The 4 Phases of the Project Management Life Cycle

By Piyush Bhatia 21-Dec-2022
The 4 Phases of the Project Management Life Cycle
To an outsider, it might seem like a project involves nothing too serious. A few conversations, a few meetings and several phone calls are all it takes to manage a project - or at least that is what it looks like. But it takes a lot more than that. If you know a project manager or if you are one yourself, you would know that a project life cycle is an intricate series of processes that work in combination with one another to ensure a project is completed successfully.

What is a Project Life Cycle?

To give a better definition, a project life cycle is the sequence of phases that a project can be broken down into from start to finish. The number of cycles and the sequence in which they are carried out is determined by the organisation that is executing the project and the members who play a role in its management. Other factors affecting this cycle are the size and needs of the organisation, nature of the project and the area of its application. 
Each phase of the project has a definite start and end and is time-constrained. However, the main objectives, deliverables and activities within each phase vary widely. A project life cycle can range from a plan-driven approach to a change-driven one, or a predictive to an adaptive approach. Under a predictive approach, the exact deliverables and details are defined at the start of the project, and any changes in the scope of work are carefully evaluated. In an adaptive life cycle, the product is developed over several iterations and the detailed scope of work is defined for each iteration only.

Phases of the Project Life Cycle

The project management team and the project manager have the same goal - to work towards meeting the objectives laid down for the project. Every project is unique and it’s detailed structure varies according to demand and industry. However, their standard framework is largely the same. It is made up of the following phases:
  1. The Initiation Phase: understanding the goals, priorities, deadlines and risks of the project
  2. The Planning Phase: outlining the tasks and timelines for the project
  3. The Execution Phase: actioning the plans that have been made and monitoring project performance
  4. The Termination Phase: handing over the project, analysing results and summarising key learnings
Let’s look at each phase in a little more detail.

1. Initiation Phase

During the initiation phase, the project management team identifies the objective or the need for the project. This phase aims to define and authorise the project, which is done by creating a project charter. It includes the following information:
  • The mission, vision and purpose of the project
  • Measurable objectives and key performance indicators
  • Project descriptions, conditions and risks well explained
  • Name and authority of the project sponsor
  • All the stakeholders and their role
One the need of the project is established, an appropriate response to it is documented along with recommended solution options. A feasibility study is conducted to confirm if each option addresses the project objective, following which a final recommended solution is determined. Issues like whether it is possible to do the project within the timelines and budgets, along with justifications of why the project should be done, are addressed in this phase of the project.
The role of the project manager is very important during this phase. As a manager, you must be able to sell business leaders on the value you offer at a strategic level by being a part of the strategic planning and decision-making process. 
After the recommended solution is mutually agreed upon by the stakeholders, the project is considered initiated. A project manager is assigned to oversee the project, who has to identify deliverables and break them down according to the application and nature of the task. The project manager also identifies participating workgroups and a designated team is formed to execute the project. Once the team is allotted and the roles are roughly stated, it becomes easier to move into the next phase of the project. The project manager takes approval from the other stakeholders to move on to the Planning Phase.

2. Planning Phase

This phase is where the project solution is developed in as detailed a manner as possible and the next steps necessary to meet the project objective are planned. Overall, your planning can be divided into two parts - strategic planning and implementation planning. Strategic planning focuses on the overall approach to the project’s execution, such as processes and budgeting. Implementation planning, on the other hand, deals with how these decisions can be implemented.
The first important step is to create a project plan. This includes identifying a project timeline, including the phases of the project, the tasks at hand and any restrictions that might pose a problem. The project manager also collaborates with the team to visualise working processes to make sure team members clearly know their role during the different stages of the project. 
Budgeting is an important part of the planning phase. It is essential to have an overview of when and where your project will cost you more and plan accordingly. Budgets are one of the two major project restrictions and it is imperative that funds are allotted to different tasks and phases smartly.
During this phase, your role as a project manager is to gather resources and build your team using both internal and external resources. Also, ensure your team has access to both hardware and software tools needed to play their part in the project and complete their tasks.
Don’t overlook the risks and potential roadblocks that lie ahead. There will always be several external factors that are beyond your control that might cause a delay in your project execution. You must plan for all those obstructions to mitigate risks and maintain project quality while ensuring the timelines are met.
At this point in the project lifecycle, the project needs to be planned in detail so that it is ready to execute.

3. Execution or Implementation Phase

This phase effectively turns plans into action. This phase is known by different names in different industries, such as the implementation phase or the monitoring and controlling phase. As a project manager, your main responsibilities can be clubbed into three parts. 
  1. Monitor and control the execution process. This involves regularly reviewing the quality of the team’s output and ensuring timelines are being adhered to.
  2. Adjust and update the goals and tasks as the project progresses. Your project will never work in the same manner or through the same conditions throughout the cycle. Conditions will keep changing, both positively and negatively. You must keep updating goals and timelines to meet these changing conditions.
  3. Communicate between your team and stakeholders. You need to ensure the flow of communication is smooth from both sides. You also need to ensure proper communication between the members of your team and different departments as well. Regular team meetings can help you achieve this goal.

Many times during the project, you will feel that you are steering off-course and getting diverted. In such situations, holding regular team meetings will help you identify where the problem lies and bring the project back on course. If it is not possible to return to the original plan of action, for whatever reason, you must state the new changes on record so that all stakeholders are aligned. The project plan must be updated and published regularly. 

Status reports should always emphasise the anticipated rise or fall and the exact endpoint in terms of cost, schedule and quality of deliverables. Every project deliverable that is produced should be reviewed for quality and measured against the acceptance criteria. It must also be measured against the other project deliverables so that they are all aligned and don’t appear to be different silos. Once all the deliverables are ready and the client has accepted your final solution, your project is ready for closure and you can move on to the final phase of your project lifecycle.

Additional Read: The Decision Making Process in 7 Steps

4. Closure or Termination

Once you have reached your goals and the project deliverables have been signed off on by all the stakeholders involved, it is time for the closing or termination phase of the project. During this phase, you must hand off the deliverables to the client. You also must relieve your team members and release them from their roles on the project.
Many things will go wrong during each phase of the project cycle. Wrong doesn’t necessarily mean disastrous, it merely means not as planned. The way to make every project a positive learning experience is by recording every step and every change that took place during the lifecycle of the project. A project retrospective is as much about reviewing the success of your project as it is about discovering insights and uncovering learnings that you can apply to future projects. The wisdom of experience is transferred to the team and other stakeholders through this in-depth analysis, which will be helpful to your team in future and also to other teams working on similar projects.
Another constructive task you can perform during the closing phase can be to analyse the performance of the team and identify strengths and weaknesses, based on the quality of their work and how well they can meet their deadlines.
  • To sum up, after every project make sure you
  • Analyse the project’s performance
  • Analyse your team’s performance
  • Document the closure of the project and authorise and formally close the project
  • Conduct post-implementation reviews
  • Account for used and unused budgets and allocate remaining resources for future projects

Characteristics of a Project Life Cycle

This project life cycle is used to deal with upper management and other people who are less familiar with the project. This lifecycle commonly exhibits the following characteristics:
  • In the beginning, cost and staffing levels are low. They reach a peak when the project execution is in progress and once again drops when the project nears its closure.
  • The typical cost and staffing curve doesn’t apply to all projects. Significant expenditure is needed while acquiring resources early during the project too.
  • Risk and uncertainty are at a peak during the start of the project. They lower as the project progresses.
  • The cost of making new changes and fixing errors increases as the project approaches completion. The chances of affecting the final product without adding to the costs are highest at the beginning of the project.

ALSO READ: 6 Major Factors Affecting Project Management Success in your Organisation

Benefits to the Organisation

Project management course online can teach you everything you need to know about a project life cycle and how to implement it. This cycle has many benefits 
  • It improves efficiency and profitability
  • It streamlines operations in the organisation
  • It improves communication
  • It emphasises on reporting and examining previous projects

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Piyush Bhatia

Piyush is a highly-accomplished PMP Certified Project Manager Trainer with a verifiable track record of managing complex IT and Financial projects. He has extensive experience in the implementation of Business Analysis tasks, Client Management, Financial Accounting, and Risk Management.