Article Overview

Have you ever wondered what’s involved in the different phases of the project lifecycle? Which activities go in which stage? During this article, I’ll be explaining each stage, what happens in each stage and what you need to be aware of.

Table of Contents 

  1. What Are the 5 Stages of the Project Lifecycle?
  2. Why Are the 5 Stages so Important 
    1. Initiation Phase 
    2. Planning Phase
    3. Execution Phase
    4. Monitoring and Controlling
    5. Project Closure  
  3. How to Move Trough Each Phase 
  4. Conclusion 

What Are the 5 Stages of the Project Lifecycle?

When I talk about the project lifecycle, I am talking about the PMBOK Lifecycle that you will see when reading the PMBOK.1

INITIATION: Define the start of a new project or a new phase of an existing project

PLANNING: Establish scope, define objectives and work out how to achieve the objectives defined.

EXECUTION: Complete all of the work defined during the planning phase

MONITORING AND CONTROLLING: Aim to track and verify the progress and performance of the project. Identify and initiate changes

CLOSING: Formally close the project 

Why Are the 5 Stages so Important?

Initiation Phase

This is the starting phase of any project. Often in projects, this can get confused or bundled up with the planning phase but it really deserves its own phase! We start projects with a Business Case and a viability study to confirm if the project should be done in the first place. I’ve seen many companies skip this stage and fail to identify the stakeholders necessary to make the project a success. 

The output of this phase is the: Project Initiation Document (PID) or a project charter which will be updated during the planning phase.

Planning Phase

I cannot stress the importance of this phase. If you do the planning phase correctly, you can not only ensure a successful project but you will give yourself a much easier time managing the project in total! When I was learning how to run projects, I was told that “if we spent a larger proportion of our time doing effective and adequate planning that it would reduce down the likelihood for major rework later in the project”. This has been true in every project that I’ve worked on.

This phase will include the following steps:

  • Defining the scope statement

This document clearly defines the scope of the project, proven viability/ business need, deliverables, milestones and project objectives. I use this document to discuss and ascertain my stakeholders for the project

  • Develop the project management plan. This will include the following documents:

Risk Management Plan

Identify all of the possible risks within your project. I recommend doing this in a workshop with groups of your key stakeholders to ensure that you’re capturing all aspects of your project and its delivery. Don’t forget to consider things like: infrastructure, process changes and resources.

Communication Plan

This is a vital part of Stakeholder management. In this plan, you’ll create an overview of how you’ll communicate to your stakeholders, on what frequency (e.g. daily/weekly/monthly) and in which manner (face to face/email/ workshop).

Stakeholder Plan

Identify who are stakeholders in your project. A good question to ask is: “Who is impacted (positively or negatively) by your project? Who is influential?

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

This is the detailed breakdown of the scope of the project into workable tasks for the team to execute. Ideally, make the tasks not shorter than 1 work day.

Gantt Chart 

This is normally done in collaboration with the WBS and is a visual representation of the tasks to visually show the timeline of the project.


These are the signposts in your map that you need to achieve in your project for it to keep on track. Without doing effective tracking, you’re just following the status of tasks rather than looking strategically at the project direction. 

Milestones can also be used to communicate project progress

  • Establish baselines for the project

This is to ensure that you can check that the project remains on track. You can choose a variety of different baselines (e.g. cost / effort) and these may already be pre-defined by your PMO.

Whilst working on a recent project, I was met with a lot of resistance by the client when I wanted to perform an adequate project planning and it was escalated to Senior Management that I was “wasting time”. When I showed the client the outcome of the planning phase and the issues that we had identified that we’d need to work on to avoid major issues later in the project, they suddenly appreciated the effort made during this time and approved the project Stage Gate instantly.

Execution Phase

This phase is where everything happens! It’s where the activities are performed. This phase is often what people think of when they think of: “project management”. This has can be run concurrently with the “Monitoring and Controlling phase”. During the execution phase, you are working through the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and making sure that all of your documents are up to date/accurate. 

One area that often makes junior Project Managers stumble is updating all of the project artifacts. They do it once or twice during the project planning and then they are archived. This is a big mistake. If you can keep an eye and check on any changes that may occur in Project Risk and your Stakeholder Analysis, it can make your life a lot easier!

Some of the activities that you will be doing during this phase include:

  • Project status meetings with your team meetings    
  • Assigning tasks/reviewing progress made
  • Updating all project artifacts
  • Steering Committee Meetings

Monitoring and Controlling

This stage of the project is purely about measuring that the project remains on track and that everything is running according to the WBS/project plan. What is tracked during this stage is often decided during the project planning phase and could include topics like:

  • Milestone tracking
  • Quality deliverables
  • Effort tracking
  • Performance

For me, monitoring and controlling is a ‘health check’ on the status of my project. Although I may know the current status of all of the activities, I can sometimes get bogged down in the daily details and issues so it’s always useful to have the checks in place that will allow me to step back and analyze my project critically.

Project Closure

This is the final stage of a project and is often skipped or not done fully. This is a great opportunity to hold a retrospective for the project to ensure that lessons learned are implemented in other projects. Project closure also means releasing your resources to other projects and celebrating the achievement that has been delivered. Here are a few things that I like to do during Project Closure:

  • Lessons learned/ post mortem workshop with all team members involved to work out what we did well/ what did we learn / what can be improved in other projects. I will then use this information to feed into the Project Closure Report and also the PMO Lessons Learned Repository
  •  A formal project closure meeting with all stakeholders to sign off the project
  •  A team activity to reward the team for their effort and support

How to Move Through Each Stage

A common question that I’m asked is “How do you move through each stage”. I would recommend using stage gates to formally close a stage and ensure that everyone is aware of the current status of the project and the progress that has been made. A stage gate is a formal meeting with key stakeholders that will review all of the documentation/ current project status and decide if all of the metrics have been sufficiently fulfilled to move to the next stage of the project.


Managing the different stages of a project takes practice. You will make mistakes and you will struggle with not having distinct stages identified and worked on but if you can understand what tasks belong to each phase, you are already on the way to a successful project and becoming an accomplished Project Manager.




[1]PMBOK, PMI, Sixth Edition, 2017.