Project life cycle - definition
By definition, a project life cycle is a timeline designed to help managers organize work and successfully complete the main objectives of a given operation. It consists of a few steps designed to help managers achieve their goals and complete their projects.
However, the project life cycle does not serve exclusively as a plan of work. It also includes key information for managers and executives, such as:
- stages and deadlines,
- involved specialists (divided into teams or stages if necessary),
- financial estimates,
- main objectives, both for the entire project and its stages,
- potential risks.
Why is project life cycle crucial in the IT industry?
As you can see from the list of factors included in the definition of a project life cycle, a timeline is basically a perfect reflection of software development processes in the IT industry. That’s why it comes as no surprise that optimization of project life cycles is slowly gaining popularity in the field.
In general, a project management life cycle allows the company to create a reliable and repeatable plan of work for a broad project scope for different team members. It also includes all the crucial elements present in the IT projects. In other words, if the company follows project life cycle steps to the letter, the chances of a project being successful are growing exponentially - and so is the satisfaction of team members.
Additionally, a project life cycle also has a significant impact on the key indicators in the IT industry. When phases of the project are managed properly, they can drastically improve utilization rate and accuracy of all the estimation, resulting in greater profits.
Project management life cycle for executives
However, improving a project life cycle is also appealing for the various managers in the industry, including:
- CEO, who can monitor critical indicators (i.e., capacity demand and profitability), as well as projects themselves with project life cycle,
- COO, who can use a project life cycle to manage people from different departments, as well as their relations and communication,
- PMO, who will benefit from a project life cycle by analyzing projects and their statuses. Any other project manager can do so, too.
To add to that, a predictable project life cycle is also valuable for developers, as it gives them a sense of direction and clear instructions on what to do next. Various phases of the project show them where they are headed, and what to do next.
So, we have no doubts that everyone in the IT company can benefit from improving a project life cycle. But what’s really hidden inside it?
Let's start with defining what phases is a project life cycle made of.
Project life cycle phases
According to PMI/PMBOK, the project life cycle is divided into 5 consecutive phases:
- initiating phase,
- planning phase,
- executing phase,
- monitoring phase,
- closing phase.
Each of these phases brings new challenges for all types of managers.
However, this should not discourage you from optimizing the phases of project management. That’s because project life cycle phases were designed to cover all the critical factors in project management and provide executives with a comprehensive view of their operations - just like in our project life cycle template that you can download right here.
The initiation phase of a project life cycle focuses on understanding the purpose of a project and all the people involved.
In general, project initiation phase focuses on the motives of clients and other stakeholders. At this point of a project life cycle, we need to understand their goals, motivations, and hopes in order to create an overview of the project and define its main objectives.
To do so and complete project initiation, one needs to:
- identify key customer representatives and their stakeholders,
- identify the scope of the project and define their goals related to the product,
- define deliverables of the projects and potential solutions, for example, by undertaking a feasibility study,
However, the analysis for project initiation does not end here. The initiating phase of a project life cycle should also check whether your company can deliver the project following the requirements chosen by the customer. It requires a contact with the right project managers and other executives.
As a result, after finishing the talks with the prospective customer, you should also:
- check whether your company has the time to complete the project in general,
- start project management forecasting: estimate the budget and resources that are likely to be needed to complete the project,
- create the timeline and set the deadlines for the project,
- evaluate the potential risk with other project managers,
- create a project proposal.
Then, and only then, your company can really confirm whether the project can be delivered and provide the customer with its realistic outline.
Initiating phase: example
A new customer contacted the Best Company. He wishes to acquire a fully functional custom app that could be connected to the software in the warehouse he stores his product.
After an initial conversation with the customer, it turned out that the project will involve:
- responding to the needs of the owner of the website, people managing the website, and employees responsible for the warehouse and the product in it, as they want to display the number of available goods online,
- an entire app, with an online store and a CMS,
- security measures, as the app will have to process customers’ accounts and their data.
With that in mind, the sales team heads to the managers (or a chosen project manager) to check the availability of resources in the near future.
Based on the resource planning tool and project management tool (that sometimes can be merged into a single tool), they estimate the budget and resources that are likely to be needed to complete the project. If they're not sure about your resources' availability in the long term, project managers and other executives should consider trying out a resource planning tool.
Then, they check whether these resources are available before the deadlines - fortunately, they are. Having checked that, they create the timeline and set the deadlines for the project. All of this information is included in the project proposal. The first part of project management life cycle is done!
The project planning phase in the project life cycle is all about taking a closer look at the consecutive stages of the project - and it's not necessarily the job of a project manager.
The main objective of the planning phase is to create a timeline with stages and goals based on the deliverables established in the initiating phase and to communicate these objectives to the interested parties.
To complete a project planning phase, you first should create a detailed project plan based on resource planning for project management, as well as other key data.
Project planning: key takeaways
Project plan should include:
- functional specification of the final product,
- master plan,
- project schedule,
- risk management status,
- milestones report.
Having done that, you should move on to internal analysis.
Internal analysis: key takeaways
- calculating resources and estimating budget needed for the project to be completed,
- allocating resources (initially in draft allocations, if available) - feel free to use our resource smoothing strategies to do so,
- risk assessment.
In these life cycle phases, you should pay particular attention to the accuracy of calculations. Do not try to do that in Excel or in lengthy conversations, as it may cause numerous mistakes!
Follow the footsteps of companies that did their math well - for example, Netgen improved its estimations and reduced the number of incorrect invoices to 0. How? We discussed it in our case study with Netgen with detailed project management steps.
As you may imagine, the project execution phase of a project life cycle was designed to get work done and deliver a product to the customer. Still, it’s easier said than done - even with a very detailed project plan.
The main challenge of the execution phase is the number of people involved in it. It’s no longer just about the stakeholders. Now specialists, developers, testers, other team members and managers also have their say in the matter, and they all have to be involved in project planning and execution.
To prevent any issues and miscommunications in project execution, at this stage of the project life cycle you should focus on:
- creating tasks and organizing workflows to improve communication and avoid problems in the process - see how Monterail did that,
- explaining tasks to managers and specialists responsible for their execution, and convey that information to project team,
- constant communication between parties, including reporting issues, feedback, and any changes that may appear,
- reporting progress, both in phases and the entire project, and monitoring the workflow in general,
- reacting to any unforeseen changes,
- monitoring budgets and other spending to ensure the profitability of the operations, for example, using product budget management software or a project expense tracker.
All of these project management steps should be completed before you move on to project closure - and it's closer than you may expect!
Closing and monitoring phase
Project management life cycle: closing
At some point, your project will inevitably come to an end, so it’s time for the closing phase. In general, it is combined with monitoring the outcome of a project and assessing its quality.
It’s not hard to conclude that in general, the closing phase has one goal: to prepare a product for delivery. It’s not as simple as it sounds, though. At this point, we need to:
- solving critical issues, if there are any left,
- perfecting the necessary features,
- conducting the implementation, if required.
Project management life cycle: monitoring
Still, delivering a project to the customer does not mean it is over.
For example, in the professional service life cycle, a final product can be maintained and improved for years to come and never be truly finished.
However, for those projects that do come to an end, the fun isn’t over too. Such projects are a valuable source of information for those who executed them. That means they need to be monitored properly.
By “properly”, we mean that you need to:
- analyze project performance - we recommend using real-time data, just like Fingoweb did,
- analyze a teams' performance (if there was a team involved) or a performance of individual specialists,
- document a project and double-check all the data for future reference,
- gather post-implementation reviews and feedback,
- account for the budget and all its elements to check the project's profitability (in Primetric, these indicators can also be checked at every stage of the process thanks to real time project accounting).
But why do that if the project is gone and long forgotten?
Well, it should not be!
Every operation in your company is an experiment of its own kind - in the end, there are no identical projects. Therefore, every action has its conclusions that you can use to improve similar projects in the future.
Closing analysis - key takeaways
For example, based on the closing analysis we mentioned above, you can:
- check whether a given type of a project is profitable or even doable with a given condition,
- find the best teams and people, convince them to stay with your company for longer, and use their expertise for more demanding projects,
- use the elements from previous projects to speed up the new ones,
- use the reviews and feedback to improve similar projects in the future,
- monitor the budget and find costs that could become potential savings in the future.
Project life cycle template - download now
If you read carefully up to this point, you already know that the project life cycle is a very complex creation. Then how can you use it for your company’s benefit?
First and foremost, you can start using our template for project life cycle management, so you would not have to copy and paste all the elements mentioned above.
Alternatively, you can use the help of Primetric - a tool that reflects the processes in the IT industry. Browse our website or book a demo right away to find out more.