The 5 Phases of the Project Management Life Cycle for Project Success

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Working through the various stages of the project life cycle effectively leads to more likelihood of success with project delivery.

Here, we consider what the project management life cycle is and how it is structured into different phases. Understanding the different phases is helpful to ensure that everything that should be considered is addressed.

What is the Project Management Life Cycle?

The project life cycle can be defined as a framework of specific high-level stages that help bring about an idea into reality in an organized way.

The project management life cycle has five main phases. These are project initiation, project planning, project execution, project monitoring and control, and project closure.

Each of these stages will be examined in turn.

The Project Life Cycle Phases

Project Initiation

At this very early stage of the project management life cycle, the goal is to determine whether the project can go ahead.

This means considering whether the project is feasible to do. Another important aspect of this stage is justifying that the project is worthwhile.

Once there is a business case for going ahead, a project manager is assigned to the project and the project is initiated. At a high level, the deliverables will be clarified, and the teams that will be involved are defined.

Project Planning

Planning is everything in the project life cycle. During this stage, the areas where planning is needed are as follows:

Project plan – the project plan is a document that considers the different tasks that need to be undertaken, the phases that need to be worked on, and any dependencies within the project. The outcome is a Gantt chart and a work breakdown schedule (WBS) which helps everyone understand what they will be doing and when.

Resource plan – the resource plan specifies the people needed for the tasks and how much time they will be needed for. Financial resources should also be considered to ensure that the project can be delivered to the budget.

Risk management plan – the risk management plan identifies the main risks that could impact the project. It pinpoints the probability of them occurring and the impact that they could have if they did happen. The plan shows how the risks will be mitigated against.

Communication plan – this involves considering who should be communicated with and when. It should be clear from this plan how often different stakeholders should be communicated with and what should be included in the different communications.

Acceptance plan – this is developed to ensure it is clear what needs to be done for a task to be considered complete.

Project Execution

During this stage of the project life cycle, everyone starts working on the project plan that has been defined. The different phases are followed, and the activities are undertaken in each as planned. The project manager tracks the deliverables and milestones to ensure that the project is running to plan. If anything is, of course, the project manager will take steps to manage this accordingly.

During this phase team members need to be well briefed on what is expected of them. In some cases, training may be needed. Team members will also need guidance on the level of quality required and the acceptance plan. This helps ensure standards are achieved.

The communication plan needs to be followed carefully during this stage. All stakeholders need to be kept apprised of project progress with an appropriate level of frequency depending on the stakeholder. Communicating too much or too little could lead to problems on the project.

Project Monitoring and Control

While the project is running, project monitoring and control is a critical stage in the project management life cycle. There are a number of areas that can be monitored as follows:

Cost – the project costs need to be monitored regularly so that control over them is maintained. Failing to do this can lead to project costs spiraling out of control. This leads to unhappy stakeholders, so controlling it along the way is vital.

Time – time should be monitored to ensure that everyone is staying on target and that sufficient time has been allocated to tasks. If not, adjustments need to be made by the project manager to ensure that the project continues to move along in a timely manner.

Risks – risk monitoring is also essential to ensure that risks are mitigated as the project moves forward. It could be that some risks become more probable over time. Taking steps to manage them as things change will help avoid project delay or failure.

Change / Scope – often as a project moves along, changes are needed to the scope. The purpose of monitoring and controlling the project scope and changes needed is to ensure that any changes that do need to be made are important and necessary.

The other reason for doing this is to make sure that the business owner is aware of the impact on time and costs of introducing changes. That way they can make an informed decision on going ahead or not.

Quality – monitoring quality helps to ensure a satisfied client at the end of the project.

Acceptance – during the testing phase of the software project, monitoring user acceptance is necessary to ensure that the project will meet user needs.

Project Closure

The final phase of project closure is the stage of the project life cycle that is most likely to be overlooked by project managers. This is not recommended as the closure phase covers important steps that should not be ignored.

There are several factors that should be considered at this stage. These include reviewing whether the project goals were accomplished and to what extent. Team performance should also be evaluated at this stage, considering individual effort and effectiveness.

Another key area to consider during the project closure phase is that everything has been properly documented and handed over. This ensures that any possible loose ends are tied up. It includes ending any supplier agreements, handing over documentation, and signing off contracts.

An important aspect of project closure is learning from what went well and what did not go so well. Analyzing and evaluating lessons learned helps with more effective working the next time a project is undertaken. This helps to improve performance for future projects. This is important for becoming more agile in software project management.

Project Management Life Cycle Examples

Example 1: Development of a software tool

Project initiation — An established company has identified an opportunity in the market to develop a software tool that will be useful for tracking staff time. In the project initiation phase, the possible market is estimated as large. The costs of undertaking the project are estimated, as is the time to deliver it. The project gets the go-ahead. A specialist project manager is sourced to lead and oversee the work.

Project planning — The project manager produces a project plan. On getting into the detailed planning, he realizes that for one part, specialist help will be needed to deliver the software project. He flags this up to the business owner. This raises the project costs by £2K but the business owner decides the project can still go ahead. The internal staff is briefed on their roles.

Project execution — The project gets started. The project manager oversees the activities on a daily basis, making sure everyone stays on track. One person breaks her arm and goes off sick. Working with the development team manager, the project manager is able to negotiate that another person can step in to take their place.

Project monitoring and control — As the work is progressing, the business owner suddenly thinks it would be nice to add another feature into the software project development. Using the project change management process, the project manager highlights to the business owner that this will raise the costs of the project by £50K and lead to a three-month delay in project delivery. The business owner decides not to make the change and the project continues as planned.

Project closure — During the closure phase, the evaluation of the project identifies that the requirements could and should have been better defined during the project initiation. This would have helped avoid the identification of a further feature that was required late into the process which could not be accommodated. The team agrees to a stricter project requirement sign-off stage for future projects.

Example 2: A start-up company moves office

Project initiation — A small start-up company has outgrown its existing office space. The business needs to move to a new location and that it is not only feasible but essential. The office manager is assigned as the project manager and a new office is located. The project is signed off.

Project planning — The project manager develops the project plan. It is clear that a lot of the work towards the move needs to be undertaken over the final weekend in the old office, ready to start in the new office on Monday morning. This involves discussion with the project stakeholders from different teams to ensure that people can and will be available as needed. Risks are identified including the possibility that the phone lines might not be up and running properly at the start of Monday morning, for technical reasons.

Project execution — As much of the preparation as possible for the move is done in the week leading up to it. Everyone is fully briefed prior to the move. The teams pack up their office goods and label them as requested. The project manager is on-site on Saturday and Sunday, directing the activities.

Project monitoring and control — Thanks to good planning, the project runs smoothly. The phone company is not able to commit to working phones by 9am on Monday. A communication is sent to the clients informing them to phone cell numbers rather than landlines on Monday mitigating this risk.

Project closure — A final check is made of the old office to ensure everything is completed and the keys are handed back. Everyone agrees the project ran smoothly and clients were very satisfied with the seamless service offered by the company despite the fact they were moving office.


Understanding what happens at the different phases of the project life cycle helps with smooth running projects.

Enkonix offers project management for digital programming projects. We can help lead your project through the project management life cycle ensuring that strategy, design, and engineering are fully considered.

Contact us to find out how we can help.