5 Phases of the Project Management Life Cycle (2024 Process Guide)

Updated Jul 24, 2023.

Understanding the project management life cycle is crucial for project managers and business owners. Managing a project can be demanding and challenging especially when scope creep (adding new features, deliverables, and tasks to a project after initiation) arises.

Whether your project needs are small or large, or you are working with small goals or multi-departmental and large goals, there are a lot of factors that can hinder the successful completion of your projects.

However, when you divide your projects into smaller manageable phases, you can easily track, manage, and control them.

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about the four phases of the project management life cycle that are essential for the success of your projects.

Let’s dive in.

What is the Project Management Life Cycle?

The project management life cycle describes the entire processes a project goes through from initiation to closure. This cycle talks about the life of a project, how the project starts and ends, and the different phases the project passes through to completion. The project management life cycle is divided into phases and they ought to be followed accordingly.

Managing a project is not an easy task, regardless of the size and scope. It needs to go through a series of stages before actualization. Knowing and understanding the phases relieves you, as the project manager, of being overwhelmed by the scale of a project.

The project management life cycle goes beyond the project itself. This cycle focuses on how the project is being executed, says so much about the success of a project, and gives you a glimpse of how successful a project should be at the end of execution.

5 Phases of the Project Management Life Cycle

Every project's life cycle includes five phases and these phases are as important as the project itself. Dividing a project, irrespective of its scope, into phases makes it easier to accomplish. Every phase has its goal and once it is met, you can successfully move to the next.

1. Project Initiation

The initiation stage is the first phase of the life cycle of project management where people convert abstract thoughts and ideas into a meaningful actionable plan. At the initiation phase, you are identifying a business need, looking for the best solutions to them, and bringing it alive.

This stage involves you trying to visualize a plan, bring it to book, and arrange a team to execute the plan. Depending on the nature of the project, the approval comes from the recipient such as sponsors, stakeholders, and clients.

In this stage, you are defining the project on a broad level. Before you can do this, you first have to determine the why of the project and then proceed to create a project charter.

A project charter refers to a document that contains essential details about the project such as project constraints, project goals, budgets, timeline, and more. Technical details are not included in a project charter.

Project Chapter Template
Source: ClickUp Blog

Tips on Initiating a Project

  • Craft a Project Charter – In the document, you should write down the vision, mission, objectives, and goals of the project.
  • Do a Brief Study – Identify what needs the project is addressing and the best possible solutions for it.
  • Know the Key Project Stakeholders – Identify every person that is attached to the project from the project managers to the team members, clients, and sponsors.

2. Project Planning

After getting approval from the right persons to move on from initiation, the team can begin project planning. Project planning is one of, if not the most vital aspect of a project management life cycle. Getting things from this phase can jeopardize the whole plan.

If your team has a budgeted time to go through the five phases, the planning stage arguably takes the bulk of the project’s timespan except you are using a modern project management methodology (agile project management) for your project.

This phase involves identifying the technical requirements, creating a detailed project schedule, setting up a communication plan, and drawing out goals or deliverables for the project.

Define Your Project Scope and Work Breakdown Structure

At this phase, you define the project scope. If you are to change the scope of the project demands, you need the approval of the project managers. Developing a work breakdown structure (WBS) by the project manager is also essential at this phase for better visualization of the entire project.

Work Breakdown structure and activities
Source: Wrike

Project Timeline

Another crucial element of the project planning phase is creating a detailed project timeline for every goal or deliverable. Project managers can use the project timelines created to develop a communication plan with the key project stakeholders.

Risk Mitigation

A key aspect to consider at this stage is risk mitigation. The project manager is responsible for identifying potential risks to the project and plotting strategies to prevent them from hindering the project.

Change Management Plan

Having an effective change management plan is essential at this stage. One of the hallmarks of an effective project manager is the ability to incorporate changes to the project without causing any project.

Without a functional change management plan, the scope creep situation arises which can cause project delays and other problems at the latter phases of the project.

Change Management process - 3 phases
Source: nTask

3 P’s Goal Lens

The goals you wrote down during the initiation phase will be expanded in the planning stage. A lot of evaluation will be done from time to time. The best criteria to continually evaluate your goals are passion, pervasiveness, and possibility. They are known as the 3 P's goal lens. What does the 3 P's mean?

  • Passion – Projects can be tough to handle and manage regardless of the scope. A team with lazy members might jeopardize the plan. For successful execution, you will need a team that is passionate and emotionally attached to the project enough to give it their best. Before you question your team's passion, ask yourself if your project is worth being passionate about. Ask yourself if the project is worthwhile enough to gather a team to collaborate with you. Teamwork is easier when the project is worth all of the effort.
  • Pervasiveness – This criterion focuses on the potentials of the project itself. Does the project have the potential to record a ground-breaking success? Is it a project that provides a wholesome solution to the need you discovered before the initiation phase? Compare the longevity of the after-effect of the project to the effort the team puts in during the phases of execution. Finding answers to these questions determines the pervasiveness of the project.
  • Possibility – The last ‘P' is more concerned about the reality of the goals. Is it an achievable one? Does the solution match the budget in your books? Do you have a capable team to take on the project? You have to be realistic with your plans, ideas, solutions, and objectives. Setting unrealistic goals is just you setting yourself up for failure. Over-ambition can also breed unrealistic goals. Aiming for something beyond your capacity financially and materially can lead you to set unachievable goals. You have to be true to yourself and your team.

Your plan should outline costs, activities, mini-milestones, tasks, time-frames, deadlines, and rewards. Additionally, your goals should be S.M.A.R.T that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. Once your goal has an element of these attributes, you are good to go.

Tips on Planning a Project

  • Create a Project Plan – Map out the activities, tasks, schedules, and charts that will keep the project moving.
  • Create a Resource Plan – The resource plan focuses on the project team, the resources, and materials to execute the project.
  • Create a Quality Plan – Set realistic targets and measures. You do not have to set unrealistic targets because you want to rush the execution. A careful and steady execution process can get you the desired results.
  • Create a Financial Plan – The financial plan focuses on the cost estimates for each milestone. Provide the minimum and maximum cost estimate for each target and ensure to work within the range.
  • Create a Risk Plan – The risk plan identifies possible risks, assumptions, uncertainties, and issues that may arise during the project management life cycle.
  • Create a Communication Plan – Build an effective communication channel between the team members and with the stakeholders.

After making the plan, you now have the foundation that other phases can build on.

3. Project Execution

This is the stage of a project life cycle where you start implementing everything you have laid down in the project plan. The execution phase is all about bringing your plan alive, that is making the project happen. Here, you assemble your resources, gather the team, brief them, give the rules, and introduce each one to his teammate.

Once the protocol is done, every member begins their task immediately. As the project supervisor, your focus now will be to give the green light for members to proceed to project execution. The execution phase will involve lots of meetings, seminars, briefings, and reviews to ensure steady progress.

Depending on the project scope, some teams will have sub-heads who would report to the project manager periodically on the current status of the project execution. This phase begins the actionable stage where the team works to get the desired results.

Under normal circumstances, the execution phase should be the longest of all phases because this is where all resources will be used in the anticipation of getting good results. The team will experience unforeseen events in this phase and the preparation from the previous phase will be useful here.

Tips on Executing a Project

  • Assign Roles – The vision and mission are already in the books so you need to assign leadership roles to qualified people to keep the project running.
  • Create Tasks – Minor tasks should be issued to team members because it clearly shows what needs to be done urgently and what not.
  • Tasks Briefing – Intermittent briefings should be done to engage the team and make instructions clear. Remind them of deadlines and targets so everyone knows where they stand.
  • Client Management – Engage the clients during this phase to ensure that they contribute their quota to the project execution.
  • Effective Communication – Ensure effective communication with the right people at the right time using the right communication channels.

4. Project Monitoring

This phase of the project management life cycle is one of the toughest phases that the project manager has to pass through. It is a phase that runs alongside the project execution phase. The project manager monitors the project's progress and reports performances to the right persons when due via project status reports.

The monitoring stage is when the project manager controls the operations and ensures everything is going as planned. If they are not going as planned, then the manager quickly finds solutions to get back on track. In a way, monitoring and controlling is a task done throughout the five phases.

This phase is separated as a different phase because it is an inevitable task that has to be done by someone once project execution is underway. The project manager uses every data gotten from the charts and sheets to compare the progress with the already laid-down plan.

The comparison tells the team how fast or slow they are moving with project execution. If operations are not going as planned (in rare cases), the team has to find a quick means to pivot the present situation into what will get them back on track.

Breaking the project into milestones can help the team with efficient execution. Establish Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and Critical Success Factors (CSF) to keep your team moving towards the original goal throughout the project.

Tips on Monitoring a Project

  • Risk Management – The team should monitor the project and check for possible risky situations. When it surfaces, the supervisor should be able to control, manage, and discern the health risks from the unhealthy risks.
  • Cost Management – You should periodically check the timesheets for the income and expenses records, compare them with the budget you wrote down during the project planning stage.
  • Quality Management – Inspect the resources and deliverables to ensure the quality of work being put out by each team member.
  • Time Management – You should be careful of the target deadlines. It helps you know which aspect needs more urgency. Timely checks also help the team members sit tight while executing the project.

These four phases involve working on the project and if they all go as planned, it is time to move on to the final phase of the project management life cycle.

5. Project Closing

The closure phase is the final step of the project management life cycle. In this phase, the project is gradually coming to a close and it is the job of the project manager to close it. You need to note that the project is not outrightly over until after the project closure phase.

At this point, the project manager will be hosting a series of post-execution meetings and reviews to go over the whole process from the initiation phase. The manager and the team discuss the team's strengths and weaknesses during execution. This will help them improve for subsequent projects.

The closure is one of the rewarding phases of a project life cycle. It is an opportunity for every member to recognize the value they added to the team's success. This phase is when members acknowledge the efforts of each other and pop bottles to celebrate the achievements.

Ideally, this phase is for the team members to celebrate successes and make corrections to the shortcomings experienced during the journey. The corrections could be written in documents so that project managers can highlight every issue, mistake, and a lesson in black and white.

Tips on Closing a Project

  • Performance Analysis – The project manager should go through the overview of the project to see how well it was managed. The accuracy of the cost estimates and budget should be checked also. Check if there were unforeseen events and how well it was dealt with.
  • Team Analysis – This analysis is for every team member to know if they did their work efficiently. Did they meet the stipulated deadlines and targets? Were they slacking at some point? Were they exhausted at some point due to overwork? Questions like these put everyone on a check.
  • Project Closure – The person in charge should officially document every task that is needed to bring the project to an end. This includes the necessary signings of documents, final cost analysis of every expense and income.

Simplify Your Project Management Process with the Right Tools

The five phases of the project management life cycle walk you through how a project can be efficiently initiated, planned, executed, monitored, and closed. Mishandling a phase can affect the whole plan while proper management can make the whole process look easy.

Project management tools can help you simplify your project management process.

If you are searching for a Mac-friendly project management tool for remote work with an advanced reporting and alerting system, Scoro is the best pick.

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Anastasia Belyh

Editor at FounderJar

Anastasia has been a professional blogger and researcher since 2014. She loves to perform in-depth software reviews to help software buyers make informed decisions when choosing project management software, CRM tools, website builders, and everything around growing a startup business.

Anastasia worked in management consulting and tech startups, so she has lots of experience in helping professionals choosing the right business software.