A Guide to The Project Management Life Cycle For Beginners

2022-04-06 14:26:40
Grace Lau
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Summary : The “project management lifecycle” pretty much just refers to the five stages a project moves through from beginning to end.

You might have heard terms like “project management lifecycle”, “RAID analysis”, even “PMBoK” thrown around when talking about how companies can improve the way they work. Good project management skills are essential to any company, but jargon can be confusing.


Fortunately, the project management lifecycle is pretty much the same anywhere, from a bakery to an app testing company. It would be useless if you couldn’t adapt it to suit your needs.


Even a freelancer generating new leads could benefit from some of these ideas: scoping, repeatable processes, RAID analysis, etc. Just a little bit of project management knowledge could go a long way. Businesses with “mature” project management capabilities consistently have better ROI than those which don’t, take a look at the chart below.

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If you’re completely new to project management ideas, understanding the project management lifecycle could be the best place to start. It’s the backbone of the whole field, and every other idea you’ll use connects back to this.


With that in mind, let’s take a look at what the project management lifecycle is.

What is the project management lifecycle?

The “project management lifecycle” pretty much just refers to the five stages a project moves through from beginning to end.


Any one-off task that requires more than two steps could reasonably be called a “project”, from setting up a customer referral program to migrating your whole business to the cloud. It’s called a “lifecycle” in part because you can use the knowledge gained in the final stage to inform the first stage of your next project.


It’s not all about flowcharts and jargon, it’s about making sure that your business is constantly learning from experience and improving the way you work. The best way to do things looks different for every business, and it comes after months or years of experience on the part of the team. Without project management, those learnings would rely on a kind of “oral lore” passed down from senior to junior staff. If those senior staff leave, the knowledge leaves with them.


In the short term, the project management lifecycle helps you keep teams coordinated and make sure their work comes in on time and under budget. Let’s go over the five stages every project will go through, and how you can get them right.

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  1. Initiation
    You wouldn’t be talking about doing a project unless someone had a good idea, even if it’s just three words scrawled on a post-it note. The first stage of the project management lifecycle (PML) is about turning that idea into something that could fill a five- or ten-minute presentation to the company.

    You’ll come up with a real plan later, but for now, you just need enough information that an executive could look at and decide it’s worth spending the time to plan it out in detail. If you’re the one calling the shots, this is a useful exercise for you to turn ideas into something more tangible before you start throwing time and money at them.

    In the initiation phase, you’ll make a “project charter”, just a document outlining the project’s vision, objectives, and goals. Working from those goals, you’ll list the actual deliverables your project needs to output.

    The first stage might also include a feasibility study and an estimated budget. “Project cost management” is a whole process outlined in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK) in the same way “project management lifecycle” is. But if you’re not a professional project manager all you need to settle on is the cost of each part of the project, a ballpark figure on how much value each part will bring, and what an acceptable margin for error would be.

  2. Planning

    The second stage of the PML is planning. Like something as simple as a sales call plan, you’re just trying to account for any surprises that might come up in the project and make sure you have some ideas about how to deal with them.

    There are a number of possible “outputs” - deliverables - in the planning stage depending on what you’re doing. A few of those are…Work breakdown structure.

    A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is just a list of all the tasks that need to be accomplished, by what date, and who’s responsible for each of them. A GANTT chart is more or less the same thing, but with the tasks mapped onto a timeline for easy visualization.

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    Risk plan
    One easy template for a risk plan is a RAID analysis. This looks at…

    • Risks: Any known risks to your project’s success (e.g. “An unforeseen cost could eat our limited budget”)
    • Assumptions: Any assumptions your project is relying on (e.g. “We assume the sales team will have booked some meetings for this event”)
    • Issues: Issues you know you currently have (e.g. “The sample products we want to exhibit haven’t shipped from China yet”)
    • Dependencies: Resources you know you’ll depend on (e.g. “We’ll need 4 people to set up the exhibition stand in time”)

    Communication plan

    You might already know how important it is to optimize communications within remote teams. On any project, you’re managing information across multiple people if not teams, and you need to have some idea of how you’re going to do that ahead of time.

    Maybe this is a complicated rollout that needs to be communicated to your customers in the right way. Maybe this just means you’re deciding not to show something off to the rest of the company until everyone involved is sure it’s ready.

    Procurement plan
    “Procurement” just means getting any resources or tools you’ll need from a third party. Public bodies like governments might be obligated to go through complex procurement processes by law, but for you, the process likely just means reviewing different providers and picking what’s best for you.

    That might also include the software you need to manage the project effectively. ZenTao’s project management software provides software lifecycle project management solutions, based on agile and CMMI management concepts, and completely covers the core project management.

    Should you go with the Salesforce CTI or their competitor? Should you use SendGrid or Mailchimp for your marketing emails? That’s usually all there is to it, but once you’re in the weeds you’ll find yourself talking about payment plans and contracts with different providers. “Provider X doesn’t have as many features, but Provider Y wants us to commit to a year-long contract” is the important information you have to produce here.

  3. Execution

    By the time you reach the execution stage, you should have a team and a clear plan for what they’re doing. Once you’ve ensured they know what the plan is, you might be in a position to hang back and let them get on with it.

    In a small business, you’re wearing many hats and might be one of the team members working on deliverables. But if you’re involved in the project just as a project manager, your most involved work here is serving as the point of communication between the team and the rest of the company or any clients involved.

    As the team gets on with the work - your plan should deliberately leave leeway for them to make their own decisions - a lot of your involvement will fall under the fourth stage “monitoring and controlling”, which runs at the same time as stage three.

  4. Monitoring and controlling

    There’s a saying that no plan survives contact with reality, the same is true of projects. “Monitoring and controlling” is another bit of technical-sounding jargon that just means keeping an eye on the project as it’s carried out and righting the ship where you need to. Some activities here will include…

    Cost and time management Monitoring the spending going on to complete the project and checking against what was budgeted, what the expected value of each activity was.

    Quality management Looking over any deliverables as they’re taking shape and making sure they meet all the business goals you outlined in the first phase.Status updates There’s no special structure or requirements for these meetings, it’s just a case of sending along a meeting invite and quickly checking in on how things are going on a regular basis.

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  5. Closure

    Once the project is over… it isn’t over. Not without the final stage of the process: closure.

    Project closure tasks Identify any tasks that might still be necessary to draw a line under this project. Maybe you have some lingering contracts with third parties that need to be signed off, maybe some parts of the project had to be delayed. Keeping a track of these is useful as you’ll know to take care of them in the next project.

    Project review Overall, did it go well? Were the deliverables handed in on time and on budget? What didn’t go as expected? Could you have managed changes better? Planned in more detail? A written document of these kinds of questions should be one of the deliverables sent around the stakeholders at the end of the project.

    Archive documents It’s important to keep an archive of important documents in some kind of shared file. Not only will they be useful to refer back to years down the line, but they’ll serve as a quick example to point to if you upskill more employees into management roles.

A mature project management lifecycleIn short, the project management lifecycle isn’t so complex once you get past the terminology. When you start implementing these ideas, you’ll find that they adapt to your company’s unique situation. Before long everything will come naturally to you.

You won’t have to explain to new team members the importance of risk management, RAID analysis, or the PMBoK. These simple practices will seem like the natural and obvious way to get projects right every time.


Need more help? Check out the Zentao blog. They have more articles on project management, software management, building cross-functional teams, and so much more.


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Author bio :


Grace Lau - Director of Growth Content, Dialpad

Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, an AI-powered cloud communication platform for better and easier team collaboration. She has over 10 years of experience in content writing and strategy. Currently, she is responsible for leading branded and editorial content strategies, partnering with SEO and Ops teams to build and nurture content.Grace has also written for sites such as causeartist and Soundstripe. Here is her LinkedIn.


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