Regardless of what kind of project you’re planning, every project goes through the same stages, more or less. Although each project will require their own set of unique processes and tasks, they all follow a similar framework. There’s always a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is called the project lifecycle.
The project lifecycle helps provide some predictability, and gives the project manager a way to tackle tasks in distinct phases. In this section, we’ll explain what you need to know about each phase.
The initiation phase
The initiation phase is the first phase of the entire project management life cycle. The goal of this phase is to define the project, develop a business case for it, and get it approved. During this time, the project manager may do any of the following:
- Perform a feasibility study
- Create a project charter
- Identify key stakeholders
- Select project management tools
By the end of this phase, the project manager should have a high-level understanding of the project purpose, goals, requirements, and risks.
The planning phase
The planning phase is critical to creating a project roadmap the entire team can follow. This is where all of the details are outlined and goals are defined in order to meet the requirements laid out by the organization.
During this phase, project managers will typically:
- Create a project plan
- Develop a resource plan
- Define goals and performance measures
- Communicate roles and responsibilities to team members
- Build out workflows
- Anticipate risks and create contingency plans
The next phase (execution) typically begins with a project kickoff meeting where the project manager outlines the project objectives to all stakeholders involved. Before that meeting happens, it is crucial for the project manager to do the following:
- Establish vision and deliverables: Set a common goal for everyone. Lay out what needs to get done and by when.
- Identify team and set roles: Who does what? Create a list detailing this and include contact info for easy communication.
- Develop initial project plan: Have a plan in place but finalize details with your team at the kickoff.
- Define metrics for success: How will the project be measured? What will make it successful? Set expectations early.
- Identify potential risks and bottlenecks: Prep the team for potential roadblocks and have a process in place so that these possible problems can be taken out quickly.
- Establish logistics for team communication: How will you update each other? Establish a consistent process (daily, weekly meetings) and determine the technology for it.
- Choose work process or project management methodology: Establish the best practices your team will follow.
- Decide which tools you’ll use: Ensure everyone has the proper tools and knows how to use them.
- Schedule the kickoff meeting: Entire team and stakeholders must be there, even if via video conference or phone.
- Set the agenda and prepare the slides for the meeting: Send the agenda ahead of the meeting, so everyone can prepare accordingly, and provide the slides after the meeting for reference.
The execution phase
This stage is where the meat of the project happens. Deliverables are built to make sure the project is meeting requirements. This is where most of the time, money, and people are pulled into the project.
As previously mentioned, a kickoff meeting is held to mark the official start of the execution phase. A kickoff meeting agenda might look something like this:
- Introductions: Who’s who?
- Project background: Why are you doing this project? What are the goals?
- Project scope: What exactly will you be doing? What kind of work is involved?
- Project plan: How are we going to do this? What does the roadmap look like?
- Roles: Who will be responsible for which elements of the project?
- Communication: What kind of communication channels will be used? What kind of meetings or status reports should your team expect?
- Tools: What tools will be used to complete the project, and how will they be used?
- Next steps: What are the immediate action items that need to be completed?
- Q&A: Open the floor for any questions
The controlling and monitoring phase
This phase happens in tandem with the execution phase. As the project moves forward, the project manager must make sure all moving parts are headed in the right direction at all times and in a coordinated manner. If adjustments to the project plan need to be made due to unforeseen circumstances or a change in direction, they may happen here.
During the controlling and monitoring phase, project managers may have to do any of the following:
- Manage resources
- Monitor project performance
- Risk management
- Perform status meetings and reports
- Update project schedule
- Modify project plans
At the end of this phase, all of the agreed project deliverables should be completed and accepted by the customer.
The closing phase is a critical step in the project management life cycle. It signals the official end of the project and provides a period for reflection, wrap-up, and organization of materials.
Project managers can:
- Take inventory of all deliverables
- Tie up any loose ends
- Hand the project off to the client or the team that will be managing the project’s day-to-day operations
- Perform a postmortem to discuss and document any learnings from the project
- Organize all project documents in a centralized location
- Communicate the success of the project to stakeholders and executives
- Celebrate project completion and acknowledge team members
Now that you understand each stage in the project life cycle, choosing the right project management tool for you and your team is critical to project success. Read on for best practices when choosing a tool that fits your needs, and a guide to the features you should consider when assessing a project management software.