5 Phases of Project Management

Project management isn’t a modern phenomenon. Someone had to oversee the building of ancient wonders such as the pyramids, for example. But the 20th century brought numerous tools to the project management space, including Gantt charts, DMAIC methodologies and common project management phases. Discover more about the importance of project management steps below to understand how these tools—and the professionals that wield them—remain important for many businesses.

 

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What is project management?

Project management is the professional act of overseeing a project. A project is a temporary effort of a business or team—it’s important to note that a project is not a permanent business process.

 

A project has a beginning date and a target end date. It has a specific goal and defined resources for achieving that goal. Consider the examples below to understand the difference between a process and a project.

  • Process. A team is charged with processing invoices and given a goal of a 24-hour turnaround time. This is a process that is ongoing.
  • Project. The average turnaround time on invoices is three days. To be compliant with contracts, the company must achieve a 48-hour turnaround time. It pulls subject-matter experts from accounting, tech and administration and tasks them with designing and implementing a new process to bring invoice TAT in line with expectations.

Note that once the new process in the project example above is fully implemented and working smoothly, the project is over but the resulting process remains.

 

What is a project life cycle?

Project life cycle refers to the entire series of phases that a project goes through from the moment a challenge is discovered to the point where a solution is fully implemented. The exact project management stages depend on the methodology being employed.

 

For example, Six Sigma continuous process improvement projects typically use a DMAIC approach. That stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.

 

Six Sigma frameworks for development projects look a little different. They tend to use a DMADV method, which is Define, Measure, Analyze, Design and Verify.

 

Agile development projects tend to follow phases that include Concept, Inception, Iteration/Construction, Release, Production and Retirement.

 

While the exact project management steps might differ by methodology, the lifecycle of a project is basically the same:

  • A challenge, obstacle or need is discovered and further defined
  • Concepts for a solution are discussed and studied
  • The project is planned and executed on
  • The results are monitored to ensure the project efforts are successful
  • The project comes to a close and the results are passed off to customers or business partners

Why is project management important?

Project management is important for a number of reasons. Here are just some of the benefits organizations can receive from strong project management.

  • Experienced leadership. The right project manager provides direction and oversight to teams, increasing the chance critical work will be completed on time, within budget and with an eye toward business goals.
  • Organizational goal alignment. The phases of project management require teams to consider big and small pictures and help ensure efforts align with overall business goals and needs.
  • Increased efficiency. The results of projects often help increase efficiency and production, but good project management can increase the efficiency of the project work itself. That means less time from inception to completion and a decreased draw on staff and other resources.
  • Control of scope. Project management reduces the chance of scope creep, which occurs when a team sets out to solve one problem but ends up trying to address numerous issues (and usually not getting any of them resolved satisfactorily as a result).
  • Boosts in morale. Leadership that helps teams achieve results can drive a more positive morale.
  • Better customer experience. The results of successful projects often provide immediate or downline benefits for customer experience, which can increase loyalty, conversions and revenue.

What are the basic principles of project management?

The Project Management Institute provides a list of project management principles that help ensure successful projects. They include:

  • The project is a defined effort with a beginning and ending date and is not an ongoing process or simple task.
  • An experienced project manager leads or guides the efforts.
  • Management and other stakeholders are informed about the project and supportive of it.
  • A team of appropriate individuals is formed and dedicated to the work of the project.
  • The goal is clearly defined—it’s actionable, realistic, measurable and supported by stakeholders.
  • A plan is created that includes milestones, schedules, responsibilities, budgets and resources for the project work.

5 project management phases

While they might be called different things or include other steps, depending on methodology, project management usually involves the following five phases.

 

1. Initiation

During this phase, a problem is discovered or a need defined. High-level solutions might be discussed. Project managers work with business leadership to understand whether a project to enact the solution would provide enough value and ROI on the resources expended.

 

They might also conduct a feasibility study to determine if the project as stated would work. The project manager may look at expected goals and timelines, existing information about budgets and resources and the ability of the company to execute similar projects in the past.

 

Armed with this information, the project manager prepares a report for leadership and stakeholders. This may be a formal document or simply an email with a recommendation speaking to the value and profitability of a project. Stakeholders can then determine whether or not they want the project to proceed.

 

2. Planning

The leadership sponsoring a project typically works with a project manager to put together a team. The team then works with the project manager to create a written project plan. This plan serves as an ongoing guide to keep the team on task during the rest of the project lifecycle.

 

Successful project plans typically include at least:

  • Written SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and with a time element or deadline)
  • Budgets, including where and how the team can obtain money, labor and other resources for project requirements
  • A detailed definition of the future state or outcome of the project
  • A schedule of tasks with milestones, including which tasks are dependent on others and when each task should be complete
  • Assignments for each task to specific people on the team or resources the team has access to

3. Execution

During this phase, the team goes to work to follow and enact the plan. The project manager’s job is as a leader and support person. They’re usually responsible for checking in with each member of the team, ensuring all deliverables are completed on time and facilitating communication and hand-offs between team members.

 

Project managers may also be tasked with documentation throughout all these processes. They usually create and hold the plan, updating it appropriately. They might also be in charge of updating the business or stakeholders on project progress.

 

4. Monitoring and control

The work of the project team as well as the outcome must be monitored and controlled. During the execution phase, the project manager keeps an eye on budgets and resource use, bringing team members back into scope when they stray from those plans.

 

If the project creates a process or product, the team may need to implement it in beta or other limited format. During this testing period, the project team measures the outcome and makes changes as needed to control and improve outcomes.

 

5. Closure

Once the project is completed, the goal is met or the process is under control and performing as expected, the project team turns the output of the project over to the customer. The customer might be an actual client. But it could also be coworkers or a business unit within the company. In the invoice project example toward the beginning of this article, for instance, the customer would be the team that processes invoices on a regular basis.

 

Hiring a project manager

Hiring the right project manager can make a huge difference on whether or not your teams are successful with projects. You may want to ensure that you’re looking at candidates with applicable training and experience. That means looking for resumes that indicate PMP, CAPM or Six Sigma certification as well as experience leading or working in project teams relevant to your industry.

 

What skills do project managers need?

Other factors successful project managers tend to bring to the table include:

  • Excellent communication skills—written and oral
  • Computer and technology skills—PMPs often need to create visual presentations, work with data and information in spreadsheets and documents, access or manage Sharepoint or other portals or use project management software
  • Attention to detail and great time-management skills—the PMP is often the hub of multiple projects at one time, and they need to be able to manage their schedules as well as the project schedules appropriately
  • Excellent interpersonal skills—project managers work with people on the project team and must also be able to communicate and deal with customers, stakeholders and outside resources

Ask interview questions to find out about a candidate’s experience with skills to ensure you’re getting a PMP who can effectively lead your project teams.

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