The Project Management Institute (PMI) breaks down the project life cycle into five sequential project management phases or “process groups.” According to industry best practices, following these five phases is key to successfully managing and delivering projects. Let’s explore each one of them.

Project Initiation

According to PMI, the initiation phase is the first step of the PM journey that’ll turn a project idea into an actual product, service or system. This stage requires putting together a business case and providing a high-level description of the project rationale, the challenges and opportunities it addresses, the strategic directions with which it aligns, its goals and its overall scope, and its estimated budget and timeline. Project managers then consolidate these findings into a project charter. As a result, they facilitate communication with the stakeholders and decision-makers greenlighting the project. 

Project initiating also involves formally identifying the Project Manager and their key team members, along with their respective roles. The project initiation phase does not, however, include any specific technical details regarding the requirements or the deliverables.

Project Planning

The initiation phase provides a broad outline of the scope of the project and its PM processes. By comparison, the planning phase is where you’ll get into the thick of it. It is here that Project Managers need to detail the scope of the project, its description and summary, its key milestones, and its cost and time estimates — from which they’ll be able to derive a schedule for execution. The scope, cost, and schedule thus defined should come with clear baselines to enable monitoring and tracking in the next phases.

The resulting roadmap should include provisions and strategies for what might go wrong (in other words, the risks) and provide a management framework for the project (e.g. governance, communication, reporting and quality control mechanisms).

This PM phase is also where Project Managers formalize a detailed timeline for delivery, a work breakdown structure, the definition of specific and measurable goals, and a mapping of all technical requirements.
At the end of the planning phase, the Project Manager and the project team should have a clear notion of what success looks like, including the conditions needed to ensure successful completion and delivery. In most cases, the project planning phase is by far the longest and the most delicate of the whole process.

Project Execution

Preparation and planning are indisputably key phases in Project Management. But, in order for your organization’s project activity and investment to deliver any outcomes, project work should actually get done! That’s the purpose of the executing stage. Here, the various individuals that make up the project team will start producing the deliverables based on the roadmap, timeline, and overall plans defined and communicated by the Project Manager at the closing of the planning phase.

Although they’re usually not involved in deliverable production, Project Managers play a key role in this phase. This is for the purposes of ensuring that everything remains on track to successful delivery. This includes managing the team, solving potential misunderstandings or conflicts, cultivating a collaboration-conducive atmosphere and maintaining engagement, and making sure that the workflows are efficient.

A key Project Management challenge during the execution phase is the incorporation of change requests from stakeholders — such as sponsors, clients or project owners. The execution phase is typically the one that consumes the bulk of a project’s budget.

Project Monitoring and Controlling

Getting the work done does not suffice. Project Managers need to ensure that the initiative will effectively meet the requirements and deliver the expected benefits for the organization.

To that end, they’ll closely monitor the progress of execution, assess performance and alignment with objectives and baselines, and possibly make all the necessary changes to correct the course. This project management work happens in the Monitoring phase.

This involves tracking a number of metrics and key performance indicators across multiple areas. To name a few:

  • Compare the actual cost and resource consumption against estimates and budget
  • Oversee the completion of tasks within the agreed-upon deadline
  • Ensure deliverables are ready for Quality Assurance checks and possibly for gate reviews
  • Liaise with other Project Managers or Resource Managers to anticipate the impact of delays in other, related initiatives, and more 

That monitoring and controlling phase coincides with project execution.

Project Closure

As the name indicates, this final PM phase is about formally closing the project after releasing the deliverables and securing client acceptance. The importance of this stage is too often overlooked, as a result of which organizations end up with “loose ends”: unterminated contracts with external resources, unarchived data, etc. This phase usually involves holding a formal closing meeting with the team to look back on the course and performance of the project, consolidating and archiving the lessons learned into a repository that can be accessed by other Project Managers for future reference, and completing a detailed summary report. Most important of all, don’t forget to celebrate with your team!

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