What Are the Four Stages of the Project Management Life Cycle?

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Project management principles can be applied to any project, from simple projects taking a single day to complex multi-year projects.
Project management principles can be applied to any project, from simple projects taking a single day to complex multi-year projects. (Image: Patrick Ryan/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Project management is a discipline that involves planning, organizing and monitoring a project within the constraints of time, budget and resources allocated for it. Projects begin by defining a goal based on a demonstrated need, and conclude with demonstrating that need has been effectively met by the project and the goal achieved. To do this, the project is guided through the definition, planning, execution and delivery stages.

Definition

The definition phase is first and is sometimes referred to as the initiation phase. In this phase, the project manager is hired or appointed, and then selects a team. During this phase, the need to be met by the project is carefully defined. Individuals impacted by the problem are consulted, needs are discussed and solutions debated. The early documentation of the project is also generated during this phase. This typically involves a business case justification for the process, an overview of the project and the defining of milestones. Milestones are points at which the project is measured to insure that it is on track.

Planning

During the planning phase, the individual steps in the project are defined from the beginning to the end. Key goals like specific objectives, business benefits and project objectives are defined; the governance or management structure of the project is also defined. The management structure in this case involves defining who is responsible for what and who reports to whom. Carefully defining project steps, deliverables and management structure from the outset is important so that accountability and measurability can be maintained throughout the process and conflicts can be resolved quickly.

Execution

The execution phase of the project is typically the longest phase of project management. As the name implies, it is during this phase that the actual work on the project is carried out. While the work is ongoing, project managers are monitoring progress, testing finished work and prototypes and any problems that arise are resolved. As the execution phase moves toward completion, groups that are impacted by the project are informed about and involved in the project to insure that the goals are being met, answer any questions that arise and produce any required documentation, such as manuals.

Evaluation and Closure

The final phase of the project management life cycle is referred to as the evaluation or closure phase. It is during this phase that the finished project is presented and analyzed to determine whether or not it was a success. This is also the learning phase. Debriefing takes place about the overall project for the benefit of future projects. Any problems that arose are discussed along with lessons learned and possible ways that things could be done better the next time. A final report and project closure notice are typically sent to management at this point.

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