Project Management Phases: Everything You Need To Knowon 23 January 2020
Unlike everyday operations, projects have a finite life. They seek to accomplish something specific, and then they end. This necessitates an orderly approach to starting and finishing projects—an approach referred to as the project life cycle.
Below, we walk through the five phases of the project life cycle, where experts share what to expect and how to maximise success in each phase.
Breaking Down The 5 Project Management Life Cycle Phases
“Without the initiation phase, your project won’t have a clear direction,” says Kassandra Dasent, CEO of BridgeTech Enterprises. She explains that this first phase serves to determine the purpose of the project, identify the benefits it will provide, define the details, and assemble an appropriate team to carry it out. This step is crucial to set a project up for success. For example, the information acquired during this phase is used to secure project approval from key stakeholders.
Stefan Chekanov, co-founder and CEO of Brosix, says he collaborates with an initial project team and uses a mind-mapping tool to brainstorm the best approach for the project. The team can be adjusted as necessary once the project details have solidified. “In this manner, I encourage creativity from the get-go, and make sure that we’re thinking through all the different ways the project is connected with other workstreams and the larger business ecosystem. After all, no project should be viewed in isolation.”
Dasent calls out important project artifacts that are created during the initiation phase, including the RACI matrix and the project charter. The matrix shows stakeholder responsibilities regarding tasks, communications, and deliverables. RACI stands for the four typical roles that are assigned: responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed.
The project charter clearly defines the goals and vision of the project. It formally outlines the project’s existence and is considered a key document in the initiation phase. (Tweet this!) “The charter should address several elements—scope, work deliverables, and potential risks that can affect the completion of a project. Given its importance, don’t rush in creating your charter,” explains Dasent.
Chekanov shares a few tips for making the most of the initiation phase:
- Conduct a brief assessment of the project’s talent needs. It’s important to loop the right people in at the beginning.
- Brainstorm initial ideas in a way that entertains even the most outlandish thoughts. This is the most appropriate time for brainstorming, as once you reach planning and execution, there’s less flexibility.
- Map out the project’s connections to the bigger organisational picture. It’s crucial to put everything you do into the right business context.
“A project lives or dies on the strength of its plan,” says Courtney Keene, director of operations at MyRoofingPal. She explains that the plan is like the foundation of a house—if you have a strong foundation, you can weather the storms that will invariably arise.
While planning, Keene likes to employ the SMART method for establishing project goals—wherein goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. “This helps us keep our eyes on the target and ensures we don’t lose sight of what we’ve established as important.”
Here’s Keene’s advice on succeeding in the project planning phase:
- Avoid the temptation to create a grand scope that your team can’t handle. Otherwise, you’ll wind up damaging team morale and overshooting your budget.
- Keep your schedule as realistic as possible—ideally with productivity data from past projects to back up your estimations.
- Make sure to account for delays—something always comes up.
- Get feedback from key stakeholders. Don't wait until you're further along in the project, as it won’t be as helpful.
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The project execution phase is where the work you planned for gets done—your team creates deliverables, completes tasks, and communicates their progress throughout. Ayushi Sharma, business consultant at iFour Technolab, says the primary objective of execution is to finish deliverables according to the project plan.
Sharma calls out several key actions you’ll take during execution:
- Acquire and manage project resources.
- Abide by the project management plan, making necessary adjustments as project conditions change.
- Implement a quality management plan to ensure work is performed in line with quality standards.
- Manage and implement approved changes and corrective actions.
- Implement appropriate risk responses for planned (and unplanned) risk events.
- Manage the flow of project information between stakeholders according to the communication plan.
- Maintain strong stakeholder relationships to effectively manage expectations and receive continued support.
For a smooth project execution phase, Sharma shares a few tips:
- Manage risk as much as you manage your team to ensure the project stays on track.
- Ensure the quality of deliverables is in alignment with expectations to avoid rework.
- Communicate early and often with both your team and stakeholders so everyone stays in the loop, and you can catch problems quickly.
4. Monitoring & Control
“The monitoring and control phase is where it all really comes together,” says Keene. You get to see if your plan is working while there's still time to make adjustments and ensure the project stays on track. The two main things to confirm are quality of work and the timeline.
Keene says this phase tends to involve a lot of face-to-face time with team members and stakeholders. You’ll also be assessing what may or may not be realistic regarding scope and deadlines, as well as how to reach an appropriate compromise when tasks are taking too long or not meeting defined standards.
Here are a few tips from Keene that can help you be successful in this phase:
- No matter how well you plan, things will always come up that may throw off your schedule or other project aspect—be adaptable.
- Don't be afraid to have face-to-face meetings just to check in with everyone. These provide the opportunity for people to speak up about small issues that may become larger ones if not addressed.
- Have faith in your plan, but be willing to compromise to reach the end goal.
Dasent says that closing out a project holds its own importance in the project life cycle. “Many project managers tend to rush closure, missing opportunities to capture important details that impacted the outcome and success of the project. They could even discover undelivered requirements, which can adversely impact the organisation and the team.”
At the very least, you’ll need to hold a meeting—often called a post mortem—to identify and capture lessons learned. You’ll also need to obtain approval from project sponsors and clients that the work has been completed, and validate that the correct project management processes were followed for future success.
Chekanov shares some advice for a successful project closure:
- Invite an external perspective—such as a colleague who isn’t directly involved in the project—to make sure you haven’t overlooked anything.
- Set up a plan for future consultations with the internal or external customer if needed. Ideally, once a project is handed over, everything runs smoothly. However, this is rarely the case, which means it may be necessary (and a good business opportunity) to provide ongoing support.
- Reflect on lessons learned and key takeaways. Every project teaches you something, but to make these lessons last, you must be able to effectively capture them for future reference.
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- Store and share files in a secure location, complete with automatic version control. You can even create approval workflows and view clear audit trails of user actions.
- Assign and manage tasks for different members of the team and track them to completion.
- Create customised workspaces for each project team in your portfolio. Team members can share resources and communicate with one another in their specific workspace, and you can access them all for easy oversight.
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