Spring, summer, autumn, and winter are distinct seasons that divide up a year. They each serve a purpose in the life cycle of various ecosystems, and without the change that each one brings, the others aren’t able to fully reach their potential in turn. Just as ecosystems have seasonal patterns, project management has a set of interdependent phases. These five phases build on one another and, when seen through to their thorough completion, provide a great recipe for successful project management.
A good project manager knows that they can’t just jump right into the middle of executing a solution without getting a plan together and pulling the right pieces together. Likewise, they recognize that debriefing the project has tremendous value as a learning tool that will inform future projects.
Having a clear understanding of the five phases of project management and how they inform the next phase is critical. They are the roadmap for successful execution and for building a culture of success within a project team. These five phases – project initiation, project planning, project execution, project monitoring and control, and project closure – can create a momentum for the lifecycle of a project. Let’s break down each of the phases individually.
Phase One: Project Initiation
Every project should begin with one question: Why? The first phase of the project lifecycle is where the purpose is outlined and agreed upon. The project initiation phase may actually be the most important of the five phases. Without a clear goal, the project team’s efforts will be scattered and ineffective.
The project initiation phase is where a business need is identified and what the project’s end goal will be. The next step is to research how feasible the project will be to complete. Often, a full project brief is completed so that the organization’s leadership and other interested stakeholders can determine if the project is worthy of investment. This brief outlines the needs, goals, timeline for completion, and cost of the project.
Phase Two: Project Planning
The second phase of project management is where a roadmap to success is formed. Organizations must spend the time and resources needed to create a plan that captures the scope and spirit of the project. The project plan is the guide stone for each step taken toward goal completion.
The project plan must consider the following pieces of the puzzle:
Phase Three: Project Execution
After the plan is sewn together, it is time for the rubber to meet the road. In the project execution phase, the project manager shifts roles from strategy to guidance. At this point, every level of the project team is engaged, and the list of tasks and deliverables is set into motion. The project manager’s primary role during the execution phase is to stick as closely to the agreed-upon plan as possible. Some of the responsibilities associated with this are:
In this phase, it is important to remember that a tremendous amount of time and energy went into developing the plan for the project. The best and most efficient path to a successful project is to follow the plan. While this may sound simplistic, it is actually far more difficult to adhere to than most think.
This stage of the project is particularly susceptible to scope creep. The temptation to deviate from the established plan and expand the project can be very real. Inevitably, the execution stage will shed light on opportunities that were missed during the planning, and the project manager is faced with the decision to add on a few extra tasks and kill two birds with one stone. While this approach will be mascaraed as a potential efficiency, the reality is that it is a distraction. The best path is to stick with the plan and forge ahead.
Phase Four: Project Monitoring and Control
The fourth phase of project management is all about measurement. This is where the project management’s focus shifts from the execution of agreed-upon tasks to ensuring that the project is progressing as it should and that everything that happens is in lockstep with the plan. Here are some items that should be incorporated into the monitoring and control phase of any successful project:
A successful project manager also uses this phrase to communicate changes in timelines and budgets to project stakeholders. No matter how well constructed a project plan is, there will be bumps in the road that will require changes. Change is inevitable, and it needs to be communicated. There is no better time to identify the changes that had to be made to the plan and their potential impact than during the monitoring and control phase.
Phase Five: Project Closure
After the project plan has been executed and it comes to a close, the team can begin the deep exhale and start to relax – but only so much. There is still work to be done!
After the dust settles, the cleanup work begins. Project managers will schedule meetings to evaluate what went well and what needs to be improved. These post mortem conversations are valuable because they inform processes on future projects. Additionally, this phase is where the project manager will reconcile the budget against actual costs and report to stakeholders on discrepancies. All documents associated with the project are gathered, collated, and stored away for future reference.
It is also very important to celebrate the completion of the project. Project teams work very hard and stay focused in pursuit of a common goal, and those efforts need to be recognized. Unfortunately, recognition of team success can get lost in the sheer exhaustion of project completion aftermath. Don’t fall victim to this pitfall. Celebrate your team and its success.
The final part of finishing out the project is creating a closure report. These reports are short in nature and are intended as a resource for the organization when completing similar projects in the future. These reports should include the goal of the project, start date, completion date, a list of stakeholders, a list of each team member and the role they played, the project budget and actuals, any bumps in the road and how they were navigated, project wins, and any other pertinent comments.
Tools to implement these project management phases
So, you have the theory for project management, but what about actually putting pen to paper? This can be daunting, but fortunately, there are great tools that can be used to track these phases.
As previously mentioned, Gantt charts are an excellent resource for tracking tasks and their dependencies. Gantt charts are simple, easy to understand and have a proven track record within the project management community. A big advantage of the Gantt chart is the capacity to track and manage timeframes. Gantt charts are also very simple to communicate. The various software versions of these charts can provide instantaneous updates to all members of a team. They can also be customized to suit nearly any organization within any industry. With over 100 years of implementation, this method has been refined and distilled down into a seamless process.
Some aspects of effective project management are akin to following a carefully crafted recipe. In order to get the exact result the recipe promises, the correct ingredients must be gathered and the steps executed in a specific order. Leave out an ingredient or take one step before you are supposed to, and the result won’t be exactly as desired. The casserole might be completed but not have the flavor you wanted. It is much the same as these five phases of project management. If they aren’t followed correctly, there is still a chance that the project will be completed, however, likely as successful as the project team had hoped for.
On the other hand, if full attention is given to the phases, and they are developed to their furthest end, a successful project management implementation is all the more likely. Project management is a skill, and the process needs to be practiced to be perfected. As with the seasons, these phases bring new growth, flourishing, decay, and a time to rest. These five phases encompass all of the necessary attributes for project success.
June 16, 2020