What is a project life cycle?

What is a project life cycle

If you are a project manager, working on various projects simultaneously is common. Handling each project and seeing every phase to completion is critical to ensuring the return of investment. However, for new project managers, managing a project and seeing it through to completion can be daunting.

Whilst tools are available to aid you, understanding the intricacies and specifics of the ‘project life cycle’ is important to make it easier to navigate each phase.

In simplest terms, the project life cycle is a four-step process adopted by most project managers to guide them in completing projects – it is a standard framework determining the best practices, manners, and processes by which tasks and steps of the project can be attained. With the help of this framework, a smoother project and a better success rate is usually delivered.

The project life cycle is clear-cut, with standards and metrics of success that determine if a task has failed, is delivered on time or lagging behind. Through this, project managers can then adjust and plan resources and tasks, and make the necessary arrangements to ensure that the overall goals and objectives are met.

Another important point to consider is that a project life cycle consists of several phases. They are constant and iterative across all projects and each phase needs to be completed before moving to the next one. This makes the project life cycle structured as there are several checkpoints that need to be accomplished before moving forward.

What is a project phase?

A project phase is a small cycle within a full life cycle of a project. This cycle is made up of a series of logically interrelated activities that, once achieved, signals the completion of a phase. Each phase has a distinct purpose and focus. Different criteria are set to ensure that each phase contributes to the completion of the project. A phase normally ends once a deliverable is passed to the next phase, and it continues down to project closure.

Typically, there are four standard phases: conceptualisation, planning, execution and termination.

Conceptualisation Phase

The first phase, also known as the initiation phase and the starting point of the project, is when strategies are laid out and the fundamentals of the project are defined and agreed. The main purpose of this phase is to determine the need for the project to take place. Primary problems are identified and the intended solution is presented to the client and/or key stakeholders. While this is far from a complete pitch, the primary goal of this phase is to determine everything on a strategic level, most especially the potential outcome and its impact on the organisation as a whole. Nothing is yet set in stone – ideas are presented, discussed, clarified and finalised. The most important deliverable in this phase is a project contract.

Planning Phase

In this second phase of the project life cycle, the ideas discussed and presented are beginning to have concrete, laid out plans. The statement of the works, the key objectives, purpose of the project, identifying of resources, possible bottlenecks and problems, and the specific metrics of success are identified.

As this phase is rather intensive by nature, it takes several weeks to be accomplished. Several departments, process owners and personnel are involved to ensure that the project is set up to be a success. Even budget deliberation is tackled and given a go signal by key stakeholders. One of the main goals of this phase is to make detailed milestones for the project.  As everything is being fleshed out in this phase, contingency management is also thoroughly discussed, to anticipate and make concrete plans of action, should bottlenecks arise during the project.

Execution Phase

As the phrase implies, this is where all the plans, actions and tasks previously agreed are put into motion. Manpower is deployed, tools are used and most importantly, performance is measured. These metrics are important as they lay out the status and performance of the project based on the goals, objectives and parameters set at the onset. Of course, all of these are specific to the budget and timelines identified.

Adjustments are also made during this period, but all in calculated thresholds. The main goal is to deliver what has been laid out and to ensure that project costs do not creep, whilst objectives are still met. At this phase, the main deliverables are specific outputs for each task. These outputs can be revised if they fail to meet the standards which might result in unnecessary setbacks for the project. Nonetheless, all of these are foreseen, and corresponding allowances have been included in the timeline to ensure that even with the revisions, the project is not delayed.

Termination Phase

This is the end of the project life cycle. This means that the project has successfully reached, met the criteria of each phase, and delivered its initial goal. While this phase is the end, it does not mean that there are no more tasks involved. In fact, this is one of the most gruelling parts of the project life cycle.

There are many documents that need to be submitted for final sign off – likely to be post-project assessments, financial and liquidation reports, and project closure documentation. This phase is important as it sets the tone for succeeding projects.

Managing a project is not easy. There are many things to be done and deliverables to accomplish. The project life cycle makes it easier for project managers to oversee any projects. This parsimonious tool helps in the careful and thorough creation of meaningful and successful projects without going beyond the baseline measures.


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