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.
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:
Let's take a closer look at all project life cycle phases.
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.
When you’re initiating a project, it’s important to consider several factors, such as:
Project managers might also need to double check their resource availability charts to secure the availability of people and skills needed for the project.
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?
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.
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).
As part of project monitoring, project managers focus on the following:
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.
The objective of the project closure phase, also known as project completion, is to formally close out your project. During this phase, you should:
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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