• Project management
  • by Krzysztof Sowa
  • 11/10/2019

5 Project Management Phases – step by step

Software development is a complicated process that requires excellent project management skills. One of the best tools to harness its power for building digital products is the high-level view of the project management phases. But let’s start with the basics. According to the Project Management Institute, the term “project management”…

5 Project Management Phases - step by step

Software development is a complicated process that requires excellent project management skills. One of the best tools to harness its power for building digital products is the high-level view of the project management phases.

But let’s start with the basics.

According to the Project Management Institute, the term “project management” refers to the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to a wide range of activities – all aiming to meet the specific project requirements.

Project management is a process that has a particular lifecycle composed of five phases. By investigating this project management phases, Project Managers get a high-level view of the project and can thus formulate a roadmap that helps them to accomplish it.

Project management  phases 

Many people believe that a Project Manager’s job is just setting up status meetings and reminding everyone about deadlines. But this is just one part of the story. There is a science to project management, and professionals who perform this role can benefit from a variety of methodologies, frameworks, and approaches.

In fact, successful Project Managers are the ones who have a deep understanding of the five phases of project management – and they know how to execute them. They include:

  1. Initiating,
  2. Planning,
  3. Executing,
  4. Monitoring and Controlling,
  5. Closing.

The five phases of project management were developed by the Project Management Institute, the largest nonprofit association for Project Managers in the world. To standardize project management practices, PMI set over eighty professionals to create A Guide to the Project Management Book of Knowledge (also called the PMBOK® Guide). The guide is continually updated by the association and contains the fundamental practices used by organizations all over the globe to achieve the best results. 

So, what exactly is the project lifecycle and its five phases according to the PMBOK®? The project phases make up the project lifecycle by defining the work that needs to be accomplished, the deliverables to be generated, people who will be involved in the project, and the process of control and approval (for every project phase).

By determining these elements, project managers can smoothly take their project from start to finish – and generate the best possible results thanks to this systematic process.

So let’s have a closer look at each of the five phases that together make up the project lifecycle.

Project management phases – step by step

Phase 1: Project initiating

This phase marks the beginning of the project. Its primary objective is defining the project at a broad level.

Most of the time, phase 1 starts with a business case. The idea here is to make sure that the project is feasible and should be carried out at all. If an organization performs feasibility testing, this is the best moment to complete it.

During this phase, all the relevant project stakeholders will analyze the business case to decide whether or not to give the project the green light. If they all agree on starting the project, it’s time to create a project charter, otherwise known as the project initiation document (PID). This text outlines the goal and requirements of the project, including business needs, the business case, and all stakeholders. Note that the PID doesn’t include the technical requirements of the project (that’s something companies figure out in phase two).

Expert tip: Organizations don’t have to come up with this document from scratch – the internet is full of practical templates that follow the PMBOK® Guide.

Phase 2: Project planning

The second phase is critical to the project’s success because it concentrates on developing the roadmap. This phase usually begins with setting the project objectives. Project Managers can take advantage of several methods for setting goals, such methods are for example SMART and CLEAR.

SMART

The SMART goals approach comes in handy for making sure that your objectives are properly vetted. It also helps the team to understand the implications of the goal-setting process in itself. So what does SMART stand for? Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Let’s break this down:

  • Specific – testing specific goals means that answering the questions of who, what, when, where, why, and which,
  • Measurable – develop criteria to be used for measuring the success of a particular objective,
  • Attainable – this is about identifying the most important objectives and everything it will take to achieve them,
  • Realistic – your team should be able to work toward a particular goal that you’ve set,
  • Timely – this is where you create a timeframe for achieving the goals.

Expert tip: If you’re not sure how to take advantage of the SMART goals method, have a look around the web, and you’ll find plenty of templates to get started.

CLEAR

Let’s take a closer look at the CLEAR goal-setting method. This approach is slightly more modern because it takes into account today’s fast-paced environment of business. CLEAR stands for collaborative, limited, emotional, appreciable, and reliable:

  • Collaborative – make sure that the goal encourages employees to work together,
  • Limited – your objectives should be limited in time and scope to keep them manageable,
  • Emotional – your goals need to inspire passion from employees, something to which teams can form an emotional connection. That’s how Project Managers optimize the quality of the delivered work,
  • Appreciable – this is where you break larger objectives into smaller tasks that your team can achieve quickly,
  • Refinable – make sure that your goals are flexible and potentially refinable.

The goal is the primary objective of this phase, but the definition of the project scope and plan for project management is important as well. This is when companies identify the quality, available resources, and the cost to create a realistic project timetable. It’s also the moment when you need to establish performance measures. Starting a project without this baseline is impossible because you won’t be able to tell whether your project is going in the right direction.

That’s also the best opportunity for defining roles and responsibilities. That way, everyone will know what they’re accountable for in the project.

During the second phase, the Project Manager will create the following documents to make sure that their project stays on track:

  • Scope statement – this document defines the business needs, project objectives, deliverables, team milestones, and benefits.
  • Work Breakdown Schedule (WBS) – breaks down the scope into smaller, manageable sections.
  • Milestones – identifies the high-level goals the project needs to meet.
  • Gantt chart – a visual timeline teams can use to plan and visualize the project timeline.
  • Risk management plan – this document determines all the foreseeable risks in the project. Some of the most common ones include unrealistic timeline and cost estimates, budget cuts, changing requirements, or shortage of committed resources.

Phase 3: Project executing

This is the process where the team develops and completes project deliverables. This phase is the central part of every project, and many things happen within its boundaries: meetings, status reports, development updates, and performance reports.

Usually, this phase is preceded by a kickoff meeting where all the teams involved in the project are informed about their responsibilities. During this phase, the Project Manager needs to develop the team, assign resources, and execute the project management plan.

The Project Manager’s job here is directing and managing the project’s execution by setting up tracking systems, assigning tasks, carrying out status meetings, updating the project schedule, and modifying plans when necessary.

Expert tip: To make all of that easier, many organizations use dedicated project management software. It helps to streamline the process by allowing individual team members to update task status is in real-time and simplify reporting.

Phase 4: Project monitoring and Controlling

The fourth phase of project management focuses on measuring the project’s progression and team performance. The idea here is ensuring that everything is closely aligned with the previously defined project management plan. To be certain that the project is going in the right direction, product managers use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Usually, a Project Manager chooses from 2 to 5 of KPIs.

For example, Project Managers need to know whether the project is on schedule and budget – and whether it will meet stakeholder objectives. Another area of interest is determining whether specific task deliverables are being met by the team. 

The Project Manager will also need to account for the cost of resources to ensure that the project’s budget is on track. It’s also smart to consider the number and type of issues that arise during the project – and how quickly they are addressed by the team. During this phase, Project Managers may need to adjust resources or schedules to keep the project on the right track.

Phase 5: Project closing

The last phase represents the project in its completed state. The Project Manager will recognize the work of team members. Project Managers often organize a work event for everyone who participated in the project to thank them for the effort they put into it.

When the project is complete, Project Managers also hold a meeting which is sometimes referred to as a “postmortem” to evaluate what went well and identify the most serious failures. This type of lessons learned meeting is very valuable for organizations as they enable making improvements for future projects.

Once the project has been completed, Project Managers still have a few tasks on their hands. First, it’s a good idea to create a list of all the things that haven’t been accomplished during the project and then work with the team members to complete them. Project Managers also need to deliver the final project budget and prepare the final project report. Finally, they collect all the project documents and deliverables to store them in one place.

Key takeaway

The five project management phases offer an excellent overview of battle-tested practices that help organizations complete projects successfully. By dividing the project into five phases, Project Managers can formalize their workflow and ensure that none of the elements are missing before the project is initiated. That way, they come prepared for each and every phase of the project – and, eventually, bring it to success.

 

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Krzysztof Sowa

Technical Project Manager in Concise Software with a developer background, especially in mobile apps (Google Certified Associate Android Developer) and automotive systems. Scrum lover, certificated PSM I, PSPO I & AgilePM, who loves sharing their knowledge with IT communities (e.g. GDG). Husband, father and passionate photographer @ The Owls Photography.

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