Project Management Lifecycle Explained

project management lifecycle

The quality of the project management lifecycle is one of the core concepts driving the success of many businesses, yet more often than not, people turn a blind eye to it. In fact, the companies that fail to recognize advanced project management as a strategic asset watch an average of 67% of their projects going down the drain, a recent report by the PMI says.  

But five-star project lifecycle management is paramount no matter the complexity of the project and the size of the team working on it. As long as there is a goal — you need to define a structured guide of how you are going to get that goal achieved. As paradoxically as it might sound, working out a project lifecycle will bring simplicity into the process: it will always draw a clear definition of who, when, why, and how. It will break your project into meaningful pieces.

How do you conceptualize this lifecycle, then, and make your project run like a Swiss clock? Let’s take a look.


What is a project management lifecycle? 

Project management lifecycle is a high-level term that summarizes everything that goes into successful project delivery, from ideation to completion. Establishing a solid and well-structured approach to project management helps companies take a good grip on their business goals, prevent risks and predict change. 

Here is a simple allegory that can help us skip an exceedingly verbal explanation of the concept. Imagine that we’re playing a game here. The name of that game is “project lifecycle management” and each ‘stage’ that goes into it stands for a round in the game. Once you are done with one round, you unlock the next one and so on and so forth until you get to see crackers and fireworks symbolizing victory. However, it is not as black and white in project management: here you can go through some stages with dubious success and only feel the real consequences of not being thorough enough when the house of cards starts falling down. 

According to the PMBOK Guide, the project management lifecycle of a project is comprised of these 5 phases: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closure — in that exact order. Now, let’s take a closer look at all of those stages.


5 phases of the project management lifecycle 

One of the best things about project management lifecycle phases is that their names are self-explanatory. Even if you can’t induce what components go into each stage, you can at least get an idea of what it is about.

1. Project initiation

Project initiation is very much like the first date in the sense that there is still quite some convincing to be made before your stakeholders agree to commit to the idea you’re trying to sell. In this stage, project managers need to develop a business case to give some solid background to the project idea and run a feasibility study to show just how ‘doable’ the project really is. 

Naturally, it’s not as easy as it sounds — a business case and feasibility study are not the only things to be taken care of in this stage of the formalized project management lifecycle. But once you have them at hand, the rest will follow relatively easily.

In short, with a business case, you need to give a general overview of the project, its goal and purpose, potential results, predicted costs, and expected benefits. No one will expect you to give sure numbers, but a ballpark estimate is crucial for stakeholders to understand what they are signing up for. 

Next, there goes the feasibility study. It asks you to make project assumptions, define potential constraints and risks that can make the project go through a series of delays or even stop dead in its tracks altogether. 

2. Project planning

This second stage is always included in the full lifecycle project management. It is the point where concepts and ideas get transformed into step-by-step plans.

Think of the process as if it were an inverted pyramid: you start with a preliminary introduction, generic notions, and outlines in the project initiation phase. Then, during project planning, you go deeper into the pyramid, things get more specific and defined, it’s easier to see what does or does not belong in the project. 

There are several documents you need to draft when planning your project. The list includes but is not limited to a project charter, statement of work, work-breakdown structure, and a project plan. All of these documents pursue a common goal — to get your numbers aligned. What time frames are you looking at? What’s the state of your resources or capacity? How much budget do you currently have or have yet to obtain? These are the typical questions you would usually need to address during this stage.

3. Project execution

Project execution is the Equator of project lifecycle management. It is the chapter where things get heated, blood pressure rises, stakes get higher, and you bump face-to-face with what is doable and what is desirable. 

Contrary to popular belief, having a solid project plan does not guarantee that your project is in for a smooth ride. More often than not, there will be a fly in the ointment that can complicate the project. For instance, at one point you might realize that the goals driving different teams are not aligned and there is no common understanding of what, why, when, and how.

What are the best practices that can save the day here? For starters, be sure to define clear responsibilities and develop a sense of accountability within and across your teams. Next, check your project progress and leave no stone unturned when looking for ways to optimize team productivity. Finally, watch out for scope creep and take the time needed to develop an advanced level of communication among all the stakeholders.    

4. Project monitoring

Successful projects need constant supervision, take it or leave it. Considering the array of things that can delay or derail a project, keeping a close watch on it is always a smart thing to do. Especially if you have a few projects running simultaneously — better safe than sorry. 

What goes into project monitoring, then? Having drafted a project management schedule for the entire project lifecycle, you need to be sure to always have access to real-time data to be able to check the status of each milestone, task, and subtask, if need be. Furthermore, you need to have good control over all of your dependencies to avoid the domino effect in case some task takes more time than you initially thought it would. This asks you to either develop a maze-like spreadsheet structure or come up with a much less time-consuming system with the help of reliable project management software. But more about that later. 

5. Project closure

This is the part where you can draw a line, draft reports, conduct analyses, and make a final statement on just how successful the project in focus has been. On top of that, it’s a great time to victoriously gather all the stakeholders on the project management lifecycle and present your project outcomes. 

But how can you simplify this process of project management and raise your chances for success? The answer is predictable — use advanced technology. However, interestingly enough, recent research by Wellingtone found that only 23% of companies actively use project lifecycle management tools and as many as 54% don’t have access to their real-time KPIs at all. Here’s what they are missing.


Project lifecycle management software

By and large, there is a lot of ‘fuss’ that comes with active communication among multiple team members. And it is even harder to get everyone and everything in line when you don’t have a good grip on your projects. This is why taking care of your project management lifecycle using a methodology like agile coupled with a project management solution makes it easier to reach the finish line in good spirits. There are numerous benefits to the regular use of reliable software as the primary resource in project management lifecycle, but here are the ones that get mentioned more often than others. 

Easy planning  

Project planning can rightfully take the status of the most cumbersome stage in your project lifecycle. After all, making sure that every stakeholder finds the planning doable and, most importantly, comfortable, writing documentation and developing change management processes during the project lifecycle — all of that can take weeks to months. And what if a single dependency changes midway, messes up your whole schedule and you have to redo it practically from scratch? Not for all the tea in China, right? This is why your project planning needs to be solid and fluid at the same time. And this is where technology can take that stress off your shoulders. 

For instance, Forecast is an end-to-end project management tool covering all the phases and when it comes to project planning, it has this magic feature called Auto Schedule. If you have at least a basic definition of your milestones, tasks, and the available resources — your project schedule can be created within one click. But that’s not even the best part. The best part is that if something like dependency changes in the project, the tool will automatically adjust the project schedule so everything still gets delivered on time and no one is left on standby. 

Advanced team collaboration

The he-said-she-said approach can turn projects into a mess. This is why swift and effective collaboration and communication among stakeholders can often be decisive. Along with advanced communication channels, people should also have access to an easily decipherable interface where they can see who is working on what, how much time it will take to complete each milestone, and when their part of the task will begin. 

For instance, you can use a Kanban board to create tasks, assign people, and even have your team members discuss specific tasks right on the platform. What’s more, Kanban boards always have a very intuitive interface, which is why you can easily understand what task hasn’t been started yet, what is in progress, and what has already been completed. 

Real-time data and reporting

Creating progress reports is another time-consuming activity many project managers dream of skipping because of the amount of administrative work it adds to their agenda. However, a well-structured project management lifecycle will ask you to create multiple types of reports on a regular basis, which means that project reporting in itself could be a full-time job. 

However, there is a way around it if you know what project management solution fits your business needs best of all. For example, with Forecast, you can have countless reports automatically created in a matter of a few clicks. Do you need to understand the utilization rate of your resources? Are you interested in the state of your project budgeting or perhaps your investors are asking for progress information? Do you need to create a general project progress report? An AI-driven solution will help you have all of that and much more in proper order whenever you need it. 

Final thoughts

Project lifecycle management is the enemy of chaos. It is the type of force that resembles military-style order only it is adapted for your unique business purposes. It reduces uncertainty, structures the overall project management process, and gives you an opportunity to predict the way the project is going to unravel. 

But there is a catch, of course. What a good project lifecycle will always ask in return is a massive time investment and that, unfortunately, is not something project managers always have at the ready. This is how technology helps you kill two birds with one stone: you get a properly built project lifecycle while also saving some time and reducing the amount of administrative work to be done.

If you want to learn how Forecast can help you approach your lifecycle management from a new angle, book a demo now.  

Subscribe to the Forecast Newsletter

Get a monthly roundup of productivity tips & hacks delivered straight to your inbox