, software project managers may be accustomed to cloud-based platforms like Jira, Confluence, or Trello. In construction, meanwhile, project managers may use platforms like Procore, Autodesk Construction Cloud™, or even more specialized solutions like eSub (i.e., project management for subcontractors).
Deliverables refer to any tangible outputs (e.g., rough-in plumbing, electrical work, external structure, landscaping, etc.) outlined as benchmarks toward a project’s completion. Deliverables can take many forms such as architectural drawings, BIM documents, or end products (e.g., finished building) and are considered final (relative to the form) that customers can judge a team’s progress and final work by.
Dependencies refer to the tasks or other activities interdependent on a project (i.e., one activity can’t take place prior to another being completed). Examples include client expectations, budgets, and cooperation between teams and departments.
27. Device Fragmentation
Device Fragmentation can be described as the problems presenting as the result of a “diversity of browsers, devices, and platform versions in use at any given point in time.”
28. Digital Twins
Digital Twins refer to the digital representation of real-world systems used to mirror unique objects, processes, organizations, persons, or other abstractions.
The data pulled from multiple digital twins can be used as an aggregate data source that provides “a composite view across a number of real-world entities, such as a power plant or a city, and their related processes.”
Downtime in construction refers to any time during which production stops, especially during setup for an operation or when making repairs, or, alternatively, as inactive time (such as between periods of work).
E – Construction Project Management Terms
30. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
Enterprise resource planning (aka: ERP) refers to integrated software systems and technologies that help large organizations automate and manage core business processes in real time for optimal performance. ERPs seamlessly integrate accounting and financial management with other key business functions like human resources as well as inventory and manufacturing to ensure the business can do everything from onboarding a new customer to handling a new hire’s taxes. Examples of ERPs include Oracle’s Netsuite and SAP.
Estimation refers to the process of forecasting the time, cost, and resources needed to deliver a project based on an agreed upon scope and deadlines.
See also: Construction Forecasting
32. Event Chain Methodology (ECM)
Event chain methodology is a project management procedure whereby uncertainties and risks are evaluated in planning a project. Using the mathematical technique, Monte Carlo analysis, ECM predicts the occurrence of certain events that can impact an ongoing project.
F – Construction Project Management Terms
Fast-tracking is a method employed by project managers to increase the speed of projects by analyzing schedules and identifying areas where tasks can be reprioritized, run parallel versus sequentially, or where new resources can be added midway through a project.
34. Feasibility Study
A feasibility study is an evaluation used to determine the probability of a project being completed effectively as well as to assess its practicality considering available resources and requirements.
35. Float Management
Float management refers to methods employed to understand the amount of time a specific task can be delayed before it causes a delay to the entire project delivery.
36. Flywheel Effect
The flywheel effect in business is a concept brought forth by Jim Collins and describes the process by which relentless, synergistic exertion can lead to building momentum until a point of breakthrough and unstoppable momentum.
Forecasting in construction refers to the process of predicting a construction project’s outcomes based on analyses of past projects and real-time project data.
G – Construction Project Management Terms
38. Gantt Chart
In waterfall project planning, a Gantt Chart is a bar chart that illustrates a project scheduled, designed by Henry Gantt around the years 1910-1915 and widely used in project planning in the present day. A Gantt Chart is typically used to visually illustrate long-term projects that have many task dependencies. They can also be created fully online and can be used interactively and collaboratively.
H – Construction Project Management Terms
39. Hybrid Methodology
Hybrid methodology is a fusion of agile and waterfall project management approaches which merges what typically is perceived as the best features of both models. The hybrid approach aims to maximize the efficiency of the team.
I – Construction Project Management Terms
40. Industrialized Construction
Industrialized Construction (IC) is the process through which construction aims to improve productivity through increased mechanization and automation.
Drawing inspiration from assembly-line production, the aim of IC is to enhance construction efficiency, consistency, and quality through standardization of processes and components, often in controlled environments before assembly onsite. That said, IC often involves adoption of lean management practices, advanced technology adoption like digital twins, as well as alternative delivery mechanisms like offsite construction. The culmination these management practices and technology adoption systematically mechanizing and perfecting the delivery of building products, straying away from the one-off project mentality.
Initiation (also called project kickoff) refers to the first phase of a project lifecycle, the stage in the process where the project is first scoped, involving the hiring of a team and setting responsibilities, reviewing the project, as well as gaining approval for the project to proceed.
42. Integrated Master Plan (IMP)
An Integrated Master Plan (IMP) is a project management tool used to organize work in large, highly complex projects by using a hierarchical structure to arrange project tasks and events in a way that demonstrates their relationships.
43. Internet of Things (IoT)
The internet of things (IoT) refers to a network of individual objects of all types, shapes, and sizes that are connected to the internet.
Broadly, interoperability is defined as the “ability” of the “system” (or the organization, company, or tools they use) to “work with or use parts of equipment of another system.”
J – Construction Project Management Terms
45. Just-in-Time Inventory
Just-in-time inventory is a philosophy that prioritizes minimizing inventory and maximizing efficiency, and a strategy for forwarding material or explicit labor or qualities at the exact second where it's required, reducing nearby inventories and inefficient worker hours.
46. Job Costing
Job Costing is an important process, and describes the proactive steps taken to track the associated costs and revenue of a given project throughout its lifecycle.
K – Construction Project Management Terms
Kanban is a scheduling system for lean manufacturing (see also: lean construction) first developed by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota, to improve manufacturing efficiency by limiting the buildup of excess inventory at any point in production.
Toyota’s six rules of Kanban include:
- Each process issues requests (kanban) to its suppliers when it consumes its supplies.
- Each process produces according to the quantity and sequence of incoming requests.
- No items are made or transported without a request.
- The request associated with an item is always attached to it.
- Processes must not send out defective items, to ensure that the finished products will be defect-free.
- Limiting the number of pending requests makes the process more sensitive and reveals inefficiencies.
48. Kickoff Meeting
Also called initiation, the project kickoff meeting is the first, formal meeting where project managers start a project. The meeting typically involves key stakeholders (e.g., client, owner, team members) and consists of communicating overarching project vision, plan, processes, and expectations for both client and the project team.
49. Key Performance Indicator (KPI)
A key performance indicator (KPI) is a quantifiable measurement that is used to evaluate a project and determine if it is performing as planned. KPIs can be anything from cost to time, scope, quality, and even inventory.
L – Construction Project Management Terms
50. Lean Construction
Lean Construction applies principles of lean manufacturing to the construction sector and, put simply, is an approach to the business of building things that aims to minimize waste and maximize value for all stakeholders.
51. LEED Certification
LEED certification (standing for Leadership Energy and Environmental Design) is a globally recognized symbol of sustainable achievement and leadership, and a framework for constructing “healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving buildings.”
LiDAR is an acronym for light detection and ranging, a form of three-dimensional mapping technology that sees by reflecting light instead of sound. Also referred to as laser scanning, or LiDAR radar, LiDAR creates 3D maps of physical space by measuring precise distances and spatial relationships between objects and features within an environment.
M – Construction Project Management Terms
53. Master Schedule
A master schedule provides stakeholders the project’s major deliverables, key milestones, and a work breakdown structure summary.
A Megaproject is a large, complex, multimillion dollar project that often span many years and require both private and public stakeholders. Example megaprojects include the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and the California High-Speed Rail.
A milestone refers to a specific point along a project’s lifecycle and timeline that is used to bookmark upcoming major accomplishments (e.g., the start, finish, external review, budget checks, etc.). Milestones serve as checkpoints along the project that must be reached in order to successfully complete the project.
56. Minimally Viable Product (MVP)
Minimally viable product (aka: MVP) refers to the version of a product with just enough features to be usable by early customers who can then provide feedback for future product development.
The “mission-critical” tag is used to describe a task, service, or system that, upon failure or disruption, could cause entire operational failure.
N – Construction Project Management Terms
58. Net Present Value
Net Present Value (NPV) refers to the difference between the current value of cash and the value of cash in the future. Project managers use this metric to determine whether the predicted financial gains of a project will warrant the present-day investment.
59. Nonlinear management (NLM)
Nonlinear management is an approach that allows organizations to evolve and adapt over time rather than follow a ridged, unchanging management structure. The approach encompasses agile, evolutionary, and lean management practices.
O – Construction Project Management Terms
60. Offsite Construction
Offsite construction refers to the process of planning, designing, fabricating, and/or assembling a structure at a location other than where the final structure will ultimately be installed.
Types of offsite construction include:
Overhead in construction refers to business expenses and operating costs (such as accounting, subscription costs for project management software, equipment purchasing, and preventive maintenance) which are “associated with running a business [and that] can’t be linked to creating or producing a product or service.” Overhead costs are “expenses the business incurs to stay in business, regardless of its success level.”
A construction overrun refers to any unexpected incurred cost(s) that causes a project to exceed the overall budget (terms) you’ve agreed to with your client, known as construction cost overruns, while construction overruns may also refer to unexpected schedule or scope changes that have a negative monetary effect on a project.
P – Construction Project Management Terms
63. Planning Fallacy
The planning fallacy refers to the phenomenon that states that the actual time needed to complete a task is always longer than estimated.
64. Program Manager
While a project manager oversees individual projects, a program manager oversees the fulfillment of larger organizational goals through the strategic coordination of multiple projects instead of directly managing them.
65. Project Charter
A Project Charter is a statement of the scope, objectives, and participants in a project, and serves as the document that makes everyone involved in the project aware of its purpose and goals.
66. Project Hierarchy
A project hierarchy is a tool that helps project managers analyze and communicate a project’s objectives by organizing them into different levels of a hierarchy or tree.
67. Proof of Concept
A proof of concept, also called a proof of principle, determines the feasibility of an idea verifies that an idea will function as envisioned.
Q – Construction Project Management Terms
68. Quality Assurance
Quality assurance refers to the processes and practices used to ensure a project meets specified requirements.
R – Construction Project Management Terms
69. Risk Management
Risk management in construction includes methods to mitigate common liabilities that construction companies may become victim to, including:
- OSHA’s “Fatal Four” and Other Worker Injuries
- Client Grievances: Shoddy Workmanship and Quality Assurance Risks
- Subcontractor Disputes & Safety
- Construction Downtime Issues
70. Resource Breakdown Structure
A resource breakdown structure is a hierarchical list of resources required for project work that is categorized by type and function.
A retrospective is a collaborative meeting held by a team at the conclusion of a project with the express goal of reflecting on the project's overall performance in order to evaluate its achievements and shortcomings as well as to identify opportunities for improvement.
Rework in construction refer to any activities in the field that have been done more than once (i.e., changes or deviations where work has to be redone).
S – Construction Project Management Terms
73. Scope Creep
Scope creep refers to when a project’s scope is changed or expanded after the project has begun. Scope creep usually results due to a poorly defined project scope, miscommunication, or project mismanagement, and can be costly to businesses often impeding the progress of a project’s development.
See also: construction overrun
Scrum is a framework that helps teams software work together by helping them self-organize while working on a problem and reflect on their wins and losses to continuously improve.
75. Smart Building
A smart building is a structure enmeshed with a fully-integrated IoT style network of advanced and often automated technological systems aimed at enhancing the efficiency, operability, safety, and comfort of the building.
76. SMART Goals
SMART Goals refer to Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals set in order to guide development of achievable goals within a project.
T – Construction Project Management Terms
Takeoff refers to the process where contractors determine how much of each material is needed to complete a project.
78. Technical Debt
Technical debt is defined within software as “accrued work that is ‘owed’ to an IT system [… that can] in the long term impact performance, scalability, reliance, or similar characteristics of the system.”
We’ve previously defined technical debt within the construction industry, as referring to literal software technical debt—e.g., the increasingly complicated software systems and manpower needed to maintain them (or replace them)—as well as growing process inefficiencies at construction companies (e.g., when working alongside subcontractors, various specialty trades, and customers).
U – Construction Project Management Terms
80. Use Case
The term use case(s) refers to all the potential ways an end-user could conceivably use a project or service. Defining use cases can be helpful to understand a project’s scope and requirements and shape its design.
V – Construction Project Management Terms
81. Vendor Management
Vender management refers to all activities and practices that help ensure that chosen vendors deliver procurement items according to schedule and up to quality standards.
VUCA is an acronym which stands to volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, first introduced by the US Army War College dating back to the late 1980s and the Cold War. The term has since been adopted in various fields, including project management, and highlights the complex and unpredictable nature of the business environment.
W – Construction Project Management Terms
83. Waterfall Methodology
Unlike agile methodology, the waterfall approach uses a sequential delivery method whereby each stage of a project needs to be completed prior to the next beginning. It is common in manufacturing sectors.
84. Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
A work breakdown structure divides larger tasks into smaller ones, making it easier for managers to explain the responsibilities of the tasks and allocate time to ensure their completion.
85. Work-in-progress (WIP)
A work-in-progress (WIP) is a task or series of tasks currently under development. A WIP may also refer to an incomplete task that is currently under review. Delivering WIPs (that is to say, versions rather than whole projects) can help managers better understand what the final deliverable might look like while allowing them to make or suggest necessary changes before completion of the final version is underway.
About the AuthorLucas is Content Marketing and SEO Manager for Milwaukee Tool, where he and his team raise awareness about the company’s digital products and educate users on best practices through a variety of content vehicles. More Content By Lucas Marshall
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