At the start of a project, the amount of planning and work required can seem overwhelming. There may be dozens, or even hundreds of tasks that need to be completed at just the right time and in just the right sequence.
Seasoned project managers know it is often easier to handle the details of a project and take steps in the right order when you break the project down into phases. Dividing your project management efforts into these five phases can help give your efforts structure and simplify them into a series of logical and manageable steps.
Initiation is the first phase of the project lifecycle. This is where the project’s value and feasibility are measured. Project managers typically use two evaluation tools to decide whether or not to pursue a project:
- Business Case Document – This document justifies the need for the project, and it includes an estimate of potential financial benefits.
- Feasibility Study – This is an evaluation of the project’s goals, timeline and costs to determine if the project should be executed. It balances the requirements of the project with available resources to see if pursuing the project makes sense.
Teams abandon proposed projects that are labeled unprofitable and/or unfeasible. However, projects that pass these two tests can be assigned to a project team or designated project office.
Once the project receives the green light, it needs a solid plan to guide the team, as well as keep them on time and on budget. A well-written project plan gives guidance for obtaining resources, acquiring financing and procuring required materials. The project plan gives the team direction for producing quality outputs, handling risk, creating acceptance, communicating benefits to stakeholders and managing suppliers.
The project plan also prepares teams for the obstacles they might encounter over the course of the project, and helps them understand the cost, scope and timeframe of the project.
This is the phase that is most commonly associated with project management. Execution is all about building deliverables that satisfy the customer. Team leaders make this happen by allocating resources and keeping team members focused on their assigned tasks.
Execution relies heavily on the planning phase. The work and efforts of the team during the execution phase are derived from the project plan.
Monitoring and control are sometimes combined with execution because they often occur at the same time. As teams execute their project plan, they must constantly monitor their own progress.
To guarantee delivery of what was promised, teams must monitor tasks to prevent scope creep, calculate key performance indicators and track variations from allotted cost and time. This constant vigilance helps keep the project moving ahead smoothly.
Teams close a project when they deliver the finished project to the customer, communicating completion to stakeholders and releasing resources to other projects. This vital step in the project lifecycle allows the team to evaluate and document the project and move on the next one, using previous project mistakes and successes to build stronger processes and more successful teams.
Although project management may seem overwhelming at times, breaking it down into these five distinct cycles can help your team manage even the most complex projects and use time and resources more wisely.