Chapter 2: Understanding the project management lifecycle

The project management lifecycle is a popular framework that maps the stages of a project. Having an understanding of the phases within the project management lifecycle will help you better plan, track, and manage your project from start to finish.

This chapter also includes information on the triple constraint of project management, and A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), developed by the Project Management Institute (PMI).

5 phases of project management lifecycle

The project management lifecycle is a five-phase process that outlines the general stages of any project, regardless of industry, company size, or proposed deliverables. These phases are as follows:

  1. Initiation
  2. Planning
  3. Execution
  4. Monitoring and control
  5. Project close 
PM Guide phases of PM lifecycle

By providing a standard set of steps to follow and breaking down the workload into smaller, more manageable tasks, the project management lifecycle improves project success rates. Following these phases will also help you build repeatable, scalable processes that you can use across initiatives. 

Below, you’ll learn more about each of the five phases in detail.

1. Project initiation

Initiation is the first stage in the project lifecycle. The goal of project initiation is to define the project, create business justification, and gain approval from key stakeholders.

To do so, you must first develop a clear understanding of your project’s expected business value and how it aligns to greater organizational goals. Then, articulate the project’s main objectives, identify key stakeholders, and set basic expectations.

To formalize the work as part of project initiation, do the following:

  • Conduct a feasibility report: In a feasibility report, you identify all the resources you will need for your project (including time, money, and personnel). Use this document to determine the project’s viability, and decide whether or not to move forward with it.
  • Create a project charter: A project charter, also called a project initiation document (PID), is a short, formal document that describes your project, including a high-level justification, objectives, stakeholders, risks, and benefits. Read our article to learn more and to download free project charter templates.

Once you get sign off from stakeholders, it’s time to drill down into the specifics of your project by creating a project plan.

2. Project planning

In the project planning phase, create an outline that details how your project will progress. Develop an in-depth understanding of the project needs and deliverables, and formally document this information in your project plan

In general, a project plan should includes the following components:

  • Scope: Detail what you aim to accomplish throughout your project, including strategic objectives and deliverables. Be sure to define what’s considered in and out of project scope to avoid scope creep, which you’ll learn more about below.
  • Risk: Complete a risk assessment to identify potential project risks and develop a plan for how to mitigate them. 
  • Resources: Identify the resources required to deliver the project successfully. Create a detailed budget, a plan for resource allocation, and a list of vendors you will work with, if applicable.
  • Metrics for success: Define how you will measure the success of your project. Identify concrete key performance indicators (KPIs) that you will use to evaluate your work.
  • Schedule: Create a project schedule that defines when the team will complete each project task, and assign owners to each deliverable. Break down the schedule into smaller phases to make the project feel more manageable, and identify critical milestones. 
  • Communication: Define the methods, cadence, and tools you will use to communicate throughout the project. Set up a project portal to house all documentation, and make sure all stakeholders have access to the relevant tools and documents.

3. Project execution

During project execution, the project team works to complete the tasks outlined in the project plan. This is usually the most time and resource-intensive phase, and is what most people consider the “meat” of the project. 

Project execution typically starts with a project kickoff meeting, where you discuss roles, responsibilities, and expectations. At this time, review the project plan and create a list of next steps so everyone’s in sync on what’s to come.

Check in frequently with team members throughout the execution phase to discuss progress and any issues that arise. Change is inevitable, but it’s important to communicate early and often in order to identify solutions and update plans as necessary. 

Plan to meet regularly with project stakeholders to relay project progress and describe how you are handling any challenges. Doing so will build confidence and trust.

You can learn more about how to balance team and stakeholder expectations in Chapter 6.

4. Project monitoring and control

The project monitoring and control phase happens alongside project execution, but it is considered its own phase with specific activities. These phases include:

  • Managing resources and risk
  • Monitoring performance
  • Modifying the project plan as necessary

To track all the details of your project, you’ll need real-time visibility into task status. This will allow you to accurately report on project progress, manage the timeline and budget, and make any necessary adjustments along the way.

In general, you should monitor the following factors:

  • Risks: No project is immune to risk, but monitoring risks — whether related to budget, timeline, incidents, or more — help ensure a successful project. Emphasize transparency and compliance within your team, so when issues  inevitably arise, you can respond quickly. 
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs): Continually assess your project against the performance metrics identified during the project planning phase. Doing so will help you to measure the success of your project throughout its lifecycle.
  • Task and project status: Ensure team members document their progress and any issues that arise in a central location that everyone can access. This will serve as an official project record.
  • Scope: Monitor the project scope to prevent scope creep, which is the uncontrolled expansion or shift of project priorities beyond the initial project plan. Set expectations with stakeholders around requesting changes to project goals and timelines, as new demands can cause unintended risks and project delays, and budget overruns.

The monitoring and control phase ends when you have fully completed the project, and are ready to turn in project deliverables.

5. Project closeout

Project closeout, also called project closure, represents the end of the project. During this stage, the team hands off final deliverables to business stakeholders, and conducts a project retrospective

Typically, the team will participate in a post-mortem meeting to discuss what went well and identify room for improvement. 

During project closeout, talk with stakeholders about any incomplete deliverables, and make a plan to resolve them. Additionally, create a project budget report that outlines the actual spend, and organize all project documentation in one place for reference. 

Project closeout is a critical part of the project, as it allows you to identify lessons learned and highlight key insights to apply to future projects.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge by the PMI

In 1996, the Project Management Institute (PMI) created the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), which outlines the standard guidelines and terminology for managing projects. This was seen as the first formal documentation of modern project management, and is still used today.

The PMBOK® Guide, now on its seventh edition, serves as the most comprehensive formal guide to project management, and includes information on methodologies, resourcing, scheduling, and standards, as well as tips and best practices to help you deliver projects on time and on budget. 

The PMBOK® Guide is especially well known for defining 10 critical knowledge areas, which make up the key realms in the Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification exam, which the PMI sponsors. 

According to the PMI, the 10 knowledge areas of project management are as follows:

  1. Project integration management: The activities that identify and unite the various processes, tasks, and activities needed to execute a project. 
  2. Project scope management: The activities the project manager performs in order to accomplish everything within the project scope, and to prevent scope creep. 
  3. Project time management: The activities to ensure that the project is completed on schedule. 
  4. Project cost management: The activities to ensure that the project is completed on or under budget, and to manage any changes to the budget.
  5. Project quality management: The project manager must understand how to ensure that the project maintains quality standards, beyond the completion of all deliverables. 
  6. Project human resource management: This category includes everything the project manager does to unite, organize, manage, and support the project team. 
  7. Project communications management: The project manager should determine how best to communicate with the project team and stakeholders, and how to relay those expectations. 
  8. Project risk management: The activities the project manager performs to identify and mitigate risks to project success.
  9. Project procurement management: The understanding of how to recruit, partner with, or procure any services or products needed to complete the project, outside of the immediate project team.
  10. Project stakeholder management: The activities needed to manage stakeholder expectations and serve as a liaison between stakeholders and team members.