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What is a Project Life Cycle and Its 5 Stages?

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13 May 2024
What is a Project Life Cycle and Its 5 Stages?

The project management life cycle guides the project managers and their team members. It consists of five project phases, starting with the project initiation phase and ending in project closure, in which a project manager supplies the client with finished deliverables. This article explains each project phase in detail, touching upon the essential tasks each phase consists of.

what is project life cycle

What is Project Life Cycle?

According to the Sixth Edition of the PMBOK® Guide, a project life cycle is the series of phases that a project passes through from start to completion.

A project phase is a grouping of logically related activities that culminate in completing one or more deliverables. The phases might be sequential, iterative, or overlapping, as well as their titles, numbers, and durations. Project management life cycle phases are decided by the management and control requirements of the organisation(s) involved in the project, its nature, and its intended use.

All project phases have a start and end date and a control point. Considering the present situation, the control point aims to reevaluate the project charter and business documentation. At that point, the project's performance is compared to the project management plan to evaluate whether the project should be amended, terminated, or proceed as planned.

The comparison is made because every project has a start and a finish; the specific deliverables and work vary from project to project. Various elements, such as those inside the organisation, the industry, the technology used, or the development approach, can impact the project life cycle.

Regardless of the exact activity performed, the life cycle offers the basic structure for project management. Despite all project differences, size and complexity, a typical project life cycle has five phases.

Five Phases of the Project Management Life Cycle

project life cycle 5 phases

One of the benefits of a project management life cycle is its role as a guide. The phases make the process straightforward for the project manager and project team.

This way, they always know the next step and how to move projects from initiation to closure. The project management life cycle consists of five phases of the project:

1. Project Initiation Phase

The first phase in the project management life cycle is the initiation phase. This phase is the starting point for all projects when we need to make a favourable decision about the objectives we need to achieve.

It consists of a few steps. First, you need to identify the primary problem that the project will fix. It would be best if you determined the project scope and, finally, the stakeholders. After that step, you can develop a business case and a statement of work.

project management life cycle

A business case is used to determine whether the project will proceed. It compares the potential costs and benefits of the project. The other important document, the statement of work, contains information about the project's objectives, deliverables, and other project scope details.

Key Activities:

  • Project definition and scope identification.
  • Preliminary stakeholder analysis.
  • Initial feasibility assessment.

During the project initiation, we need to be very clearly focused on the goal so we can share it with other project team members. It has been proven that people who set themselves stretching goals are the highest achievers and are least affected by negative stress.

2. Project Planning Phase

This phase of the project is the plan that tells you where you are supposed to be in the first place. Without a plan, you have no idea if you are doing okay and no control. You need to know: How long will it take? How much will it cost? What must be done?

In project management, project planning means breaking large tasks down into smaller, more easily managed chunks, which can produce a more realistic schedule. Thus, the danger of "ground rush" is removed, a term used in parachuting when the ground rushes to hit you when you are unprepared in the last stages of a jump.

phases of a project
  • This is when limbs are broken because all the energy is crammed into the last few seconds, and panic ensues, so we forget our basic training. It can happen when we must set the correct priorities in the project plan. Planning is a necessity. Usually, the planning process contains the following steps: Identify the project timeline and divide it into phases containing specific tasks that need to be performed within those phases.
  • Estimate the budget and determine how much to spend on the project to achieve the maximum return on investment. Gather the resources and start building the team.

During this stage, you should consider potential risks and quality roadblocks. Identify issues and start planning to mitigate those risks to maintain the project's quality and timeline.

Make a risk assessment that allows you to quantify and qualify any predictable problems in a project. It is acknowledged that by taking a proactive stance, we can better cope with problems if they arise in our work or social lives.

We can develop contingency plans to provide planned alternatives if problems occur in our project instead of reacting to unplanned emergencies.

You can use techniques that ensure we only concern ourselves with the significant issues and confront these first before becoming bogged down or sidetracked by irrelevant matters. This is often referred to as the 80:20 rule.

3. Project Execution Phase

In the execution phase, work begins on implementing the project plan. This means putting it into action as soon as possible. The famous quote "Procrastination is the thief of time" is used for project execution.

Of course, it is only sometimes possible to do it with others. Achieving something, like managing projects, requires teamwork.

Remember, in our private lives, those with good friends have more exciting lives; people must learn to rely on the support of others by consciously delegating and thus sharing the load.

stage of project life cycle

The delegation also shows that you respect and trust the team, which will build personal loyalty and strong personal relationships and, in turn, encourage people to take ownership of specific tasks and feel part of the big picture.

During the execution phase, project managers should focus on a few things. Tasks should be assigned to appropriate team members and provided with the necessary guidance and explanation on completing them.

Key Components: 

  • Task execution and project deliverables production.
  • Team collaboration and communication.
  • Ongoing monitoring of project progress.

Communication with team members, clients, and stakeholders is necessary, as everyone involved with a project should be updated on the progress made during the project's execution.

4. Project Control Phase

The process started in the previous execution phase, and now, in this project management life cycle phase, the focus is on monitoring the processes as the work is performed. Typically, control is the day-to-day effort of project managers to keep project work on track.

 Key Activities:

  • Real-time monitoring of project activities.
  • Identification and resolution of issues.
  • Adjustments to project plans if necessary.

Tracking and assessing project performance is the most effective technique for ensuring progress and development. A project manager should ensure that team members meet their assigned tasks' time and quality goals.

project control cycle steps

Another critical aspect to manage is cost. Monitoring the budget and resources keeps the project on track. You should also scan your change management documents, spending records, and QA checklists. This way, you can track where your efforts and resources flow throughout the project life cycle and double-check your planning. You can spot bottlenecks and start essential conversations about project management process improvements.

By setting apparent milestones to review our progress in life or a project, we are in a better position to take corrective action if things are not going as planned. Alternatively, we can give ourselves a positive reward if we have achieved a significant milestone ahead of schedule.

Control also requires you to give regular feedback to all stakeholders on how well you are progressing. If more preparation, time, or resources are needed, notify all relevant project stakeholders before it is too late. For this, you should have data and results backing up your requests. This way, you have a better chance of justifying your requests and maintaining their trust.

5. Project Close Out Phase

Project closure is defined as the learning stage of a project. We collect and store data on our successes and shortcomings in this phase. This ensures we do not continue to follow the same predictable path to failure.

Often, we do not learn from our experiences and find ourselves in unproductive relationships or situations, which can lead to a downward spiral into negative self-criticism.

If you stay on task even after the project ends, you will be prepared to apply all you have learned to your next project. Ensure all project aspects are completed, and no loose ends remain.

different phases of the project life cycle

Key Tasks:

  • Final project evaluation and assessment.
  • Formal acceptance of deliverables.
  • Project closure documentation.

The closing process involves handing the deliverables to the client and documentation to the owners, cancelling supplier contracts and releasing staff and equipment. You should also provide a report to key stakeholders and allocate the remaining resources for future budgets.

The essential benefit the closure phase has for the project completion is emphasising the importance of formal project management and bringing in the knowledge that will benefit the business in the future.

Project closure begins with a candid evaluation of the project's performance, followed by identifying best practices and lessons learned. The project assessment report keeps this valuable information on hand for future initiatives. It serves as a reservoir for knowledge gained through trial and error and a medium for communicating that knowledge throughout the organisation.

In your current organisation, you will find that much of your work is increasingly done in a project format. Remember, a project is a problem/need scheduled for a solution, and as Roy Keane said, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."

Free Editable Project Life Cycle Checklist

Making the Most Out of Project Life Cycle

Understanding the project life cycle and its five phases is essential for professionals at every level of project management. The initiation phase sets the groundwork, the planning phase charts the course, the execution phase brings plans to life, the monitoring and controlling phase ensures course correction, and the closing phase marks the successful project culmination.

Collaborating with the Institute of Project Management can be transformative for those aspiring to deepen their understanding and gain hands-on exposure to the project life cycle. Our Certified Project Management Diploma provides a comprehensive curriculum, equipping project managers with the skills to execute and organise projects seamlessly using the project life cycle.

Enrolling in this programme enhances project managers' theoretical knowledge and gives them practical insights into applying the project life cycle principles. This collaborative learning experience propels professionals to master project management, ensuring they are well-prepared to lead projects successfully.