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The Project Phases

Introduction to the Project Lifecycle

In this section, we'll get a sense of each of the main phases of a typical project. We've already summarised them, but let's refresh our memories.


Typically, they are;


  • Initiation: Defining the project and establishing its feasibility and options for delivery so that it can be rubber-stamped to start in earnest.


  • Planning: Now that we have a solid basis, we start building out the scope and objectives and plan in enough detail around the 'who', 'what' and 'when' to allow us to start executing.


  • Executing: Implementing the project management plan; this is where the magic happens and disasters strike.

  • Monitoring and Controlling: Tracking progress and controlling the goat rodeo.


  • Closing: Finalising all activities and bringing the project to an orderly conclusion.


Every project is different and may have stages such as research, development, testing, and go-to-market, to name a few, but they essentially fall under one of these main phases.

 

Let's take a closer look at each before we step through each phase in detail.

 

Initiation

The initiation phase is the first step in the project lifecycle, where the project's foundation is established.


We are pulling things together at this stage, choosing the best folder structure, and working out the coolest project code name.


Naivety and optimism are high.

The critical initiation activities are;


Create the Project Charter

The charter captures the project's scope, objectives, justification and primary stakeholders. It's effectively a high-level summary of why the project exists, how you expect it to unfold, who needs to be involved, and what it seeks to deliver.


Getting this right is crucial as it's the foundation for everything that comes next.


Assemble the Project Team

Once the project's scope and objectives are clearly defined and the foundational documentation is in place, you can assemble the project team.


Walk them through the charter and get critical feedback on it.


Undertake Initial Assessments

The early assessments often occur concurrently with the other early tasks. It includes conducting feasibility studies and preparing a high-level risk register.


These assessments, or feasibility studies, are essential for understanding the project's viability, potential challenges, and delivery methods. But, they are estimates, rarely ever 100% soul-ownership level binding commitments. However, they'll likely be the only thing anyone remembers, so we'll take extreme care about what is communicated when shared.


Develop a High-Level Plan

With the project documentation set, the team assembled, and initial assessments undertaken, this plan will detail how the project will be executed, monitored, and controlled.


We'll need a high-level end-to-end project plan sketched out for all phases but a reasonable level of detail about the project's next phase, "planning".


Planning Gate Approval

"Gates" are approval steps. During a gate, we decide whether to proceed with the detailed planning phase, adjust the project scope, or halt the project if it's no longer viable.


Cancel a project?! I hear you say?


Yes.


In some extreme circumstances, your feasibility assessments might demonstrate it isn't as viable as you once thought.

 

Planning


The planning phase sets the blueprint for executing, monitoring, and controlling the project.


Here are the key activities;


Build a Comprehensive Project Plan

This step involves refining the high-level 'table-napkin' initial plan created during the initiation phase. It should now be built out to include detailed sections covering cost, schedule, quality, and risk management.


The updated plan will serve as the central guiding document for the entire project.


Develop a Detailed Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

This activity involves breaking down the total scope of the project into smaller, manageable chunks, which helps in organising and defining the total scope of the project.

 

Think of it like a hierarchical 'mind map' of the deliverables. Nothing seems scary once you've broken it down into smaller parts and worked out what you need to work on first.


The WBS is also helpful for updating the plan regarding effort assessments and costs in the next activity.


Prepare a Comprehensive Budget

Based on the detailed WBS, this step involves estimating the costs associated with each component of the WBS and aggregating these to form an overall project budget.


This budget will outline all expected costs and funding allocations across the project lifecycle, ensuring adequate financial resources are available.


Establish a Quality Plan

This involves setting specific quality criteria and standards for the project's outputs.


The quality plan ensures that the project deliverables are high quality and meet the requirements specified by the stakeholders.


For example, if you are delivering a software project, you'll need to define your approach to testing here.


I struggle to think of any kind of project that doesn't have some testing or quality control steps.

That said, I've been on the receiving end of some organisations who have tried not to have quality control phases, which always ends in a shit show.


Develop a Communication Plan

This plan outlines how information will be communicated to the project's stakeholders (frequency, format, and responsibilities).


The more complex the project, the more complex the plan.


The simpler the project, the… you get it.


Execution Gate Approval

Approval of the project management plan and authorisation to start execution. Those last pre-flight checks before you start building things in earnest.


Adjustments may be required if there are gaps or misalignments.


Executing

The Execution phase is where plans are put into action, and the project's deliverables start to take shape. We've talked about it a lot, and now is the exciting part: rolling up your sleeves and getting busy.


The activities within Executing include;


Direct Management of Work

This is the primary activity of the Executing phase, where the project team actively engages in the tasks outlined in the project management plan. It involves allocating resources, whipping junior team members, executing planned tasks, and ensuring each task aligns with the project timeline and objectives.

 

Where collections of work might be complex, then a workstream might be created, driven by a work package (a summary of the requirements for that specific area). This helps break the workload into more manageable chunks.

 

Review Quality Standards

Remember the quality plan from earlier? The project needs to continuously monitor and evaluate the deliverables to ensure they meet predefined quality standards per your plan.

 

This includes regular testing, quality checks, and reviews.

 

If deliverables don't meet quality expectations, adjustments and improvements are made.

 

Manage Scope and Handle Changes

Most projects encounter people trying to make small changes to the scope, usually prefixed with the words "Can we just…". So, it's vital that we keep the project within its defined scope as much as possible. This involves managing scope 'creep' and implementing any approved scope changes.

  

Implementation Planning

The crux of ensuring that the project can transition smoothly from execution to closure is effective implementation planning. This phase is about laying down a detailed roadmap for how the various elements of the project will be implemented, ensuring alignment with the project's strategic objectives and readiness for final delivery.


In implementation planning, the focus is on integrating all pieces of the project puzzle. This involves scheduling the final steps, assigning responsibilities for last-mile tasks, and ensuring synchronisation of all teams.


Here's what needs to be done;


  • Project acceptance criteria are created and agreed upon to allow the project to close down

  • Ensuring training & documentation are taken into account

  • System testing & User acceptance might be phases that need to be done


Consider it a plan for 'going live' with your project, and not just dumping your delivery and running.

Every project should not consider the finish line as the end of the main deliveries, but the smooth transition into business-as-usual.

 

Project Closure Gate

Finally in this stage, we determine if the project is ready to move into the closing phase or if additional work is needed to meet the agreed-upon deliverables.

 

Normally it'll be in the form of a stage gate, or approval meeting that looks at the project acceptance criteria, and says whether the project has delivered what it set out to do. If so, then the project can move into the very final phase of "project closure".

 

Monitoring and Controlling

The Monitoring and Controlling phase ensures the project remains on track and aligned with the set goals and standards. It provides the necessary checks and balances through regular reviews, audits, and adjustments. 

 

Typically, the Monitoring and Controlling phase runs concurrently from the Planning Phase to the Execution phase.


The key activities;


Generate Highlight Reports

Performance, or 'highlight', reports provide insights into whether the project is on track concerning its timelines, scope, and budget.

 

Typically, they are sent out on a schedule to keep everyone updated about how progress is unfolding.

 

Maintain Decision, Risk and Change Logs


This activity involves keeping records of all identified decisions made or needed, risks (and issues) and changes requested or implemented during the project.

 

These logs is where a lot of arse-covering happens.

 

Implement Corrective Actions

Based on the insights from the risk and change logs, implement necessary corrective actions to address and mitigate risks.

 

So, if something is going 'amber' in a status report, how do we stop it from going red and losing our jobs?

 

Host Regular Progress Reviews

Invite everyone who wants to come, and then some more (they'll come anyway, even if you try to keep it small), and make sure the communication is happening, the progress is being reviewed, and any exceptions are being escalated.

 

Closing

The Closing phase marks the conclusion of the project lifecycle. This phase involves wrapping up all project activities, finalising deliverables, and ensuring all documents are signed off and archived. The focus is on formally accepting the project outcomes and disbanding project resources in an orderly manner.


The key activities are;


Compile a Final Project Report

 

This report should summarise the entire project, including the objectives, what was accomplished, the methods used, and the outcomes.

 

The report should also detail the performance against the original plan, noting any deviations and their causes.

 

Undertake Lessons Learned

 

Conduct a thorough review of what went well and what didn't throughout the project. This should include feedback from all team members and stakeholders to gather a comprehensive view of the project's successes and challenges.

 

Archive All Project-Related Materials

Ensure all documents, reports, contracts, and correspondence are organised and stored in a designated location.

 

Archival is important and often overlooked. It's essential for future reference and compliance with regulatory requirements. It's about thinking of others in the future when they need to check on something and find a piece of information such as a contract that was missed, and knowing where to locate it.

 

Organise a Closure Meeting or Event

We wrap it all up nicely now, with a step to formally conclude the project.

 

A closure meeting serves as an opportunity to thank the project team and stakeholders, review the project's achievements, and discuss the next steps, if any. It's also a chance to celebrate the project's success and recognise the efforts of all involved.

 

Glossary of Terms

Business Case: A document that justifies the necessity of a project, outlining the expected benefits, costs, risks, and strategic alignment with organisational goals.

Change Requests: Formal proposals for changes to any aspect of the project, including the scope, timelines, or resources, which need approval before implementation.

Communication Plan: A strategy document that outlines how information will be communicated to stakeholders, including the methods, frequency, and responsibilities.

Corrective Actions: Steps taken to bring the project back on track when deviations from the plan are detected or when facing unforeseen issues.

Feasibility Study: An analysis conducted to assess the practicality and viability of the project, considering technical, economic, legal, and operational aspects.

Final Project Report: A document summarising the performance and outcomes of the project, including details on scope, quality, costs, and time, along with challenges faced and resolutions.

Issue Logs: Records that track problems and issues during the project, including details on their resolution.

Lessons Learned: Insights and reflections recorded during and after the project aimed at improving future project management practices.

Project Acceptance Documentation: Formal confirmation from the stakeholders or clients that the project deliverables meet the predefined criteria and are accepted.

Project Breakdown and Budgeting: The process of creating a detailed Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and a comprehensive budget plan that outlines all expected costs.

Project Charter: A document that formally authorises the project, defines the project's objectives, scope, and participants, and grants the project manager the authority to proceed.

Risk and Change Logs: Documents that record potential risks and changes encountered throughout the project, detailing the analysis, response, and management strategies.

Risk Register: A tool used to identify, analyse, and manage potential risks that might affect the project, detailing mitigation strategies.

Stakeholder Register: A document listing all parties interested in or affected by the project, including their roles, requirements, and level of influence.

Updates and Quality Control: Continuous monitoring and adjustment of project schedules, management of quality assurance activities, and documentation of necessary changes.

 

 

 

 

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About the author

Hi, I'm Alan, and have been working within the IT sector for over 30 years.

For the last 15 years, I've focused on IT Governance, Information Security, Projects and Service Management across various styles of organisations and markets.

I hold a degree in Information Systems, ITIL Expert certificate, PRINCE2 Practitioner and CISMP (Information Security Management).

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