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by John Rampton | Updated Aug. 5, 2022 – First published on May 18, 2022
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Project managers are often under pressure to complete a project on time and within budget.
To facilitate delivery on a new product or marketing campaign, a project manager can use a project life cycle to add structure. Project management steps, or phases, help clearly define project roles, enhance communication and project visibility, and optimize resource use.
Looking to create your own project life cycle? We’re breaking down how the this cycle works and how you may be able to use project management software to help facilitate that process.
As part of the project management basics, the project life cycle is a framework that includes four main phases that help a project manager and their team members efficiently guide a project from start to finish. Some project management texts, such as the PMBOK Guide, call these phases project management process groups.
The purpose of a project life cycle is to define a project as well as roles and responsibilities. From the project manager to the entire team assigned to a project, the project life cycle and its phases direct how to approach the project in an organized way.
Indirectly, company executives also get involved by sharing expectations about how the project should align with strategic objectives.
Depending on its complexity and type of application, a project can undergo multiple cycles and accompanying phases before a final result is achieved.
The phases of a project life cycle provide a way to put time constraints on each section of the project to move the deliverables and activities forward. Each phase also represents specific actions that need to be taken by certain team members at that point in the project.
Although each project is unique with its own challenges and unexpected issues, the generic structure of a project life cycle has four distinct phases that guide the flow of work:
There are general boundaries for these phases that follow the principles of project management, and mark when one phase ends and the next one begins to help propel the project toward completion.
Each phase’s name defines the scope of the project work during that point in the project. For example, the initiation phase focuses on starting the project.
Then, the planning phase focuses solely on organizing and preparing for the next phase of the project, which is the execution phase. During the execution phase, team members understand that their work is solely about acting on what has been organized and prepared for them.
Finally, the project closure phase focuses on completing the project.
As an example, we’ll use a new product marketing campaign to illustrate each phase of the project life cycle, including actionable steps.
During the initiation phase, the project manager and executives define and authorize the new product marketing campaign. The project manager takes the information provided by the executives and chief marketing officer (CMO) and creates a project charter or mission.
This document outlines the purpose of the marketing campaign, project description, success criteria, roles and responsibilities, and project stakeholders.
The planning phase moves the project, project manager, and team further along by focusing on the specific tasks, roles and responsibilities, and timeline necessary to execute the project in the next phase of the project life cycle.
Using the new product marketing campaign example, this phase involves defining all the tasks necessary to complete the campaign.
The project management planning process includes discussion and agreement about short-term goals tied to the overall project goals from the first phase. Potential issues also should be addressed, including possible solutions for any roadblocks or risks that appear during the execution phase.
During the execution phase, everything discussed and planned during the first two phases is put into practice. The project manager’s role shifts from planning to supervision, as the focus is now on ensuring proper execution.
Throughout this phase, the project manager also seeks approval from stakeholders. For the new product marketing campaign example, this means the manager will share marketing campaign messaging and collateral with executives and target audience members to gauge satisfaction.
The project closure phase wraps up the project or a specific project cycle. All the tasks for the project life cycle have been finished. For a project like a new product marketing campaign, there is typically just one life cycle involved, so this would mean the campaign would be launched and then assessed for how it performed.
A project life cycle can be done manually or you can opt to use project management software. Here are some ways to determine if you should leverage the software.
A project life cycle process can improve project management results by adding structure, clearly defined roles and responsibilities, measurable objectives and tactics, and efficient workflow techniques to projects like product development or a marketing campaign.
The four phases of the project life cycle also segment and organize the approach for large projects, making it more manageable for all stakeholders.
Large teams with complex projects or remote members can also leverage project management software to oversee the product life cycle, while smaller projects and teams or those with creative-based projects can still consider manual techniques.
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John Rampton is a successful entrepreneur and software expert, helping many small business owners during his career.
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