What Are the Five Project Life Cycle Phases?

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A female project manager addresses colleagues in a conference room
A female project manager addresses colleagues in a conference room (Image: Monkey Business Images Ltd/Monkey Business/Getty Images)

Project management broadly refers to the process and related activities of planning, organizing and controlling resources to achieve specific goals. Projects are usually constrained by factors such as scope, budget and time, requiring the project management function to optimize the allocation of resources and properly integrate them to overcome these constraints and meet predefined objectives. Managing project activities can be seen as a sequence of steps to be completed, in line with the five phases that define the project life cycle.

Initiation

Project initiation starts the project life cycle and involves assembling a team headed by a project manager and providing an overview of the project. The overview typically includes defining the reason for the project, business goals and the strategy to achieve the desired results. In addition, a preliminary scope, budget proposal, milestones and a completion date are given. This phase usually concerns senior managers who create a business case for the project based on a feasibility study and develop a project charter that specifies the project vision, scope, expectations and implementation plan.

Planning

Planning entails charting all necessary tasks for project completion and providing realistic task completion dates. The planning phase often involves creating a project management plan to guide the team. The PMP gives a detailed breakdown of required skills, risk assessment, non-labor resources and milestones for each task. It identifies the stakeholders and defines the criteria needed for the successful completion of each task -- how and when activities will be undertaken, procedures to be followed, reporting frequency and communication channels.

Execution

During the execution phase, the planned solution is implemented to meet the project's requirements. The project team and the necessary resources are gathered and used to create the desired outputs of the project. It's an iterative phase that involves troubleshooting, testing and reviews in order to meet a specific set of product requirements. The project manager oversees proper resource allocation to keep the project on schedule. He also maintains communication with both internal and external stakeholders -- the project team members, executive management and vendors -- to discuss project status.

Control

The control phase involves project testing and monitoring to make sure the work being executed complies with the plan and meets stakeholder expectations. The objective is project acceptance by the client. Project results are constantly monitored and if any deviations occur or the client requests a specific change, the data is fed back to the execution processes so corrective actions are taken. This phase is completed when deliverables -- the final outputs of the project -- are approved by the client as having met the prescribed quality standards defined in the plan.

Closure

The closure phase typically involves documenting the project -- a process that begins when deliverables are released by the contractor and formally accepted by the client. All pertinent materials are handed over, including project documentation, manuals and source code. All contract administration paperwork is completed, highlighted by the signed contract documents of acceptance. A formal project review report that identifies and rates the level of project success as well as a critical review of lessons learned is also given to the client.

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