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Last updated on 1/27/23

Discover the Project Management Lifecycle

In the last chapter, we looked at what a project is and how the project management discipline helps efficiently deliver complex projects on time and within budget.

In this chapter, we will dive deeper into how a project manager delivers projects on time and within budget by looking at the project management lifecycle framework.

What Is the Project Management Lifecycle?

The project management lifecycle is a framework to manage each project phase for any project efficiently. By understanding each phase and the set activities within, the project manager increases the chances of project success.

There are four phases in the project management lifecycle:

  1. Initiating

  2. Planning

  3. Executing

  4. Closing

There is also monitoring, which is not a separate phase but an integral activity that starts with executing and continues through to closing.

The project management lifecycle phases can happen linearly or iteratively, depending on your methodology.  In this course, we will present the phases linearly, with each one following the previous one (called a waterfall methodology). Monitoring, which isn't a specific phase, happens concurrently from execution to closing.

Obliquely, from left to right, the phases are linked by an arrow in this order: Initiating, planning, executing, closing. Monitoring appears on the top right, in a circle enclosing the executing and closing phases.
The sequence of project management lifecycle phases

Discover the Initiating Phase

At the beginning of any project, a good question to ask is, "Should we be doing this project at all?". When initiating a project, there are several desired outcomes:

  1. Ensure that potential project ideas are investigated. Unjustified projects should be terminated at this stage.

  2. Officially commence the investigation into the project's potential business value and feasibility.

  3. Define and clarify the SMART goals and scope details of the project.

Typically, a business case document creates an outline of the project. This short document (a few pages) frames the project’s boundaries and explains the project’s opportunity, assumptions, constraints, estimated costs, and risks. You will learn to write a business case later in this course.

Once a business case is written, the project sponsor should decide if it is worth pursuing. At this point, a more detailed feasibility study may be conducted. You will learn to write a feasibility study later in this course.

What’s the difference between a business case and a feasibility study?

A business case helps answer the question, "Do we want to do this?" The feasibility study answers the question, "Are we able to do this?".

Assuming the project is approved (by the project sponsor) after the business case and feasibility study, a document called a project charter is created. You will learn to write a project charter later in this course, but here is what it is:

A project charter is a formal document authorizing the project team to move forward and start planning and executing tasks within the set boundaries. It includes sections for:

  • Business opportunities

  • Deliverables

  • The project sponsor

  • A list of stakeholders

  • Major milestones

  • Risks 

  • Cost

Once the project charter is created and approved (usually by the project sponsor), you can move on to the planning phase!

Discover the Planning Phase

During the planning phase, the project manager will list all the tasks necessary to deliver the project. Once the list of tasks is created, they can:

  • Calculate the duration of each task. 

  • Identify dependencies between tasks.

  • Estimate the necessary resources.

  • Start designing the project schedule.

Project management software, such as Microsoft Project, is often used to calculate duration and refine costs during this phase. Free project management and collaboration tools are becoming increasingly popular with freelancers. 

The output of the planning phase is a baseline work schedule. The schedule allows the project manager to measure and manage the project status as work progresses.

Discover the Executing Phase

The executing phase is typically the longest. This is where the bulk of the work is done to deliver a product or service. While the team is completing tasks, the project manager is:

  • Engaging regularly with stakeholders.

  • Managing the team.

  • Responding to any issues that arise.

  • Checking product quality.

Discover the Closing Phase

Closing is a crucial phase in the project management lifecycle. Here, the client formally accepts all deliverables and discharges the project team.

Projects have a finite life and often temporarily draft resources (people) from other departments in the organization for the project’s duration. Therefore, you do not want people to leave the project thinking everything is complete when it is not.

It is essential to use a formal approval process to determine if the project was a success and could be closed. It also ensures that the team gets credit for its hard work. Any negative perceptions about the project outside the team's control cannot be associated with its members.

Above all, this phase provides clarity. The team can identify lessons learned and assess project results through a formal review workshop.

What Is Monitoring?

Although monitoring is not a specific phase of the project management lifecycle, it is an important activity from the executing phase to project closure.

Monitoring a project involves:

  • Preventing change in scope (unless agreed upon by the project sponsor).

  • Validating the quality of all completed work.

  • Checking that tasks are completed on time.

  • Monitoring risks.

  • Ensuring communication and stakeholders’ engagement.

Let’s Recap!

  • There are four sequential phases of the project management lifecycle:

    • Initiating

    • Planning

    • Executing

    • Closing 

  • Monitoring isn't a specific phase, but it is a crucial activity that starts at the project execution and ends at the project closure. 

In the next chapter, we will talk about identifying & communicating with your stakeholders, which helps manage expectations.

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