Project Management Life Cycle: Definition, Phases & Models

Instructor: Olga Bugajenko

Olga is a registered PRINCE2 Practitioner and has a master's degree in project management.

Long and complex tasks usually become more manageable, if one splits them into shorter phases and milestones. In this lesson, you will learn the phases of a traditional project life cycle and different project life cycle models.

What is Project Management Life Cycle?

Remember the last time you had to submit a major report at school or work? Without a clear plan in mind, the task can seem daunting and impossible. By spending a little bit of time on planning, and then splitting the work into smaller chunks and setting yourself a set of small manageable goals before the final deadline you were able to accomplish it the job on time. Similarly, approaching a new project can feel overwhelming for a project manager - where does one begin and where does one end?

A project life cycle acts as a framework that helps a project manager split a project into manageable phases and signify the main milestones or decision points throughout the project lifespan. A project life cycle helps a project manager maintain control over the project. It can also be useful for recognizing the different level of effort that will be required from different teams or team members throughout the project lifespan. Consequentially, it might be helpful for organizations running several projects in parallel to assign resources across different projects.

A project life cycle highlights the fact that projects are temporary endeavors with a defined start and finish dates.

Life Cycle Phases

A generic project life cycle usually passes through four phases:

  • Definition - during the definition phase, a project manager is assigned the project, a project team is formed and responsibilities are doled out, customer requirements are defined and project objectives are set. When working on a report, you would start by clarifying the submission requirements and the deadline.
  • Planning - in the planning phase, the key documentation that will later be used to judge the project performance is created and baselined: the project plan, the project schedule and budget. Along with these, the business case and the project management strategies are documented. When working on a report, during this phase you would create a to-do list for yourself and transfer individual tasks into your personal calendar.
  • Execution - this is the phase where the actual work required to deliver the product takes place. While the physical outputs are created, the project manager continuously monitors the project performance and applies corrective actions, if needed. One by one, you complete all the tasks - the necessary research, analysis and writing for your report.
  • Closure - during the closure phase, the final product is delivered to the customer, resources that were previously used in the project are re-assigned elsewhere (this includes the project team members) and the review takes places to evaluate whether the project has delivered intended benefits. When it comes to your report, you finally submit your report to your lecturer or boss, and perhaps go out to celebrate with your friends.

Life Cycle Models

Project management doesn't require all projects to be managed through the same lifecycle. Instead, a number of life cycle models unique to different industries exist. Depending on the characteristics of a project or the environment where it is implemented, a different type of project life cycle may be most applicable. There are at least five types of project life cycle models:

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