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5 phases of the project life cycle

When starting a new project, it can be tempting to just dive straight in, especially if you’re running against a tight time schedule. However, this can be very overwhelming for your team and consequently produce unsatisfactory results. This is where the 5 phases of the project life cycle comes in. Breaking a project down into 5 phases not only provides a logical sequence of events for employees to follow, but also enables the project manager to track progress more effectively. It is essentially a roadmap, outlining the path a project takes to evolve from an idea into a fully-functioning and completed project.

PMI defines the 5 phases of the project management life cycle:

Phase 1: Initiation

The first step in the project life cycle is to define the project and understand the goals and objectives. A business case is carried out to research the project’s value and feasibility, providing justification for undertaking it. Once the project is given the green light, it can then be introduced to the team with a project initiation document (PID), summarising the overall purpose and requirements. This ensures everyone is on the same page in terms of project expectations and objectives from the very beginning.

Phase 2: Planning

With the project objectives defined, it’s time to establish a roadmap for everyone to follow. It’s essential to create a clear and concise plan for handling all aspects of the project, including:

Project scope - an outline of the project’s goals, deliverables, costs, tasks and deadlines

Work breakdown schedule - a visual diagram illustrating the project scope into more manageable sections

Gantt chart - a visual timeline used to schedule tasks and manage project deadlines

Risk management plan - identify foreseeable risks and determine strategies to prevent them from occurring, or reduce their impact if prevention is not possible

Communication plan - how you plan to communicate and share information with your clients, team and other stakeholders

Phase 3: Execution

This is where things really start to take off. The team is well underway with their tasks and the project manager is busy managing and reviewing their progress. But before all this can happen, it’s important to arrange a kick-off meeting to get the project execution off to a good start. The project team, client and other stakeholders may attend this meeting to ensure everyone is on the right track and knows what is expected of them.

Phase 4: Monitoring and Controlling

A project that runs smoothly is music to any project manager’s ears. Project managers must monitor and control the project progress to ensure every aspect is aligned with the plan. This is sometimes combined with the execution phase, as monitoring tasks whilst being executed is vital to track progression. Factors to consider are: objectives, budgets, quality of deliverables and team performance.

Phase 5: Closure

That’s a wrap! Once the project is completed and all parties are satisfied, the only thing left to implement is project closure:

  • Terminate any contractors
  • Ensure all documentation has been reported and stored appropriately
  • Inform stakeholders of the completion
  • Deliver the project to the client.

A post-mortem meeting is also very useful to gather the team and reflect on the project as a whole. This is the perfect opportunity to determine what went well and identify any areas of improvement for future projects.

PMP, PRINCE2, PMI-ACP and PgMP are all great courses that provide comprehensive insight into the world of projects and project management, covering all stages in the project life cycle and further project management framework.