Did you know?

Whether you’re new to project management or someone with years of project management experience, deep down, you know, completing a project is never going to be easy. Why? Well, no matter how long you’ve been working in this industry, each project has a different story and a different set of challenges to meet.

Unrealistic expectations, changing priorities, communication issues, inadequate risk management, scope creep—these are just some of the most common reasons for project failure. There are hundreds of other reasons that affect the big picture i.e. the project management life cycle and contribute to deciding the success or failure of a given project.

To ensure the success of a project, it is important for both managers and executives to get familiar with the DOs and DON'Ts of a project life cycle. They need to understand the definition, phases, principles, benefits, and potential resources (for example—project management software) that support the project life cycle. And that’s where this guide will come in handy.

What is the project life cycle in project management?   

A project life cycle is how a project happens. It's basically a highfalutin way of representing the different parts of a project management process, from how a project begins to how it finally ends. The project life cycle for each project may differ as per the specific needs of an organization, however, the key phases remain the same. 

The overall objective of project management is to get a project completed and delivered within the desired time, budget, and quality. The project life cycle is a strategic plan/overview that defines how project management will be done—it’s a roadmap for everyone to follow. 

What are the phases of the project life cycle?

The five key phases of the project life cycle are as follows:

1. Initiation

The first phase of the project life cycle marks the beginning of the project. During this phase, you find answers to high-level questions like “Why is the project required?”, “Is the project feasible or not?”, “Have you worked on a similar project before?”, “What exactly is needed to complete the project?”, and so on. The outcome of this phase provides a foundation to proceed to the next phase…  and the next phase… and the next one until you complete the project.

Steps to follow for project initiation:

  • Create a project charter – Define the vision, objective, and goals of the project.
  • Identify project scope and deliverables – Define the product and outcomes that need to be delivered.
  • Conduct a feasibility study – ldentify the primary issues and their possible solutions.
  • Identify project stakeholders – Identify people who are affected by the project, and what are their needs.

2. Planning

The next phase is where you put you and your team’s brainpower at work. During the project planning phase, project managers detail data like project scope, potential risks, expected time frame, budget baseline, schedule charting, individual/group goals, etc.

Steps to follow for project planning:

  • Create a Project Plan – Visualize the phases, activities, tasks, dependencies, constraints, and schedules within a project timeline using a Gantt chart tool. 
  • Create a cost management plan – Define a cost estimate for the project and create a plan to meet the maximum cost.
  • Create a resource management plan – Put together a great team and schedule the available resources (team and time) needed to complete the project.
  • Create a risk management plan – Keep your eyes open for all possible risks, issues, and dependencies, and create a mitigation plan for how you avoid or overcome them.
  • Create a team collaboration plan – Set some ground rules for project communication. Plan the communication cadence. Find the right communication medium (aside from email) and add it to your everyday work process.
  • Get everyone onboard – Brief everyone on the project plan and get them onboard to proceed.

3. Execution

This phase is all about communication within the organization. During the execution phase, everyone associated with the project (manager, team, clients, and stakeholders) coordinate and guide each other to get work done as planned through effective communication. The best way to get through this phase is to kick workplace communication up a notch with team collaboration software solutions and team chat apps.

Steps to follow for project execution:

  • Create and assign tasks – Clearly define the tasks that need to be done and assign individual/group to each task. Use a Kanban board to see various tasks moving through different project management stages (to-do, doing, and done).
  • Conduct task briefing – Ensure that everyone on the team is clear about what they need to do as an individual and as a group, how and by when.
  • Keep communication consistent and thorough – Make sure that everyone is informing and updating each other at the right time using the right channel. 

4. Monitoring and controlling

This is the phase where you ensure that your project outcomes are in compliance with your project plans. Whether its time, cost or performance, there is always room for improvement at every stage of a project. All you have to do is find that room and make the necessary adjustments to keep things on the expected track.

Steps to follow for project monitoring and controlling:

  • Review cost and time management – Review timesheets and project reports against the initial project estimates and plans.
  • Review quality management – Review project deliverables and ensure that you've met the defined criteria and expectations.
  • Review risk management – Monitor, control, manage and mitigate potential risks as soon as they arrive.
  • Review change management – If a project isn't going as per the plan, do the necessary changes to ensure that it does.

5. Completion

This is the final phase of the project life cycle—the closure or completion phase. During this phase, you review and finalize each project deliverable and mark the project “completed”. Additionally, you celebrate each individual's contribution to the project’s success and jot down learning that can be used to similar or upcoming projects.   

Steps to follow for project closure/completion:

  • Do a quick project performance analysis – Take a look at how well the project was managed (by you and by other team members), compare the final outcome against the initial estimates, check the unforeseen risks (if any), check whether the communication within the team is constructive, and so on.
  • Do all the necessary project documentation – Document the details of the project, from the initiation phase to final completion phase. 
  • Conduct a post-Implementation review – Do a formal analysis of successes and failures in the project, note down the resulting lessons and suggestions for future projects. 

Benefits of a well-defined project life cycle

Having a well-defined project life cycle poses numerous benefits. With the  goal-oriented phases and processes of the project life cycle, you (manager/team/client) can:

  • A structured approach for the delivery of the project.
  • Have a clear view of the entire project in one central place.
  • Clearly define activities and outputs for each phase.
  • Aid communication and define custom roles within the project management process.
  • Identify areas that need greater attention at different times.
  • Make important decisions using concrete information.
  • Track project progress in real-time.
  • Have regular reviews to confirm that the project is still viable and on plan.
  • Save, share, and proof project-critical files and documents in one place. 

Also, here are some snags of a poorly-defined project life cycle. 

  • Excessive rework, scope creep, poor communication, and unclear objectives are often there.
  • Teams find it too complex to estimate costs and are unable to define how much time is needed to complete a specific task in the project.
  • Security issues and interpersonal conflicts become common occurrences. 
  • The documentation involved in project management can be overwhelming.
  • Moving between different stages of project management can be challenging.

Software solutions that support the project life cycle

Traditionally, a project life cycle was all about whiteboards and sticky notes. But that's not what it is today. With the increasing popularity of technology and business automation, organizations have found a better, faster way to get projects planned, organized, discussed, monitored, controlled, and delivered. We are talking about the many integrated software solutions such as ProofHub, Clarizen, Asana, Basecamp, Zoho Projects, Celoxis, Scoro, etc. There are project management software and tools that are designed to make project management easier than ever. Each of the tool available in the market today has its own set of special features, pricing plans, and one-thing-special-about-it. For example, in ProofHub you get all the needed tools in one software suite for a reasonable price (no per-user condition applied), likewise, in Zoho Projects, you get integrations for all the other Zoho products, which is kind of a big deal. The point is, there are plenty of powerful solutions available in the market, each one with its own set of special features and functionality - all you need to do is find the right tool for your business and projects.

There you go! This is all you need to know to get started with your next project and its project life cycle. As always, we would love to hear about your suggestions and experiences with project management. So, tell us how we helped or what we missed to add to this post in the comments below! 


Author Bio

Vartika Kashyap is the Marketing Manager at ProofHub and has been one of the LinkedIn Top Voices in 2018. Her articles are inspired by office situations and work-related events. She likes to write about productivity, team building, work culture, leadership, entrepreneurship among others and contributing to a better workplace is what makes her click.