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5 Phases of a Project & Supporting Templates

Updated: Apr 26

What Are The 5 Phases Of The Project Management Life Cycle?

  1. Project Initiation

  2. Planning

  3. Execution

  4. Monitoring & Controlling

  5. Closure

A diagram of the 5 project phases
The 5 Project Phases

This document is a basic introduction to the key phases a project manager will follow through a project management life cycle.


I've included every major project document template for a basic/moderate complexity project. You're welcome.


None of this is mandatory. Most of it is recommended, but it will depend on the size and nature of your project. Sometimes, a project team is just you. If so, creating a resource management spreadsheet to track a single team member is overkill.


Adapt and adopt as you see fit. Be pragmatic. Keep it simple.


Project Initiation Graphic with key steps

Project Initiation Phase


For every project manager embarking on a new project, they are setting sail on uncharted waters. No matter how often you've captained a project, each brings challenges, stakeholders, and unknowns. Even the most simple ones throw up something.


The first phase in this journey, the Initiation Phase, is crucial for setting the right course and establishing a solid foundation.


What Is the Initiation Phase?


The Initiation Phase is the conceptual stage of a project, where its value and feasibility are measured to determine whether it should be approved for further action.


In other words, this phase helps you answer, "Should we proceed with this project? And if so, why?"


It’s a question that needs to be asked robustly. It might be easy to answer: the project is needed due to regulatory or contractual obligations, rationalisation, or cost savings. Sometimes, it requires digging into the concept, approach and business case, and that’s what we are doing here in the Initiation Phase.


Key Components of the Initiation Phase


Feasibility Study

A feasibility study is the first order of business.


This study assesses whether the project is viable from technical, financial, and operational standpoints.


The findings of the feasibility study will be a deciding factor in whether the project should proceed. Of course, if you already know it’s well within your wheelhouse, you can skip this (and any other unnecessary steps). And, sometimes, people tell you just to JFDI.

Stakeholder Analysis

Understanding who will be affected by the project is crucial.


Stakeholder analysis involves identifying internal and external stakeholders and understanding their interests, expectations, and level of influence over the project.


This information will inform your project strategy.

Business Case (Important)

A business case is a formal document that outlines the rationale for initiating the project.

The business case includes the problem the project aims to solve, the proposed solution, expected benefits, and an estimate of resources (time, money, etc.) required. At this stage, however, it's all just rough estimates because we probably haven't dived too deeply into it.


A word of warning: If the project is proceeding on a poorly defined business case, or because someone says ‘trust me!’, then alarm bells should be ringing. Take it from an old hand; just because someone is enthusiastic doesn’t mean it's a good idea. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Alternatively, here’s a lean canvas template designed to capture a commercial business case on a page. It can be an excellent tool for discussion and focusing on what’s important.


Project Sponsor

Every project needs a champion—someone who supports the project at the executive level. The project sponsor helps secure resources and can assist the project leader in manoeuvring through organisational politics.


They’ll either be paying great interest and providing support to the project manager or aloof. There’s never an in-between. As a project manager, you want the former.


Having a great sponsor gives clout to the project and helps it push forward during difficult moments. It can really make a huge difference.


The project sponsors key accountabilities are;

  • Aligning with overall business objectives

  • Decision-making point for escalated issues, finances, risks, etc.

  • Participation in steering committees

  • Oversight & assurance of the whole project to make sure it is being delivered effectively


Project Charter (Crucial)

A Project Charter is a formal document that outlines the project's objectives, scope, assumptions, constraints, and stakeholders.


It is an initial plan and a contract between the various project team members and the relevant stakeholders.


The project charter (or in PRINCE2 terms, the Project Initiation Document) is crucial. Getting it right at the outset, agreed and signed off is as important as setting the compass for a long voyage.


Best Practices for the Initiation Phase

  1. Involve Stakeholders Early: The sooner you involve stakeholders, the more buy-in you'll have, which can be crucial for the project's success. Keep the core project team as small as possible. Don’t invite every stakeholder or team member. You cannot make decisions and speak honestly that way.

  2. Conduct a SWOT Analysis: Understand the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to your project. This can offer valuable insights for the feasibility study and business case.

  3. Seek Expert Opinions: Internal resources are sometimes insufficient for a comprehensive analysis. Don't hesitate to seek external expertise to evaluate project feasibility. There can be a reluctance to go externally when technical resources want the challenge of something new and exciting, so it needs careful management.

  4. Be Transparent: Transparency is key when presenting your findings. Clearly lay out the benefits and risks so that stakeholders can make an informed decision.

  5. Secure Initial Resources: Even in the Initiation Phase, you’ll need some resources for analysis and documentation. Make sure these are accounted for. If possible, ring-fence them. If dives into solution options or approaches are needed for estimates, then make sure they are time-boxed. Otherwise, you’ll end up in the initiation phase longer than anticipated.

Project planning graphic with key steps

Project Planning Phase


The Planning Phase is often considered the backbone of the project management life cycle.


As the saying goes, "Failing to plan is planning to fail," (I couldn't write an article on project management and not squeeze that in, could I?), and this couldn't be more true in the realm of the project management process. Well, it’s what it's all about really, isn’t it?


A well-crafted plan serves as the roadmap that guides the team towards successful project completion. So, let’s dissect the Planning Phase, exploring its key components and best practices to set you on the path to success.


What Is the Planning Phase?

After receiving the green light during the Initiation Phase, the Planning Phase is where the project management plan comes to life.


This stage of the project phases involves creating a comprehensive action plan that outlines what needs to be done, how it will be done, who will do it, and when it will be done.


Remember these, if nothing else; WHO, WHAT & WHEN.


I cannot tell you how fundamental that is to running a project.


I’ve seen so many people agree on two of these and miss the third.


As a project manager, you should be saying constantly, “Who owns this, and when do they think it would be completed?”


Key Components of the Planning Phase


Project Scope (Crucial)

Defining the project scope sets the boundaries for what the project will and will not accomplish.


A well-defined scope helps prevent scope creep—a common pitfall that can derail many projects.


Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

The WBS is a hierarchical decomposition of the project's goals into manageable parts. It's the foundation for detailed project planning, helping you allocate resources, set deadlines, and establish a timeline.


It isn’t mandatory, but it is useful.


Effectively you create a diagrammatic vision of all the project components and deliveries. Some tools (like Microsoft Project) allow you to flip between WBS view and others, e.g. Gantt Chart).


Lucky for you, I’ve written a bit more on WBS in this article.


An example of a work breakdown structure (WBS)
WBS Example

Timeline and Milestones

Time is of the essence in any project.


Developing a project timeline and setting milestones are crucial steps in the planning phase to keep the project on track.


In my book, you’ll need this in a couple of forms;


1) A high-level project summary view of the timeline and milestones.

This includes all phases, major deliveries and key checkpoints.


It should be simple, uncluttered and easy for an executive to see where you are on the path and when you expect to finish.


This is effectively an outward-facing communication tool.


2) A detailed phase plan.

Depending on the size and nature of your project, you may want to break it into additional phases (e.g. Development / QA, Go-Live, etc.).


In fact, the more you can break it up like this, the better.


While the above project-level summary estimates all phases of the project, this detailed phase plan concentrates only on what the current phase is delivering. As you approach the next phase, you plan that out. This way, the plan doesn’t become too unwieldy.


Keep it simple.


Resource Planning

Here, you identify the human, material, and financial resources needed to complete the project.


Resource allocation must be accurate and realistic for the project to stay within budget and meet deadlines.


Don’t do this in isolation. Use various suppliers, workstreams, and delivery leads to create the figures.


In most organisations, the Finance team are very interested in the cost and the spend profile - meaning, when it will come out of the bank account, so make sure your budget is profiled to show when the costs will hit.

Risk Management Plan

Every project carries some level of risk. The Planning Phase is the ideal time to identify potential risks and develop mitigation strategies.


The project manager should not own all of the risks. The most suitable person should own them.


It’s a big subject, and I’ve touched upon it here. Why not take a break from this and read something more interesting?


Here is a risk management plan template for you as a reward.


Communication Plan

Communication is the cornerstone of any successful project management.


A communication plan outlines who needs to be informed, what they need to know, how they will be informed, and when.


I’ve included a comms plan in the stakeholder analysis template, but here’s a standalone version.


Best Practices for the Planning Phase

  1. Involve Key Stakeholders: Continue to engage stakeholders, especially when defining the project scope and objectives. Their insights can be invaluable.

  2. Use Project Management Software: Leverage project management tools to streamline planning, keep team members in the loop, and monitor progress.

  3. Prioritise Tasks: Not all tasks are created equal. Use prioritisation frameworks like MoSCoW (Must-have, Should-have, Could-have, Won't-have) to sort tasks.

  4. Review and Revise: A plan is not set in stone. As the project progresses, you may need to revisit and revise the plan to adapt to new information or changes.

  5. Documentation: Ensure that all planning documents are meticulously documented and easily accessible for future reference.



Project Execution graphic with key steps

Project Execution Phase


Having sailed through the Initiation and Planning phases, you now arrive at the heart of the matter: the Execution Phase.


This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road, transforming plans into tangible outcomes.


It's a stage in the project lifecycle where the project manager's leadership, communication, and crisis management skills are tested.


What Is the Execution Phase?


The Execution Phase is the final phase of the project management life cycle, where all the planning pays off as the project's deliverables are developed and completed. This stage encompasses various processes, from resource allocation and team leadership to stakeholder communication and quality assurance.



Key Components of the Execution Phase


Team Management

Your team is your most valuable asset. Period.


Effective team resource management includes distributing tasks, resolving conflicts, and fostering a positive environment that encourages productivity.


I can’t cover everything here as it is an introduction, but firstly; listen. Then, ask questions to get under the skin of things. Look for ‘gotchas’ and talk to people at the coal face actually doing the work. You’ll learn a lot.


Task Execution

The tasks outlined in the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) are executed during this phase. Ensuring they are completed on time, within the scope project budget, and to the required quality standards is paramount.


Don’t fuss about the details if you have team or workstream leaders reporting to the project. Keep the focus on the outcome level of their work, and allow them to execute how they best see fit, but do ask to see their plans (for surely, there needs to be some method to the approach they are taking).


Below is a link to a tool called a RAID log. It's great for smaller projects to keep Risks, Actions, Issues and Decisions all in one place.


Quality Control

Quality control processes are crucial for verifying that the project delivery's outcomes meet the required standards and stakeholder expectations.


This can include both internal and external assessments.


Quality checks, especially on software deliveries, are usually under-estimated hugely. If possible, bring the QA manager in from the start, have them understand the project and delivery as it grows, and get their estimates on the testing phases and duration. It should never be an afterthought.


For other large types of projects, you must articulate how you will check the quality of your project’s outputs.


Stakeholder Communication

The Execution Phase is often the most visible to stakeholders.


Clear, timely communication is vital to ensure everyone is aligned and to manage stakeholder expectations effectively.


We’ll come back to this in the next stage, where we’ll talk about methods of communication.


Procurement

If external resources or vendors are required, procurement processes come into play. This can range from tendering and contract negotiation to supplier management.


Depending upon the size of your project, this may be a whole phase in itself. If your organisation is large, there may be a team that can help with this. If it’s small, it may just be you.


It’s a critical step that launches the project on the right footing and needs to be handled in a transparent and rational manner.


Here, I talk about the biases that can sneak into decision-making processes and negatively influence the outcome.

And here, I talk about the problems around making decisions.


I see it all the time in the procurement stage. Sometimes, there isn’t a bad choice to be made. Sometimes there really is (spoiler alert, experience trumps enthusiasm).


Best Practices for the Execution Phase

  1. Agile Management: Flexibility is key. Be prepared to adapt your strategies as you receive new data or encounter unforeseen issues. If you aren’t aware of Agile, its a set of guidelines for software development, but useful for all types of projects: https://agilemanifesto.org/

  2. Regular Check-ins: Conduct regular team meetings to discuss progress, challenges, and upcoming tasks. This keeps everyone aligned and engaged. Get a cadence to the project, and maintain it. Talk, engage, report. Make sure the communication is flowing.

  3. Monitoring & Reporting: Utilise metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to monitor progress. Regular reports keep both team members and stakeholders informed.

  4. Risk Mitigation: Continuously assess risks that could impede execution and employ your predefined risk mitigation strategies as needed.

  5. Stakeholder Updates: Don't keep stakeholders in the dark. Use newsletters, meetings, or dashboard updates to inform them about project status.

  6. Documentation: Document processes, decisions, events, changes, and lessons learned. This not only helps in project audits but also becomes invaluable for future projects. The more complex the project, the more I’d advise you are on top of each of these. A good event log can save a person’s job.



Monitoring & Controlling Graphic with key steps

Project Monitoring and Controlling Phase


Navigating a project is not a set-and-forget affair.


Even with a well-crafted project plan and a motivated team, obstacles and deviations are almost a given when managing projects.


Enter the Monitoring and Controlling Phase: the watchtower from which project managers oversee the project landscape.


Running in parallel with the Execution Phase, this stage ensures that the project remains aligned with the established plan and provides mechanisms for course correction.


What Is the Monitoring and Controlling Phase?


The Monitoring and Controlling Phase involves tracking the project's performance and ensuring everything aligns with the project management plan.


It's where you ensure the project stays within the predefined scope, time, cost, and quality constraints.


Key Components of the Monitoring and Controlling Phase


Performance Indicators

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are metrics that allow you to gauge the health of your project.


Common KPIs include schedule variance (days / % off track), cost variance (budget overrun/underrun), and quality metrics (bugs, etc.)


Change Management

Despite best efforts, changes are inevitable.


Effective change management processes ensure that any alterations to scope, timeline, or resources are handled efficiently without derailing the other project goals.

Risk Management

Ongoing risk assessment and mitigation are crucial. Identify new risks and assess whether predefined mitigation strategies are effective, modifying them as needed.


Quality Audits

Regular quality reviews ensure the project team's deliverables meet the required standards. This includes compliance with internal policies and external regulations.


Stakeholder Communication

Keeping project stakeholders updated is just as important in this phase as it is in the Execution Phase. Provide regular updates on project progress, status, risks, and any changes to the initial plan.


Best Practices for the Monitoring and Controlling Phase

  1. Data-Driven Decisions: Always ground your decisions in data. Gut feelings are useful, but quantifiable metrics provide objectivity.

  2. Regular Monitoring: Make monitoring activities part of the daily routine. The sooner you identify an issue, the easier it is to rectify.

  3. Transparency: Openly communicate setbacks and changes to stakeholders. Transparency builds trust and allows for collaborative problem-solving.

  4. Iterative Review: Consistently review and revise control strategies. As the project evolves, so too should your monitoring and control mechanisms.

  5. Feedback Loops: Encourage team members and stakeholders to provide feedback on the project’s performance. Different perspectives can offer invaluable insights.

  6. Documentation: Maintain a record of all monitoring and controlling activities. This not only aids in project audits but also provides a learning resource for future projects.


Project closing graphic with key steps

Closing Phase of the Project Life Cycle


All good things must come to an end, and projects are no exception. At least, you'll hope it comes to an end; otherwise, a) it's not a project, or b) it's a death march project (see my article) and needs killing.


However, the end of a project isn’t merely a matter of crossing the finish line; it requires a structured approach to ensure that all loose ends are tied up, objectives met, and learnings documented.


Welcome to the Project Closure Phase—the often underestimated but crucial final stage of the project lifecycle.


What Is the Project Closure Phase?


The Project Closure Phase is the final stage in the project lifecycle. This is where you ensure all project work is complete, objectives are met, and the project management lifecycle is formally closed. It provides an opportunity for reflection, evaluation, and the celebration of hard-fought achievements.


Key Components of the Project Closure Phase


Administrative Closure

Ensure all project tasks, including any pending items, are closed. This includes finalising contracts, releasing project resources, and submitting all paperwork.


Client Acceptance

Obtain formal acceptance of the project from the client or key project stakeholders, confirming that the project deliverables meet the agreed-upon criteria.


Performance Review

Conduct a comprehensive review of the project management body's performance, examining both the successes and the areas that require improvement.


Financial Closure

Ensure all financial obligations are settled. This includes final payments to vendors and the reconciliation of budgets.


Documentation

Compile all project documentation, including all project documents, plans, risk logs, change orders, and lessons learned, and archive them for future reference.


Team Release and Celebration

Once all activities are complete, team members are officially released from the project. Don’t forget to celebrate the project's completion as a team!


Best Practices for the Project Closure Phase

  1. Checklist Methodology: Use closure checklists to ensure no task is overlooked. A systematic approach minimises the chance of missing crucial steps.

  2. Client Debrief: Conduct a formal meeting with the client to confirm that all project objectives have been met and to discuss any follow-up activities.

  3. Team Feedback: Gather feedback from team members about what went well and what could be improved. Their insights are invaluable for future projects.

  4. Lessons Learned: Document the lessons learned during the project. This not only adds to your personal skill set but also becomes an asset for future projects.

  5. Stakeholder Communication: Keep stakeholders in the loop even during closure. Inform them about the project’s successful completion and any follow-up steps.

  6. Post-Project Evaluation: This is a deeper dive than the performance review, often carried out a few weeks or months after project closure, to assess long-term results and impacts.




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