5 Basic Phases of a Project Management Life Cycle

Updated January 10, 2023

An infographic showing the five phases of the project management life cycle: project initiation, project planning, project implementation or execution, project monitoring and control and project closure.

A project management life cycle is the complete process of initiating, planning, executing, closing and controlling a project. Each phase has its specific goals, allowing you to track each step in-depth throughout the cycle. Knowing these key stages can help you organize and focus your project.

In this article, we look at what a project management life cycle is, explore the five phases of its life cycle and compare different types of project management life cycles.

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What is a project management life cycle?

A project management life cycle represents the phases a project goes through from beginning to end. It includes all of the operations, tasks and steps that a specific project must undergo.

A project manager organizes the various tasks involved in starting, executing and completing a project. Planning the expected stages of a project before it begins can help ensure the project is completed on time and has fewer delays or complications. Both simple and complex projects benefit from having an overarching structure that guides them from start to finish.

Related: The Importance of Project Management

Benefits of using a project management life cycle

Project management life cycles are effective organizational tools that standardize the process of systemizing and implementing projects. Key benefits of using these tools are:

  • Simplified organization for a project team. Projects may involve several steps and tasks. By planning out the stages of the project’s life cycle before it starts, project managers can more effectively assign work and oversee different parts of the project.

  • Consistent results. Many companies offer turnkey or project-based services for clients. Using a standardized work process allows managers to deliver reliable levels of support and maintain better control of the project scope. This makes the project deliverables similar across different projects, even for clients with other needs.

  • Faster project completion. When project managers establish the life cycle early in the process, they can more easily oversee the different parts of the project. They can also ensure that every prerequisite task is completed in advance of the next step. By creating deadlines and assignments associated with each stage, managers can balance the work to have everything delivered on time.

  • Insight into the project status. Project managers can give clients or internal managers clear status updates when a project is organized into stages. This helps manage other parties’ expectations. It also allows project managers to more easily adapt to change orders that affect later stages of the project.

Related: How To Improve Project Management Skills (With Additional Tips)

Project life cycle stages

Every project life cycle involves multiple steps. While there are different models for project life cycles, almost all of them include the following four or five stages:

1. Project initiation

During the project initiation stages, managers identify a problem and evaluate whether it is worth creating a project-based solution. They use business case documents and feasibility studies to assess the value and feasibility of the potential project. If the project idea passes these evaluations, the project progresses to the second stage.

Related: Guide To Project Initiation

2. Project planning

The project planning phase is when a project manager establishes the goal and scope of the project. Also, project managers use this stage to determine a project budget, identify required resources and begin to organize a team to implement the tasks involved in the project.

Depending on the nature of the project, the project manager may create a report that thoroughly establishes the plan. A formalized program may also include ideas for obstacles, necessary template forms and a time frame for project completion.

Related: Project Manager Cover Letter

3. Project implementation or execution

During this stage, project managers assign tasks to team members, and the team completes them. This stage is when the actual production and work take place to achieve the goals of the project. Team members create deliverables and execute the plan created during the previous phase.

Related: 6 Steps of Project Implementation

4. Project closure

Once all of the work required during the implementation stage is completed, the project moves into its final phase. During the project closure stage, the project manager communicates its completion to key stakeholders. The stakeholders receive all deliverables by this stage. Many project managers evaluate the success of the project during this stage to improve their life cycle management process for future projects.

Related: What Is a Project Closeout? Definition, Steps and Tips

5. Project monitoring and control

Some project life cycle models include a fifth stage that is concurrent with the third stage of implementation or execution. During this project monitoring and control stage, the project manager oversees the project performance. They provide feedback to team members, see that all of the project elements are completed on schedule and address obstacles. By monitoring the execution of the project, managers can ensure that the scope doesn’t increase and the project stays within acceptable time parameters.

Related: How To Monitor a Project (With Tips)

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Types of project life cycles

Depending on the time, cost and scope requirements of the project, project managers can choose between three different types of project life cycles:

1. Predictive life cycle

Predictive life cycles follow highly detailed plans. A high-level strategy is created during the planning stage, and more detailed plans are designed immediately before the project begins each progressive level of work. This tightly planned life cycle structure ensures that the work is predictable and closely follows the time, cost and scope constraints.

2. Iterative and incremental life cycle

This type of life cycle also has a high-level overview that is created during the planning phase. A more detailed plan is created before the project moves on to each sequential step. The scope of each phase is created immediately before each stage rather than at the beginning of the project.

3. Adaptive life cycle

Adaptive life cycles also go through multiple iterations. In customer-facing projects, deliverables are reviewed at the end of each iteration, and a new scope is created for a new iteration based on the feedback. These projects have unpredictable life cycles. They contain each stage of a traditional life cycle, but they may undergo some of the phases multiple times.

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