The Project Management Life Cycle Explained

A Beginner's Guide

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Whether you are building a house, implementing an international software rollout or organizing your son’s birthday party, any project will go through common stages—no matter how long or short the timescale to complete the task.

These common stages are seen in all projects and are the components which make up the project life cycle. There are four stages, which are:

  1. Starting the project
  2. Planning the project
  3. Doing the work
  4. Closing down the project

While all projects go through these stages in their life cycle, the length of time each takes will vary depending on the individual needs of the project. Let’s look at each of those stages in a bit more detail.

The Four Stages of a Project Life Cycle

Starting the project: This should be a relatively short stage where the strategic goals are outlined and the resources available for the project are defined. You set the vision in this stage.

Planning: This is the stage where the work is planned. The order work needs to take place in is outlined and resources (such as staff members and equipment) are allocated to tasks.

Doing the work: The tasks required to complete the project are carried out in this stage. This can take place in one phase or in a number of phases, depending on the needs and complexity of the project. This stage ends when the planned deliverables have all been achieved.

Closing down: The completion of the project happens in this stage which can include a review of the project and the handover of the product or service.

3 Types of Project Life Cycles

Adaptive: These projects are designed from the start to be open to change. This is to ensure all stakeholders remain on board throughout the project’s life. Changes at all stages are anticipated and budget planning should include contingency funds to allow changes to happen without risking going over budget.

Best for: Projects where you don’t know exactly how you want the end result to look yet.

Predictive: All aspects of how the project should happen are defined in the first and second stages. This is a relatively rigid structure which does not allow for the project to move beyond the original scope. Change can happen but it is likely to involve unplanned cost. Many projects follow a predictive life cycle as a well-planned project which does not expect to accommodate far-reaching changes from stakeholders should be able to follow its plan with little deviation.

Best for: Projects that are structured, with clear objectives and are being led by an experienced team. Projects with a defined plan or that have been done before and are likely to follow the same route with no deviation.

Incremental: Phases of the project are planned to be repeated allowing the project team to improve the performance of the product or service over time. The activity of the next incremental stage may not be planned until feedback from the current stage has been gathered.

Best for: Projects that are going to run for some time, where there is the appetite for continual improvement.