31 May 2022

Using project life cycles for your project's success

Technical skills
Using project life cycles for your project's success

Successful project delivery isn’t an easy task. Delivering a scope on time and within budget involves juggling stakeholders, clients, project teams, resources, finances, and multiple curve balls along the way.

For a project manager to navigate these challenges they must start with a solid understanding of the project management life cycle. Defining the steps in a project clarifies the pathway to success. Read on to explore the stages of the project life cycle and what project management steps to complete during each one so you are well informed for your next project.


What is the project life cycle?

The project life cycle is a staged framework used by project managers to successfully guide their projects from start to finish.

Projects progress through the following project life cycle phases:

  1. Initiation

  2. Planning

  3. Execution

  4. Monitoring

  5. Close


Different project management methodologies use various terms to describe the different project management phases. They may describe four, five or even seven stages. It doesn’t matter which framework you follow; the intent is always the same. By splitting the project into clear stages, you create an easy-to-follow path for meeting your deliverables and ensure the next step is clear.


Why is the project life cycle important?

Would you agree that it’s easier to handle your current to-do list when your project is broken down into manageable stages with deliverables to check off as you go? Yes, well, the project life cycle is important for planning because it defines the project’s objectives and guides the steps needed to complete a project. There are also checkpoints throughout to help ensure the project is on track.

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The project life cycle:

  • gives a reliable structure for project delivery

  • helps the project team know what to do now and what’s coming next

  • sets expectations and improves communication

  • operates as a tracking and performance monitoring tool for use across the organisation.


According to project delivery performance research undertaken by KPMG and the AIPM, only 25% of projects are delivered successfully. You can avoid wasting money and resources by ensuring you have a solid understanding of project management, and the project life cycle is a good place to start.


What are the five stages of the project management life cycle?

 

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1. Project initiation

Sometimes called the project identification phase, this first stage of the project life cycle is all about defining the vision of what the project will achieve and getting approval for the project to go ahead.

There’s lots of research and collaboration to generate initial estimates and overall project direction, but not much detailed planning. Due diligence in this stage will avoid lots of potential problems down the track and help ensure your project is feasible from the get-go.

KEY TASKS FOR THE PROJECT INITIATION STAGE

  • Determine your project’s objectives: identify a problem or opportunity and think about the best way to address it.

  • Decide the deliverables: list the tangible and intangible outputs that will achieve the project’s objectives.

  • Identify the stakeholders: work out who is impacted by the project and what their needs might be.

  • Identify the risks: look at factors that may negatively impact the project. Identify the dependencies: look at the relationships between resources or activities and tasks.

  • Identify the constraints: highlight any limitations like time, cost, resources, or technology. Identify the resources: decide what human and other resources are needed to deliver the project.

  • Estimate the project cost: do an initial cost estimate and create a business case to weigh up the costs and benefits of the proposed solution.

  • Undertake a feasibility study: work out whether your project will be able to solve the problem you’ve identified in an economically viable manner.

  • Develop an initial scope of work: document the agreed objectives, deliverables, tasks, costs, and deadlines.

2. Project planning

Once your project is approved, it’s time to dive into the nitty-gritty. The project planning or project definition stage is an essential project management process.

In this stage, project managers create a series of plans, confirm project deliverables, create a project schedule, and build a team. This set of plans guides the project team to manage quality, time, communication, cost, changes, and risk. It’s a detailed roadmap to steer the project to success and although it’s not set in stone, it’s the central source of truth throughout the project.

KEY TASKS FOR THE PROJECT PLANNING STAGE

  • Create a project plan: translate the initial scope of works into a detailed, actionable set of tasks with allocated resources and an agreed timeline using project scheduling tools and techniques like work breakdown structures or Gantt charts.

  • Create a financial plan: expand your initial cost estimate using a range of techniques that improve accuracy, and then build your detailed project budget.

  • Create a risk management plan: conduct a risk assessment and develop a plan for how you will avoid or overcome them.

  • Create a stakeholder communication plan: list your stakeholders and plan your communication strategy.

  • Create a procurement plan: research and compare any suppliers required and agree on terms of engagement.


3. Project execution

You’ve built a business case, received approval for your project, created a detailed project plan and assembled a team. Now it’s time to do the work. This stage is sometimes referred to as the implementation or delivery stage of the project life cycle, and it’s where the project plans are put into action.

In this stage, project managers organise team members, manage the workflow and timelines, and ensure the tasks are completed as per the project plan using the schedules, procedures, and charts developed in the planning stage.

This is usually the longest stage of the life cycle. Most of the budget is consumed during execution because it’s when most of the project deliverables are produced.

KEY TASKS FOR THE PROJECT EXECUTION STAGE

  • Leadership: ensure the team knows what the vision of success is. Support and inspire them to reach it.

  • Task briefing: clearly define what needs doing. Ensure the team is clear on the success criteria and time frames.

  • Client management: whether you’re dealing with an internal or external end customer for your project, keep in close contact to ensure they are satisfied with the progress and deliverables.

  • Stakeholder engagement: communicate with stakeholders. Make sure you give them appropriate information in a timely manner through their preferred communication channel.


4. Project monitoring and control

Monitoring and control happen throughout the execution phase. It’s about comparing actual and planned performance and considering whether to adjust the plan to achieve the desired outcome.

Even with the most meticulous planning, unexpected situations eventuate. It’s the project manager’s job to deal with them as they arise. Monitoring checks the project is going according to plan, and if not, controls are put in place to get it back on track. If required, the project manager updates tasks, goals, deadlines, and budgets to meet the changed conditions.

KEY TASKS FOR THE PROJECT MONITORING AND CONTROL STAGE

  • Cost and time management: review all expenses and track them against the project’s budget, timeline and tasks.

  • Risk management: closely monitor, control, and mitigate the potential risks you identified in the planning stage.

  • Quality management: review the progress of deliverables and check they’re on track to meet the agreed acceptance criteria.

  • Change management: when things don’t go quite to plan, you’ll need to navigate the change process carefully. There may be some quick, difficult decisions to be made, but it’s important to avoid scope creep.


5. Project close

The final stage in the project life cycle is closing the project. This is much more than just ticking off the last project tasks and calling the project done. It’s important to formally complete the project and get approval from the customer or project sponsor.

In the closure phase, you hand over final deliverables, release project resources and examine the project’s success with a detailed project retrospective. Analysing the project’s success is important, and so is extracting learnings to apply to future projects.

This can be one of the most rewarding stages of project management. It’s a great opportunity to recognise valuable contributions from team members and celebrate successes. The process of self-reflection can also lead to your own professional growth.

KEY TASKS FOR THE PROJECT MONITORING AND CONTROL STAGE

  • Hand over deliverables: hand off the project deliverables and documentation to the intended owners for them to realise the benefits.

  • Formal approval: get the client or project sponsor to sign off on the deliverables.

  • Release resources: end the supplier contracts and release staff and equipment.

  • Updating stakeholders: let stakeholders know the project has come to an end.

  • Project performance analysis: look at whether the project's goals were met (tasks completed, on time, and on budget) and the initial problem solved.

  • Team analysis: evaluate the performance of each team member and provide formal feedback.

  • Post-implementation review: it’s good to have a post-implementation meeting before everyone moves on to their next project. Document this formal analysis of successes, failures, and lessons learned.

  • Celebrate success: undoubtedly, the project team has expended blood, sweat, and tears to make the project happen. Mark the end of the project with a fun team celebration and recognition of individual and group contributions, such as applying for a Project Management Achievement Award (PMAA).


Want to improve your project management skills?

To be a successful project professional, you’ll need a thorough understanding of the project life cycle. Knowing what you need to do as your project progresses will help you better plan and organise your projects and deal with any surprises along the way.

If you want to build up your project management skills, have you considered becoming a member of the AIPM? You can access a full suite of professional development options including mentoring, courses, workshops, events, and on demand webinars, as well as member exclusives, such as the Praxis Framework, and annotated templates for project documents and plans.

And if you want recognition for the skills you already have, getting a certification can boost your resume and give you access to better career opportunities.

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