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Iryna Viter

5 Phases of a Project Life Cycle, Untangled

Every project has a life cycle. Follow us as we unravel the ball of phases it includes and what they're all about.

Projects vary in terms of size, complexity, and duration. However, all projects go through a series of project management phases throughout their life cycle — what we call the Project Management Life Cycle.

Without it, managing a project would be an ad hoc journey where you’d have to figure things out as you go. The main benefit of having a project life cycle is that it provides structure and organization to what would otherwise be a chaotic process.

But what is a project life cycle? What are project phases? This article will explain the concept and drill down into each phase and its processes.

What is a project management life cycle?

A project management life cycle is the series of phases that a project passes through from its initiation to its closure. Each phase is characterized by its own set of processes required to complete it successfully.

To deliver a successful project, project managers need to overcome five stages. The PMBOK Guide, written by the Project Management Institute defines these as:

  • Initiating - The initiating process determines whether there is a need for a project and if so, why. This phase includes identifying who will be on the project team, what resources are needed, and how the work will be executed.
  • Planning - The planning phase in the project life cycle organizes how the work will be performed and what will be necessary in terms of tools and other resources. This phase heavily involves setting expectations with stakeholders, defining milestones and deliverables, creating a budget, and establishing a timeline.
  • Executing - The executing process puts the plan into action and delivers whatever has been outlined in it. This phase requires various teams to perform their respective tasks and stay on schedule according to the plan created in the previous stage.
  • Monitoring & Controlling - The monitoring and controlling process ensures that everything is progressing according to plan. In this phase, any deviations from
  • Closing - Finally, the work is done! Now it's time to record the learnings from this project and approve its final delivery before the handover.

Let's take a closer look at all project life cycle phases.

Phase 1: Project Initiation

Before you can move forward with a project, you need to know exactly what it is and why you’re doing it. That’s where the project initiation phase comes in.

Project initiation is the first phase in the project management life cycle. It usually begins with a decision to invest in a new product or service. The point of this phase is to identify key project objectives and project goals, create a business case, and obtain approval from project stakeholders to move forward.

project initiation phase

When you’re initiating a project, it’s important to consider several factors, such as:

  • What are the potential benefits of your project?
  • What type of value will your organization gain from completing it?
  • Is there an existing solution you can use instead of developing something new?

Project managers might also need to double check their resource availability charts to secure the availability of people and skills needed for the project.

Phase 2: Project Planning

Once the project is approved, the project planning phase can begin.

In the course of project planning, your focus is to scope out a project and build a project plan. A project manager will design the components of the project and lay down roles and responsibilities.

This is the phase in which you will define what you are working on: what are key milestones, what are your deliverables, who is working on them, when will they be completed? What materials do you have available to you? How many team members do you need to complete the project?

project planning phase

During the project planning phase, it's important to manage expectations. If you are working with clients or stakeholders, take time to create an agenda for meetings so everyone understands what is being discussed and how long the meeting will last. It's also important to schedule regular check-ins with your team members so that everyone feels heard and their needs are being met.

You also need to establish a baseline for your project. Defining a project baseline ensures you have enough information to successfully manage it. The baseline contains the schedule, budget, and scope—the three components that need careful planning before you begin executing the actual work phases of the project.

Phase 3: Project Execution

The project execution phase is where the rubber meets the road. It’s where you actually get to work on your exciting project plan and start seeing results.

At this phase, it’s critical to manage all project resources effectively (from people to materials). The best way to ensure that everyone is working towards the same goal is to make sure your communications are clear and coordinated.

For example, when assigning one of your teammates a specific task, give them all of the information they need so they can be successful in their role. This means providing them all of the relevant details about the next steps for their task, as well as deliverables and timelines so they know what’s expected from them.

To avoid any confusion during this crucial stage, make sure that expectations are clearly set for all stakeholders involved (management team, employees, customers).

project execution phase

Phase 4: Project Monitoring

As part of project monitoring, project managers focus on the following:

  • Monitor project cost: Ensure that the costs of your project are accurately reflected in your reports.
  • Track project progress: Keep track of the progress of your project and make sure that you can show all stakeholders what's going on. To do so, you might want to look at your schedule variance report.
  • Compare actuals to planned: Compare the actual results you've gotten on your project to where you hoped to be when you started.
  • Control scope: Make sure the project stays on track and doesn't get bloated by unrelated changes or feature creep.

You may have a tendency to concentrate too much on the results (time, cost, scope) while forgetting that they can be managed effectively by controlling their key drivers (quality, risks, changes). Make sure you pay attention to quality management processes as well as project scope and schedule control.

project monitoring phase

Phase 5: Project Closing

The objective of the project closure phase, also known as project completion, is to formally close out your project. During this phase, you should:

  • Hand over the project to the stakeholders - This step allows the stakeholders to review the project and determine whether they want to move forward with it in its current state or not.
  • Review the results of your project - You'll also want to review any feedback from your client and other team members.
  • Approve final delivery - Here, you'll sign off on the work you've done, as well as on any deliverables that were outlined in your original contract with your client.
  • Record and document project lessons learned - You should record all of the information about what went well and what went poorly during your project so that you can use it for future projects.
project closing phase

The five phases of project management guide you from start to finish.

A project life cycle includes everything from preparing to launch the project all the way to closing it out and handing it over. The specific stages may vary from one type of project to another, depending on what kind of work is involved. However, above we've described five main phases that most projects will follow. It may be a lot to take in, but if you're new to project management, you might want to check the following guides:

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