What is a project life cycle? (Overview of the 5 stages)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

One of the most important questions that any project manager needs to understand is around the project life cycle. Regardless of the industry you work in, having a clear project life cycle in place is important, as it allows you to create more efficient projects and achieve better end results. Understanding a project life cycle and implementing one effectively is one of the most important jobs for any project manager. In this article, we discuss what is a project life cycle, explain its benefits and explore the five stages of the project life cycle.

What is a project life cycle?

If you've ever wondered, 'what is a project life cycle,' it is the entire process that a project goes through from start to finish. This involves at least four different phases: initiation, planning, execution and closure. The overall goal of any project life cycle is to give the project a framework that is easy to follow to help guide projects in the right direction.

Project managers use project life cycles to organise all the tasks of projects into different stages. This includes everything from planning to execution. A clear project life cycle enables project manage to oversee projects more easily and effectively and for this reason is one of the most important areas to focus on if you're strengthening your project management skills.

Related: Project management skills and how to improve them

Benefits of using a project life cycle

A project lifecycle is an organisational framework that can vastly improve your ability to manage a variety of types of projects. Here are the main benefits of introducing a clear project lifecycle:

Greater consistency across projects

Project lifecycle uses a standardised system that project managers can implement across all of an organisation's projects. By using a standardised work process and taking the same steps during each stage of the project, organisations can achieve more consistent results. For example, during the project lifecycle, project managers use a common language and follow the same templates. This makes it easier for them to identify problems quickly and make changes to reduce risks. Ultimately, it can help the project manager maintain their timeline and complete the project as planned.

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More efficient organisation

Different projects can involve many steps and processes. By implementing a clear project lifecycle from the beginning, organisations can plan the project completely before it begins, mitigating risks that might arise. This ensures that the project can progress more efficiently. Project managers can effectively delegate tasks and implement better management systems from the start. It is also easier for managers to oversee each step with complete clarity and control.

Faster completion of projects

By planning and understanding each task before the project starts, project managers can better maintain project deadlines and take steps to avoid potential complications. Project managers can oversee the different stages more effectively and better understand what needs to be accomplished in advance of subsequent tasks. The result of this is firmer deadlines and more efficient work done in each stage of the project. This means projects can move along much faster, avoiding the risk of running overtime and incurring unnecessary additional costs.

Better updates and insights

By organising a project into different stages, managers can divide tasks they into logical steps. This makes it easier to offer accurate updates and insights on a project. By having a clear understanding of what needs to be done and by when, managers can follow the progress of a project more clearly and keep all other parties in the loop.

Related: How to become a project manager

Types of project lifecycles

Project lifecycles can include three different models. The one you choose depends on the scope of the project, the timeframe required for the project and the cost of the project.

Predictive life cycle

A predictive life cycle makes use of a highly detailed and defined plan. This type of lifecycle involves a high-level strategy being created while the project is in its planning phase. After this, the project manager develops a series of highly detailed plans before each stage of the project.

The main idea behind a predictive life cycle is that it is very carefully planned. As the name suggests, any work that follows during the project is completely predictable and this work needs to follow a very careful structure. This plan involves strict timelines and firm budget and scope constraints.

Iterative and incremental life cycle

An iterative and incremental life cycle is similar to a predictive life cycle in that it involves a highly detailed plan. But, with the incremental development approach, you complete the project through a series of iterations called increments. Each increment adds additional functionality within a predetermined amount of time. Using the iterative life cycle, you complete the overall project and then refine in areas that are weak.

Adaptive life cycle

An adaptive life cycle is more flexible and is often referred to as change-driven. This project management lifestyle is a combination of the incremental and iterative models and goes through various changes and iterations as the project develops. These projects work by reviewing the deliverables at the end of each step of the project and then creating a new scope for the next step based on the previous steps' feedback.

All of the same stages of a traditional project life cycle are maintained, but each individual project has a unique and unpredictable direction. With an adaptive life cycle, the final stage could look very different to what the project manager originally planned.

The 5 stages of project management life cycle

The main idea of project lifecycle management is to divide each project into different stages. While project managers can apply each of these life cycle models to different industries and projects, these are the five primary stages:

1. The project initiation stage

The first stage is when project managers identify a problem and they decide whether they address this with a project solution. When project managers look at the problem, they evaluate this to understand the potential value of a project. If the value is necessary, the project advances. The assessment of this stage involves project managers understanding the goals and priorities of a project. It also covers any possible risks and deadlines involved in the project.

2. The project planning stage

Next is the planning of the project. This involves project managers creating an outline for the project and establishing all the tasks that are required to complete it on time. Some common tasks include things like developing a project budget and identifying the resources, both financial and human, that the project manager needs to complete the project according to their designated timeline. During the planning stage, the overall goal and the scope of the project are clearly established. Project managers might create a report here to be used as a formal document that serves as the project roadmap.

3. The project execution stage

This is the stage where the project manager executes on the plan. During this stage, the project manager needs to assign deliverables to each team member and monitor how these deliverables are being produced. Monitoring project performance and making sure that this is in line with the project's goals is important.

4. The project closure stage

The closure stage is the final stage of any project. This is when all the team has fully completed all work for the project and the project manager has confirmed that it's complete. It's during this stage that the manager shares all deliverables with the key stakeholders. This stage involves analysing the results of the project and summarising the key findings from the project. This is important for being able to improve any future projects.

5. The project monitoring stage

In some project lifecycles, the project manager may choose to include a fifth monitoring stage. This stage happens during the execution stage and it acts as an additional stage of control. This step involves project managers carefully monitoring and overseeing the project's performance. Managers make sure that each step of the project is completed properly and on time and ensure they identify and find solutions to any potential problems. This optional fifth stage is value since it helps to keep the project moving along swiftly and efficiently according to the original plan.

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