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An Overview of the Project Life Cycle

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 10/21/2013

Yes, just like people, projects have life cycles. Read about the different phases of a project life cycle and how to implement them in your team.

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    Project Life Cycle Overview

    The project management life cycle consists of five process groups (often referred to as phases): Initiation, Planning, Execution, Control, and Closure. It is important not to skip any of these stages if you want to keep your project from failing. For example, if you skip from initiation to execution without effectively planning the project, mistakes can be made, the project will be too disorganized, and it will fall apart. Likewise, if you, like many project managers skip the closure phase of the project management life cycle, you could risk making similar mistakes in future projects, not properly sealing the project, and more.

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    Life Cycle Phase I: Initiation of the Project

    http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1206848 Before you can get to planning a project, the project has to be initiated. Project initiation consists of the following steps:

    1. Create a document outlining the product or project. This initial document is informal compared to the project charter. It simply describes what will be created.
    2. A project feasibility report will need to be completed. Before investing too much time in a project, you must check to see whether or not it is feasible that you will be able to complete the project, product, or process with the available resources.
    3. Once you have determined the project is feasible, then a project manager and team will be assigned to the project.
    4. The project scope statement is the next deliverable. This deliverable outlines what will be done (the project scope), how it will be done, and why it will be done.
    5. Finally, a project charter is created that will demonstrate who is in charge of the project, the project's scope, and the project's critical success factors.
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    Life Cycle Phase II: Planning the Project

    Once the project has been approved, a deadline has been set, and the scope has been agreed upon, then the project planning phase of the project management life cycle begins. The project planning phase consists of the following steps:

    1. Review the project scope and revise the scope statement if necessary. You want to keep your project from entering a phenomenon known as "scope creep" where the scope of the project grows or expands without making necessary changes to the budget or schedule of the project. Make sure the project scope is something that can be reasonably completed, is specific, and is measurable.
    2. Complete project decomposition, resulting in the work breakdown structure. Project decomposition involves breaking the project down into its component parts: Milestones, tasks, etc., and the work breakdown structure depicts these parts in a hierarchical structure.
    3. Once the work breakdown structure has been created, an organizational breakdown structure can be put together. An organizational breakdown structure demonstrates, visually, the hierarchy of the individuals involved in the project.
    4. Resource allocation is now performed. Who will be responsible for what in the project? What will the budget be used for? What objects will be required for the project and at what points? Take time to carefully plan resources for the project.
    5. Create the project schedule. When will milestones need to be completed by? Who is responsible for each task in the project? How often will communication take place?
    6. Plan the project's budget and how resources will be gathered for the project.
    7. Perform a risk assessment. What risks are involved in completing the project? What budget will be needed should any of these risks materialize during the project execution phase? By planning now for unfortunate events, you can increase the likelihood that things will not go wrong during your project.
    8. Put together a stakeholder analysis and communication plan. When will communication occur, who is responsible for communicating what to whom?
    9. Finalize the project plan. Make sure all elements have been covered. Seek approval of the project plan from superiors.
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    Life Cycle Phase III: Project Execution

    The project management life cycle phase, execution, begins when team members actually begin working on the tasks assigned them by the project manager. During this phase, if a product is being created, then the product is put together. During the project execution phase, the following tasks are completed:

    • Time management - the project manager checks to ensure that the project is being completed on schedule.
    • Cost management - the PM ensures that all expenses are accounted for and necessary
    • Quality management - is the quality of the product or process to the specifications of the stakeholders?
    • Change management - should something change in the stakeholder's specifications or schedule the project manager may need to change the plans for the project accordingly.
    • Issue management - during the execution phase, issues should be carefully tracked so that the project manager and other team members are aware of any problems that come up during execution.
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    Life Cycle Phase IV: Project Control

    Project control really happens close in proximity with project execution. Project control involves monitoring the project for risks and keeping those risks at bay. It also involves keeping changes in the project to a minimum. Project control often mistakingly gets lumped in with project execution functions, but it's important not to do this. At times, during the control phase, project managers may find that a given risk or problem forces them to revisit phase II - planning. This is because some risks or issues that come up and were unforeseen may make the project, as planned, unable to reach completion.

    Good project managers will implement a system to monitor and control their project's progress to ensure project success.

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    Life Cycle Phase V: Project Closure

    http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1126249 Project closure is one of the most oft-overlooked phases of the project management life cycle and yet it's no less important than any other phase of the life cycle. Project closure involves the following steps:

    1. Writing a project closure report. This report includes information such as the project sign off, releasing of the staff, cost management and schedule management strategies, lessons learned through the project, and what the results of the project were.
    2. Redistributing resources that were assigned to the project
    3. Filing any administrative paperwork regarding the project's completion.
    4. Preparing any stepping stones for the next project.
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    Wrapping it Up

    Finally, while the five phases of the project management life cycle appear linear here, often times, a project manager will have to return to an earlier step, complete it, and work back through the project management phases. For example, if during the control phase a defect is found, a project manager may have to return to the planning phase. During the execution phase, if change must occur, a return to the planning phase will be necessary. Don't be afraid to return to an earlier phase if necessary - but don't neglect the phases either.