The beginning of any project is definitely overwhelming. The amount of planning and work required is something you should take seriously as there are hundreds of tasks and responsibilities that have to be taken care of.
To ensure that every little detail associated with a new project is completed at the right time and in the right sequence, project managers should break the project down into different phases. Dividing your project into phases provides a simplified structure and a solid foundation that can help you build and progress with the project goals.
The following article will explore a project life cycle and explain the five logical phases of a project. Let’s go!
What is a Project Lifecycle?
If you’re a project manager, studying to be one or just considering project management as a potential future career, there is no doubt that you’ve heard of the term project lifecycle. But what exactly is a project lifecycle? Let’s try to define it first, before moving on to the project management steps.
A project life cycle is a series of phases or steps that a specific project goes through right from its very beginning all the way to its closure. It’s a basic framework of all the activities that has to be done in order for a project to be running.
The phases of a project life cycle have a start, control point and are constrained by time. Moreover, the project lifecycle can be defined and edited based on the needs and aspects of the company or organization. There are several factors that may affect the project management steps, including the nature of the project, the needs of the organization working on the project and finally, the application area of the project. Basically, these factors may determine the style, type and sequence of your project lifecycle.
The project life cycles can range from pran-driven or predictive approaches to adaptive or change-driven approaches. In a predictive or plan-driven life cycle, the project specifics are defined at the very beginning and if any changes occur, they are carefully considered and pre-decided.
In an adaptive project life cycle, a product or service is developed over multiple iterations and the scope is defined as the iteration begins.
Typically, whether your company or organization requires an adaptive or predictive project life cycle, there are 5 main phases or steps to include in your project life cycle. These five project management steps are often referred to as the five project management process groups.
What are the Five Project Management Steps?
As mentioned, the standard framework for any project management life cycle involves five project management processes. Your project life cycle can vary and be unique in its structure, detail and focus, however,, the standard framework will always consist of the following generic life cycle structure. These five project management steps or phases include:
- Initiation phase
- Planning phase
- Execution phase
- Monitoring and control phase
- Project closure
The following part of the article will explain in more detail each one of the phases, allowing you to fully understand how to organize your project into phases that will work for you and your team. Let’s take a closer look at each one of the phases.
1️. Initiation Phase
The initiation phase is the first out of five project management steps. This is where you measure the value and feasibility of the project. To decide whether or not a project is worth pursuing, project managers usually use two evaluation tools:
- Feasibility Study – This is an evaluation of the goals, timeline and costs of the project in order to determine if the project should be executed. It explains if the requirements of the project can be met with the available resources and concludes if pursuing the project makes sense at all.
- Business Case – This is a document that explains the need for the project and what are going to be the financial benefits from committing to the project.
If the project is labeled as unprofitable or unfeasible will quickly be abandoned. Projects that are able to pass those two evaluations can be assigned to a project manager.
The best way to understand the goals and challenges of a project is to prepare a business plan or a brief that will outline the purpose and needs of the project from a business perspective. When kicking off a project or looking for further investments, having this kind of research prepared is essential for all parties involved. Stakeholders, team members and everyone involved should be in agreement on project goals and objectives.
2️. Planning Phase
If you get thumbs up on your project, you have to craft a solid plan that will guide the time and keep them on track with deadlines, budget and other requirements. A well-written and detailed project plan will give the team direction and important information on how to obtain resources, acquire finances and produce required materials. Moreover, it will let everyone know how to produce quality output, handle risk, communicate benefits and manage suppliers.
A project plan will also list any obstacles or issues that might be encountered over the course of the project and will help the team understand how to face them.
A common method for setting goals is using S.M.A.R.T. Smart goals are a way to properly understand how the goal-setting process works. The acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.
3️. Execution Phase
When you’re entering the execution phase of your project, that means that you’ve received business approval and you’ve done all the planning. If all team members are on the same page, that means it’s time to take actions.
A popular way to commence this phase is to do with a project kickoff meeting. A kickoff meeting is the first meeting between a project team and a potential client. During this meeting, you can introduce the team and provide everyone with a better understanding of the project and how important it is to penetrate the market with it.
In addition to preparing for a project kickoff meeting, there are some other essential tasks you must complete during the project execution stage. These tasks include but are not limited to the following:
- Assemble a team
- Assign tasks
- Assign project resources
- Execute project management plans
- Set up tracking and evaluation systems
- Conduct effective team meetings
- Conduct frequent status meetings
- Update project plan if needed
- Update project schedule
- & more…
4️. Monitoring and Control Phase
Stage 4 is about ensuring that the project runs smoothly and everything is going according to plan. As a project manager, you have to keep a close eye on the following KPIs (key performance indicators):
- Effort and cost: Measure the effort and cost of resources to ensure the budget is on track and all deadlines will be met.
- Timeline: Is everything going according to predetermined timelines? Are tasks taking longer than expected?
- Team performance: Are team members completing their tasks on time? Is someone slacking or causing problems? Learn how to measure employee productivity and make sure everyone is contributing to the project objectives.
- Quality of deliverables: Are specific task deliverables met?
- Project goals: Is the project on schedule and is the budget properly allocated according to the objectives of the stakeholders?
During this phase of the project, you have to also know that you might have to adjust schedules, modify budget and resources, if needed.
5️. Project Closure
You can consider a project closed when you and your team deliver a finished product to the customer and inform the stakeholders of the completion. This is a vital project management step as it allows you to evaluate and document the life of the project, as well as what you did well and what not. Moving on to a new project with good knowledge of all the mistakes you made and all successes you achieved during your previous project can help you build stronger and better teams.
To determine if your project was successful or not, you have to:
- Evaluate project performance;
- Analyze team member’s performance;
- Document the project closure
- Account for budgeting
- Final meeting
Project management can definitely seem overwhelming but if you break it down into the above-mentioned project management steps, you will be able to manage even the most complex projects.
Keep in mind that these are basic project management steps and although it’s a standard guideline to follow, it can most certainly be altered to fit the needs and requirements of your organization or stakeholders.
Last but not least, in addition to steps and frameworks which are great to have in your back pocket, you should also arm yourself with motivation, empathy and patience in order to be a successful project manager. Now go plan your next big project!