Understanding the 4 Phases of the Project Management Life Cycle
Project management is more than just organizing meetings, assigning a few tasks, and reminding the team about the deadline. It takes a lot of work to successfully complete a project. Naturally, the entire process can seem overwhelming.
To make the work more manageable, project managers use a tried and tested four-step framework, known as the project life cycle. This system helps in completing all tasks in the right sequence, and at the right time.
Regardless of the type of project you're undertaking, understanding the four phases of the project management life cycle is essential. It ensures ongoing projects are more organized and efficient. More importantly, it helps project managers attain project goals and objectives in a timely manner.
What Is the Project Life Cycle?
If you're new to the field of project management, you might be wondering what a Project Life Cycle means, right? Every project has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Each part is unique, and if not implemented correctly, it might disrupt the entire process and even lead to project failure.
Before starting a new project, a lot of planning is required if the project is to be completed successfully. Team leaders must identify which tasks need to be accomplished and in which order or sequence. This can seem like too much work. However, effective managers know to divide the entire project into phases to simplify the process and make it more achievable.
That's where the project life cycle phases come in. This is a framework that guides project managers to successfully run their projects from start to finish. Each of these phases of project management has its own agenda of tasks, characteristics, and issues.
When you break down the entire project into smaller chunks, it becomes easier to manage. Since you're tackling the project in phases, you can quickly identify a problem as soon as it arises and deal with it before it turns into an even bigger issue. For example, let's say you are in the initial stage of the project. Now, due to lack of information, the project fails to take off the right way. You’ll be able to address the communication breakdown before it affects the entire project.
Project Life Cycle Phases
Typically, there are four project life cycle phases that a standard project follows. These are:
1. Project Initiation
The first phase of the project life cycle is known as project initiation. In this stage, it's your role as the leader to measure and analyze the project’s value and feasibility. This will help you to determine whether or not to pursue it. If you decide to proceed, you need to find out the requirements of the project and its importance to your company. You must also determine whether you have the necessary resources to successfully complete it from start to finish.
In this stage, you meet with the clients and stakeholders to understand their objectives, goals, motivations, and expected outcomes of the project. There's a lot of research in this stage. Moreover, you must take into account all the minute details, like the scope, cost, and resources. This way, you can have a better understanding of the project.
Some of the steps involved in the initiation phase include:
- Undertaking the feasibility study – This will help you determine what problem needs to be solved. A feasibility study enables you to compare the requirements of the project and the available resources. This way, you can determine whether or not it makes sense to pursue it.
- Identifying and defining the scope of the project.
- Project description, including conditions and risks.
- A list of the concerned stakeholders.
- Project deliverables, where you define the product or service to be provided.
Once you have met these requirements, you’ll be able to create a project charter. This is a document that describes the scope, objectives, and resources of the project, as well as the roles and responsibilities of participants.
If a project is deemed unprofitable or unfeasible, teams should abandon it. Conversely, if the project passes this stage, it can then be assigned to the designated project team.
2. Project Planning
If the initiation stage receives the green light, the project goes into the second phase, which is planning. In this stage, the project leader establishes a more formal set of plans, detailing what needs to be done and how the project will be performed.
Planning is where you define the project roadmap that you’ll follow to succeed. Some of the questions that you need to address in the planning phase include:
- What are we going to do?
- How are we going to do it?
- When are we going to do it?
To achieve the project goals, you need to create smaller goals within the larger project. This way, the chances of success are potentially high. A project management plan helps leaders to manage resources, communicate benefits to stakeholders, and steer the team towards attaining the desired outputs. The planning phase also prepares teams for possible obstacles that they might encounter and helps them to understand the estimated costs and the project timeframe.
It's in the planning phase that teams try to identify and deal with issues that might threaten the successful completion of the project. In business, this is called “risk management.” Once potential problems have been identified, teams can either reduce the probability of them occurring. If the issue does occur, the risk management system will lower its impact.
The steps involved in the planning phase include:
- Creating a general plan, which will address the project timeline, the tasks that need to be performed, and possible potential threats.
- Creating a visualization of the entire process. Workflow diagrams will help the team to better understand their roles in a project.
- Creating a financial plan outlining budget estimates. It's important to work with a budget. It allows you to estimate material and labor costs to determine how much you need to spend on the project to get the maximum return on investment (ROI).
- Gathering and allocating resources. Building a team to undertake a project is not the only resource you need to consider. You will need resources like equipment, project management software solutions, cash, and workplace, to mention a few.
- Preparing for potential risks and quality roadblocks. Every project has a risk. It's how you prepare to deal with the risks that makes the difference between successful completion of the project or failure. Planning helps to identify those risks and ways to mitigate them.
As a project manager/leader, you must strive to achieve the project goals and objectives on time while ensuring the delivery of quality work. That’s only achievable with good project planning.
3. Project Implementation/Execution
At this point, you’ve assembled your team, established the project charter, and created a plan. The next project life cycle phase is to turn the plan into action. Here’s where the project manager organizes the team, arranges timelines, and ensures the project is on track and done according to the original plan.
During the execution phase of the project management life cycle, your work as the project leader is to assign tasks to team members and allocate them the necessary resources. Once you you’ve done that, your focus should be to continually monitor performance. This way, you can ensure that the project is run effectively and efficiently.
When tracking the performance of the team, you need a reliable solution like Traqq. This tool is designed to help team leaders manage the team efficiently, monitor each member’s activity levels, and communicate effectively. Since the success of the project depends on the team working together towards the same goal, Traqq simplifies the process.
Keep in mind that the execution phase heavily depends on the planning stage to be successful. All the resources and efforts are derived from project planning. If the plan was incomplete or wrong in the first place, then it can mess the entire process.
As a project manager, you must be prepared to adjust goals and roadmaps the deeper you get into the project. The steps involved in the project planning process include:
- Developing a team.
- Assigning resources accordingly.
- Monitoring and controlling the execution process.
- Frequently communicating with your team and project stakeholders to ensure that everything is going according to plan.
- Holding regular team meetings to report the progress of the project. Team leaders can then use the information gathered from the meeting to analyze the overall direction of the project, discuss any weaknesses and threats, and take corrective action.
- Adjusting and updating tasks, goals, and objectives as needed to address challenges as they arise.
- Updating the project schedule.
Throughout this stage, the manager should update sponsors and other key stakeholders on the status of the project. This should be done according to the agreed-upon plan on the frequency and format of communication.
The plan should not only be updated and published regularly. It should also emphasize the anticipated objectives and goals of the project in terms of cost, timeline, and quality of deliverables. That said, project managers should review each project deliverable produced to measure for quality against the set guidelines.
The deliverables will be reviewed, they will be presented to the concerned party (client/stakeholders). If they are accepted, the project is ready to move to the final closing stage.
4. Project Closure
Now, once the project is done, it's time for closure. It's important to note that a project is only completed once the deliverables have been accepted and approved by the concerned party/parties.
In this final phase of the project life cycle, your focus as the project manager is on product release and delivery. You'll also be tasked with terminating supplier contracts, releasing resources to other projects, and communicating the completion of the project to all stakeholders.
However, your work doesn’t stop there. You need to review the success of the project and evaluate what worked and what didn’t. Discussing these pertinent issues will help you determine what can be improved on future projects.
The steps involved in the closure phase of the project management life cycle include:
- Holding a retrospective meeting to review the success or failure of the project.
- Analyzing the project performance to determine whether or not the project goals were met.
- Analyzing and evaluating the team’s performance based on predetermined metrics. This information can later be compared to the goals of the project as well as the quality of work delivered, and whether it was delivered on time.
- Performing a final project budget and accounting for used and unused resources. All remaining resources should be allocated to future projects.
- Creating a closure document that outlines the project management steps you had to go through, the obstacles you encountered, and how you resolved issues. This document will prove useful for your future projects.
All the lessons learned from a project offer you great experience that makes you wiser going into other projects. For the untrained eye, project management may seem challenging and stressful. However, understanding the phases of project management helps managers to effectively handle even the most complex projects.