Hello and welcome back to our project management series. Now that we have a good understanding of the 10 knowledge areas, we will begin to identify and analyze other factors that affect various projects and their relationship with organizations. In this article we will focus on understanding the relationship between organizational impulses and project life cycle.

According to the PMBOK, the project life cycle is a series of phases that a project goes through from inception till the close out phase. The phases in the project life cycle are generally sequential but are different based on the nature of project, the industry, or the management of the organization. This simply means the processes in the life cycle of an engineering project would differ from those of an architectural project or a fashion project. Also, due to the management structure of an organization, the processes involved in the life cycle project of two different engineering projects would differ.

While we can agree that there is a large variation in the phases involved in project life cycle, there are some general phases that are common among all projects. We will begin by looking at the various phases in a project life cycle and the way organizations react or should react to them. We will also examine the variations in life cycles and the flexibility of project life cycles in various organizational setting.

There are four phases to in the project life cycle. These are:

  1. Starting the project
  2. Organizing and preparing the project work
  3. Carrying out project work
  4. Closing the project

Before we begin to analyze the various phases, I hope we can recall the five process groups in project management (initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and controlling and closure). Take a closer look at the four phases above and compare them to the project management process. What do we notice?

  1. Starting project = Project initiation
  2. Organizing and preparing project work = Project planning
  3. Carrying out project work = Execution
  4. ??? = Monitoring and control
  5. Closing the project = Project closure

We can see that the phases can all be equated to the process group except for the monitoring and control process group. This is because the monitoring and control process is an iterative process that spans throughout the project. Monitoring and control is needed from the initiation of any project until the close-out. However, for the sake of easy understanding it is always explained as a unique process.

1. Starting the project (project initiation): This is the project phase that conceives the idea. At this phase, the organization should focus on carrying out broad feasibility on the impact and success of the project, identifying the project manager, and other relevant project stakeholders and, in the case of multiple projects, using various project selection criteria (http://resources.intenseschool.com/pmp-series-project-selection-criteria/) to determine the best project.

This project phase is characterized by high risk and low cost. This is because the feasibility of most projects remains uncertain until the planning stage. Also, depending on the nature of the project, there might be a need for the rolling wave plan (the plan unfolds as more information is derived during the course of the project). All these uncertainties increase the risk involved in the project. However, as we can see in Figure 1 below, there are low staffing and cost implication at this phase. High-level management planning alone is required at this level. Also, since project is at the management decision-making process, there is high flexibility in influencing the final outcome of the project without affecting the budget and time.

The primary output of this phase is the project charter. This is the document that officially formalizes the project and is prepared by the project sponsor and the project manager.

Figure 1. Impact of project time on risk and cost of changes to a project

2. Organizing and preparing project work (project planning): Although all the phases of the project lifecycle are important, the project planning can be seen as the singular most important phase. In most cases, the success of this phase determines the success of the entire. The popular saying ,”failure to plan is planning to fail,” can be used as the motto of this phase.

At this phase of the project, the project scope is defined and the objectives are formalized. The project team is also formed and expert opinions are made, to be used in developing the various project plans, such as the communication management plan, the risk management plan, the cost management plan, etc. The different plans are then integrated to form the project management plan, which is the primary output of this phase.

It is, however, important to know that the planning is not a one-off process, but an iterative process that is subject to change. The complex nature of various projects brings about the need for further planning, as more information is known during the other phases of the project. Having established the fact that proper planning determines the success of a project, it is therefore important for the project manager or project management office to identify all necessary stakeholders and analyze their impact on the project. As previously discussed in the project stakeholder knowledge area (http://resources.intenseschool.com/pmp-prep-project-stakeholder-management/), the impact of omitting a key stakeholder can be disastrous to the success of the project.

3. Carrying out project work (project execution): Logically, after the planning comes the execution of a project. This phase of a project consists of a series of processes and work done in fulfilling the project management plan. This can also be regarded to as the action phase of a project. This phase involves the development of the product of the project. The product is what the project sets out to achieve, hence it could be a physical product or a service.

The project execution phase is where the highest staffing is required in most projects. Also, this is where the bulk of the budget is expended. This is, however, natural, as more money is always needed for implementation as compared to planning. It is also important for the project manager to look into proper resource leveling and distribution during the planning stage in order to avoid resource scarcity. Worthy of mention is the fact that proper resource leveling also helps in effective cash flow of an organization, because project cost will be distributed evenly (or almost evenly) throughout the duration of the project.

The outputs of project implementation are the project deliverables. However, they cannot always be predicted even after proper project planning. These generally result in the project management plan updates and re-baselining. Unforeseen risk during implementation also affects the project management plan, hence the need for the planning phase of the projective lifecycle to be iterative, as stated earlier.

Closing the project (project closure): This is the last phase of the project lifecycle. It is the phase that formally brings a project to an end. During this phase, the client must have formally accepted the deliverables of the project (product of the project). This phase of the project is has the lowest risk since the project is already completed.

The biggest challenge of the organization at this phase is convincing the staffs to complete the phase, because a project is not complete until project closure. Most of the project team members will, however, be lobbying to move on to the next project before a project is officially closed.

Although this is normally the last phase of a project, it might occur before other phases in cases of premature closure of a project (breach of contract or the sponsor’s inability to continue the project). Whatever the situation, all projects should always be formally closed. The following are some of the activities that take place during project closure phase: the customer’s acceptance to close the project, documentation of lessons learned from the project, closure of all procurement activities and termination of all contracts, release project resources, etc.

Monitoring and control: This project phase was intentionally left to be discussed last, because it cuts across all the project phases. It is not uncommon for some project manager to monitor and control projects during or after the execution phase alone.

The primary process of monitoring and controlling is to track, review, and identify discrepancies to the project plan at an early stage. This helps in solving problems as soon as they are identified. Also, since problems can occur at any phase of a project, it remains reasonable that monitoring and control is carried out all through the project.

Figure 2. Relationship between the various phases of the project lifecycle

I believe it’s time to take a break now but, before we go, let’s take a look at what we have learned today. We were able to identify the four phases that make up the project lifecycle, which are : (1) starting the project, (2) organizing and preparing the project work, (3) carrying out project work, and (4) Closing the project. We also mentioned that monitoring and control is not a stand-alone phase but a phase that cuts across all other phases, which enables us to identify any deviation from the project management plan at the earliest possible time.

That’s all we have for today. Thank you for reading. Don’t forget to drop your thoughts and questions in the comments section. In our next article in this series, we will explore the flexibility of project life cycle in various organizational settings. See you soon!

Figure 3. Typical cost and staffing levels across a generic project life cycle structure and the deliverables at all the project phases

References and Further Reading

  1. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge: PMBOK Guide. Project Management Institute.