Storytelling is arguably the most powerful form of communication. It captivates us in novels, movies and, yes, down the pub. It might sound obvious, but the reason stories are so effective is because they have a logical flow; A beginning, middle and an end. Similarly, a project life cycle follows a simple structure that helps you to navigate a project from start to finish.
In this article, we’ll outline the four fundamental phases (or ‘acts’ to labour the storytelling analogy), of a project life cycle that needs to be performed to guide your project to success.
Naturally, every project is different, with varying deliverables, timescales and pressures; but with this clear framework, the standard project life cycle can flex and adapt to meet individual needs and circumstances. These stages provide project managers with the foundation for the most logical and efficient journey for a project to follow and achieve success.
What are the four phases of the project life cycle?
The four key phases that comprise the standard project life cycle are as follows:
1. The initiation phase
This is the first piece of the puzzle for any project. It’s the stage at which you define your problem, the desired outcome, and any necessary information around this to launch the project.
The initiation phase should define the following details:
- An agreed business case to justify the project idea
- The problem the project is trying to solve
- The project’s objectives and what you aim to achieve
- What exactly the project will deliver
- How you plan to successfully execute the project
- A steer on likely budget, timeline, and any potential risks.
2. The planning phase
Once the required stakeholders are on board with the launch of the project, the planning phase requires a more detailed strategy breaking down the individual tasks and outlining how exactly the project will be run.
The planning phase should determine the following two key elements:
- Agreement on the strategic detail of the project—what success looks like and the specific goals required to get there
- Defining the logistical details to perform this—finalise the budget, identify project schedule for all tasks, determine resource requirements (internal and/or external), and allocate key tasks to the appropriate team members.
It’s also important to ensure all team members are on the same page and clear on the project detail as well as their individual tasks. A good way to achieve this is to produce clear briefs for the team and hold a face-to-face briefing or kick-off meeting to discuss together.
3. The execution phase
This is the stage of the project when the actual work is carried out to get to the desired goal agreed upon. This requires your team members performing their tasks, alongside project management oversight to ensure everything runs as planned and any issues that arise are acted upon.
The execution phase should encompass the following workstreams:
- Team members fulfil their assigned tasks as agreed
- Monitoring time and budget
- Identifying potential issues and determining solutions
- Additional resources requirements
- Foresight on ways to further streamline the project.
4. The project closure phase
This final phase occurs once the above execution phase has been completed and the project is ready for closure. This involves not only supplying the necessary deliverables and tying up all loose ends but also evaluating the success of the project and any learnings that can be applied moving forward.
The project closure phase should cover off the following steps:
- Supply of required assets as per the project’s agreed deliverables
- Assessment of overall project performance
- Evaluation of individual team performance
- Finalising of key documents, such as final budget spend and any third party supplier contracts
- A project report to stakeholders outlining what was achieved and any lessons learnt to take forward for future projects.
By following these four project phases, you can ensure each project has the basic foundation to lead it on the path from initial conception through to successful completion.
Of course, no two projects are the same and no one can predict the challenges that will arise with each. But with this simple structure to adhere to, you can be confident that, just like storytelling, you’re guiding a project through the necessary acts to get to the final outcome. The End.