What Are the 5 Phases of Project Management Life Cycle?

Monday, June 20, 2022
Michael Scheiner
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In this article, we’ll take a comprehensive look at all aspects of the project management life cycle. We’ll discuss the 4 types of project management methods, and then run through the 5 distinct phases of a project lifecycle.

Getting acquainted with parts of the PM life cycle, you’ll gain a sense of how one moves from defining project scope to execution of deliverables.  

 

What is a project life cycle? Our definition

So you want to know the definition of a project life cycle? The first thing to know is that it is not exactly the same as a project phase or project stage, as those are components of a PM life cycle. 

The project life cycle definition is a bit more all-encompassing. This is about more than a series of tasks and activities, but considers how the right people, tools and ideas will come together to reach some greater project goal.

A project life cycle can be said to describe two things: a project management methodology and the phases of a project from initiation to completion. So when looking at the question, what is the project management life cycle, often you first want to be able to answer this first question regarding methodologies. 

Will there just be a high-level set of project goals, or will there be a finely planned project scope?

Why is the life cycle of a project important?

A project’s success is more or less determined by the level of attention to the stages of a project life cycle. This is because the life of a project is not always a singular linear existence, but can diverge, converge, pivot or reverse depending on circumstances. The life cycle of a project is so crucial because it allows team members to envision a project in all its permutations.

This is especially clear during the execution and monitoring phases, which are the phases most people think of when thinking of a PM life cycle. It’s important to always recall your project charter that's set up during the initiation, and even more so, the project scope done during planning. 

But above all, it’s key to be aware of the agreed-upon project management styles that all collaborators will employ throughout the project life cycle, as well as to the commitments to the stakeholders and clients. 

If you’re still thinking, well, what is project management in general? We have an article covering that you might want to look at first.

There are many great project management CRM software solutions that can help with project life cycle management. Many of these have great project planning templates, Gantt chart tools, Kanban boards and team communication features. 

 

What are the 4 different types of project life cycles?

Before we get into the actual phases of project life cycle management, let’s talk a little about the four different types of project life cycle methods out there. These are the predictive style, the iterative, the incremental and the agile project management frameworks. 

On top of this, there are many types of project management techniques that team members can use. You don’t have to stick to one kind too strictly. Sometimes you can use a hybrid approach to full life cycle project management.

1. Predictive project life cycle method

The first type of project life cycle management is the predictive life cycle. You can also call this the full plan project life cycle. This is where you will plan every stage, iteration and increment during a strong initial planning phase. You set clear milestones, and then try to stick to them as much as possible. Here you will create a product backlog detailing exactly what your product intends to do. 

You will also make your project scope, timeframe and costs very clear to your team, as well as to your stakeholders and clients who will expect you to remain as close to this project scope as possible. In other words, your clients should be able to safely predict when they will get their product, how much it will cost, and what functions it can successfully perform. 

The Waterfall method or work breakdown structure, or WBS, are both effective for full plan, predictive project life cycles, as both require milestones to be met by everyone or most collaborators at each stage before advancing to the next one.

2. Iterative project life cycle method

The next two life cycle types, iterative and incremental, share a lot in common, but with some key differences. With the iterative life cycle approach, you do have some high-level project management plans in the initiation stages, but you also break down the project into a series of functional versions, that is, iterations which can already be used, albeit to a lesser extent. 

Imagine building a home, that is, a product to serve the use-function of giving shelter. You’d build several iterations of structures to live in: first a tent, then a shed, then a cabin, then a home. At each iteration you’d still have somewhere to sleep.

With the iterative management process, you have less of a clear project scope from the outset, as each iteration will teach you new things to apply to the following one, and then there’s no telling how many improvements can be made barring time or cost constraints. This is why project schedules and budgets are less rigidly applied in this framework. 

3. Incremental project life cycle method

The incremental life cycle style is like the iterative because you cannot plan everything from the outset. You have a high-level idea of the finished product and then you plan to complete this in sections. But unlike iterations which provide functional versions, with the incremental life cycle you complete only parts or pieces of the eventual finished product. 

Say I’m building a bicycle, the increments would be: frame, wheels, gears, etc. I can finish and test each part as its own finished product, but I still must combine them in the end to have a bicycle.

The incremental life cycle is also good for testing and feedback, especially in the later phases when parts must be combined. Clients can be happy to see parts of finished products, but having a firm project timeline or budget is not recommended with this life cycle method.

4. Agile project life cycle method

Another word for the agile project life cycle framework is the adaptive project management methodology. This is most like the opposite of the predictive life cycle method in that, with agile project life cycles, our project charter and project goals are the least defined, though of course there will be some sense of project objectives. 

A project team using an agile workflow often expects a lot of trial and error with a range of metrics, as well as learning new things during the project which will require changes to the original plan. For this reason the agile method needs strong change management functionality, and it is not the most promising method for regular deliverables. 

Within agile life cycle styles one can use both increments and iterations alternatively and share those products with project stakeholders for feedback as well. Agile project management is incredibly common among software developer team members. 

This is one of the most common business cases for the agile method, and the Project Management Institute, or PMI, mentions in their PMBOK literature how key the adaptive method is for IT departments. 

 

5 phases of project management life cycle

Now that we’ve gone over the project management methodology styles, let’s get into the project life cycle phases. They are: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and lastly closure. In general, project phases and the project life cycle are indelibly tied together. But these phases are useful no matter what type of PM style you use. 

To put it as a question: what are the five stages of the project life cycle meant to achieve? 

Project life cycle stages are meant to help separate the diverse tasks involved in the life cycle of a project based on certain orders, whether dependent, hierarchical, sequential, overlapping or parallel. These phases are called by the PMI the 5 process groups. 

Project management cycle phase 1: Project initiation phase

The first stage in the project life cycle is the concept stage, otherwise known as the project initiation phase. In this phase you don’t so much as plan and hammer out the details as you present the project charter. 

The project charter lays out the project scope, which includes things like timeframes and costs; the project participants, including collaborators, product owners and stakeholders; and the project objectives.

This phase of the project life cycle will also be where you do a feasibility plan. A feasibility study is where you think about what your product essentially is, and what problems it aims to solve or what value it will add to its users.

 A feasibility study also considers how likely its success will be. Project initiation also includes a communication plan. The communication plan discusses the level of communication between the collaborators and the stakeholders, that is, between the people working on the project and the client or ultimate end-user.

Project management cycle phase 2: Project planning phase

The next project life cycle stage is for project planning. The project plan is where the details lacking from the initiation phase finally get nailed down. Here you will make a project roadmap, which is a graphic or visual representation of the project’s stages on a timeline or Gantt chart. 

On such a Gantt chart, the milestones should be very prevalent. You will also provide a statement of work for the scope of the project, which has more data than the scope discussed during initiation.

The planning phase of the project management process helps to do resource management, which is to allocate the human-power and materials that will be needed throughout the project life cycle. On top of a resource plan, you can also do your risk management work during project planning. It’s always smart to plan for potential risks and have plan Bs.

Project management cycle phase 3: Project execution phase

As the name suggests, this next phase of the project management life cycle is where you really begin working on a project. Project execution finally sees every team member knowing what their first tasks are. A kickoff meeting is often a great way to really shoot that starting pistol and get everyone racing on toward the next stage. 

During project execution, you’ll have to get on top of the procurement part of the work. Product owners or project managers should be on top of buying, renting or contracting equipment or people and having them ready for when they are needed. Obviously some procurement goes on before project execution, but procurement is a regularly repeating task that happens throughout execution. 

Project management cycle phase 4: Project monitoring and control phase

Onward to the next project management stage. This is the phase called project monitoring or project controlling. This phase occurs in a simultaneous and overlapping way with project execution. 

During project control, you are monitoring project progress and assessing the success of each milestone, using the data you get from those assessments to improve or better streamline the process, or else to discover new changes to be made.

In a predictive project life cycle method, like the waterfall method, you might have determined control periods at the end of each stage or deliverable. Likewise, with incremental or iterative project life cycles, you could control for feedback at the end of each iteration or increment. 

Remember, “control” here means less ‘giuoding’ or ‘manipulating’ a process, and more like watching and checking that everything is in order.

Project management cycle phase 5: Project closure phase

The last phase of the traditional project life cycle is the implementation phase, also called the project closure phase. The project closing phase is the "wrap-up" phase of project management. 

And like you had a kickoff meeting at the start of phase 3, you might have a wrap-up meeting at the end of this phase, or if it's a highly successful project, you can have a wrap-up party. 

Here you will assess the overall project performance and how well your planning has lined up with the results at the end of the project. During the project closure phase, some might begin thinking about future projects as well.

 

Our conclusion on the stages of project management life cycles

We’ve come to the conclusion of this article on project cycle management phases. Have you learned a thing or two? We hope so.

Remember, knowing what project management type you'll use is not the same as working out the phases of a PM life cycle. 

You’ll want to know if you are a planner or an agile team, and whether your stakeholders want to see iterations of the final product along the way, which can demonstrate some of the end-user functions of the planned product. 

Or you’ll want to know if you’re working in an incremental method, where your stakeholders can inspect completed pieces of a product before they are combined into its final form. 

After that, you’ll know if your actual phases are more sequential, simultaneous or overlapping.

And that’s that. We wish you much project success. Now go forth, initiate, plan, execute, control and close those projects so you can deliver great products to the world.

 

FAQs

Which step of the project life cycle defines all of the project deliverables?

During the second stage of a project life cycle is where you define all your project deliverables. This is the project planning stage, and it comes after the initiation stage and before the execution stage. Deliverables can be iterations, increments or the final product which you’ll deliver to the stakeholders.

Which step of the project life cycle defines the project scope?

Normally, you lay out the basic project scope during the first phase of the project life cycle, the project initiation stage. This will be a part of the project charter which includes scope, participants and objectives. During the project planning phase you should make a more detailed project scope. 

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