What is Project Life Cycle? Phases, Characteristics

  • Post last modified:26 June 2021
  • Reading time:10 mins read

What is Project Life Cycle?

Project Life Cycle refers to a logical sequence of activities to accomplish the projects goals and objectives. The project is initiated to achieve a mission and is said to be completed when the mission is achieved.

In other words, the entire duration, which starts with the project’s conception and ends with the project’s closure, is called ‘Project Life Cycle.

  • What technical work to do in each phase?
  • Who is involved in each phase?
  • What type of resources required in each phase?
  • How and when the deliverables generated in each phase, be reviewed, verified and validated?
  • How to control and approve each phase?

According to A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) 5 Ed (2012) Project Life Cycle is ‘the series of phases that a project passes through from its initiation to closure’.


Phases in Project Life Cycle

The path a project takes from the beginning to its end and is generally referred as Phases in Project Life Cycle. Sometimes these phases may overlap with one another. This entire time frame or project management life cycle of a project, method of dividing the phases in a project may differ somewhat from industry to industry and from product to product.

But in general, most project life cycles as shown in figure, may be grouped as follows:

  1. Initiation Phase
  2. Definition Phase
  3. Planning and Growth Phase
  4. Implementation Phase
  5. Terminate Project

Initiation Phase

Initiation Phase is the first phase of the project life cycle. This phase involves the identification of a need, idea, problem, or opportunity. The idea may first come to mind when one is seriously trying to overcome certain problems.

The problems may be non-utilisation of either the availability of funds, plant capacity etc. Many projects are facing difficulties in this phase because the concept phase is truncated(or cut off) before it is finished and attention is prematurely turned towards the means of accomplishing objectives.

Therefore, project objectives need to be fully explored and developed in the conceptual phase. The major activities of the initiation phase are:

  1. Determine existing needs or potential requirements of current projects.

  2. Provide initial answers to the question on cost, availability, performance levels, and its compatibility to other project programs.

  3. Identify all the resources essential for effective management.

  4. Determine the initial project interface.

  5. Design an appropriate organizational structure for the project.

The whole working of this phase can be structured as follows:

  • Prepare Business Case/Plan: It is a written document prepared to describe all the relevant external and internal elements involved in starting a new project. The business plan must describe the current status, expected needs and projected results of the new project.

  • Perform Feasibility Study: At any stage during or after the development of a business case, a formal feasibility study may be commissioned. It is an analysis of the viability or justification of an idea through a disciplined and documented process of thinking through the idea from its logical beginning to its logical end.

  • Appointment of a project team and setting up a project office: Once the recommended solution is approved, a project is initiated to deliver the approved solution. The major deliverables and the participating workgroups are identified and the project team and its office begin to take shape.

    Participants involved in preparing the business need document and developing the project proposal include the sponsor / the entrepreneur, business process owner(s), business analyst(s), project manager and technical experts.

Definition Phase

In definition phase, solutions to business opportunity are evaluated and the preferred approach is defined. This phase includes initial preparation of all documentation necessary to support the project such as., policies, procedures, job description, budget and funding papers, letters etc.

Thus the definition phase represents a beginning-to-end thinking through the project but does not accomplish the project in and of itself.

The project definition produces a plainly written, unambiguous description of the project in sufficient detail to support a proposal or request the customer for undertaking the overall project.

This phase includes following activities:

  1. Preparing the detailed plans required to support the project.
  2. Estimation of realistic cost, schedule, and performance requirements.
  3. Spotting out those areas of the project where high risk and uncertainty exist.
  4. Defining, interfacing, and of project activities.
  5. Ascertaining other necessary sub-systems of the projects.

Ultimately, a Project Charter is prepared which outlines the mission, objectives, scope, deliverables and structure of the project. Well defined objectives and policies serve as the framework for the decisions to be made by the project manager.

Throughout the life of the project, a project manager has to seek a compromise between the conflicting goals of technical performance, cost standard, and time targets.

Planning and Growth Phase

In the planning phase, detailed plans are prepared and tasks are identified, with appropriate milestones, budgets, and resources. Planning consists of defining all the works required to be carried out so that all the project participants will understand their role in the project team and carry out the work assigned to them.

Some organisation however, prepare documents such as project execution plan to mark this phase. Organizing is the process of defining and analyzing the activities of the enterprise, grouping the activities into distinct areas / departments and establishing the authority-responsibility relationships among them.

It also involves organizing the resources required for the accomplishment of organizational objectives. In a project environment, organizing consists of the following sub-processes.

Following activities are of major concern in planning phase:

  1. Defining the scope of the project in terms of the product/services to be delivered by the project.

  2. Forecasting and estimating the resources (men, material, money, machines, etc.,) required for the project.

  3. Arriving at an appropriate organizational structure to implement the project.

  4. Identification and management of the resources in order to facilitate the production processes such as inventory, supplies, labour, funds, etc.

  5. Preparing detailed cost estimates for all the activities.

  6. Determining the required resources for all the activities.

The following plans have been prepared during this phase:

  • Project Plan/ Schedule: A project plan is created outlining the activities, tasks, dependencies and timeframes.

  • Production and Operational Plan: This plan includes strategies related to a suitable location, physical layout of plant, availability and cost of raw material, machinery and equipment, cost of manufacturing and operations, production capacity, production planning and scheduling, inventory management, quality management and control and expansion of business.

  • Resource Plan: It is necessary to allocate the resources required to undertake each of the activities and tasks within the project plan. A detailed resource plan is prepared to identify the type of resources required, total quantity required of each resource type, and the quality of each resource.

  • Financial Plan: Financial plan indicates the financial requirements of the proposed project considering costs related to marketing, operations, human resources and smooth functioning of the project. The benefits and costs of the project have been clearly documented in project budget.

  • Procurement Plan: This plan is made to identify the elements of the project which will be acquired from external suppliers of the project. It also references the process for selection of the preferred supplier and the process for the actual order and delivery of the ordered products.
  • Communication Plan: This plan identifies the type of information to be distributed, the method of distributing information to stakeholders, the frequency of distribution and the responsibilities of each person in the project team for distributing information regularly to stakeholders.

  • Risk Plan: In the risk plan, ‘high threat’ potential problems are identified along with the action that is to be taken on each high threat problem, either to reduce the probability that the problem will occur or to reduce the impact on the project if it does occur.

  • Quality and Acceptance Plan: Finally a quality plan is prepared providing quality targets, assurance, and control measures along with an acceptance plan

Implementation Phase

Project implementation is the key phase of the project life cycle during which the project plan comes to life. This phase involves the execution of each activity and task listed in the project plan. It is important to maintain control and communicate as needed during implementation.

As the execution phase progresses, groups across the organization become more deeply involved in planning for the final testing, production and support. But, projects may proceed in different ways depending on the required project outcomes as well as the schedule, staffing and cost constraints.

Project management activity during this phase involves:

  1. Keeping people informed about the progress of the project, ensuring project priorities are understood and translated into which activities are “in progress.

  2. Monitoring the environment, anticipating problems, and taking action to counter any issues affecting the project scope, schedule, or budget.

  3. Reviewing change requests with the project team and recommending whether they will be done within the project or not.

  4. Evaluation of the technical, social, and economic sufficiency of the project to meet actual operating conditions.

Terminate Project

This is the final phase of the project work. The commencement of the project closure phase is determined by the completion of all project objectives and acceptance of the end product by the management. The project process is completed and documented and the finished product is transferred to the care and control of the owner.

The long term objective is to build a project management repository to document best practices and lessons learned during the project. Lessons learned form an integral part of the project closure phase as it helps in the productivity improvement of the project team and helps in identifying the do’s and don’ts of the project.

The major activities of the project in this phase are:

  1. Demonstrate that the project is complete.

  2. Arranging relevant project files in proper form so that they can be referred for future projects.

  3. Assess the success of the project.

  4. Ensuring that project accounts are maintained up-to-date, amply audited and closed out.

  5. Assisting project staff in being reassigned.

  6. Discharging any outstanding dues on behalf of the project.

  7. Collecting dues of fees or payments from the clientele and clearing the account.

  8. Support departing staff.

After commissioning, the present project is completed and as such the present project is also termed to be shut down or cleaned up.

  • Performance Review: The last step of this phase is to conduct lessons learned studies- to examine what went well and what didn’t. Success is determined by how well it performed against the defined objectives and conformed to the processes outlined in the planning phase.

  • Post completion audit: An audit of a project after it has been commissioned is done which is referred to as a post-audit or a post-completion audit.

Characteristics of Project Life Cycle

Project life cycle phases share the following common characteristics:

  1. Sequential in nature
  2. Cost and staffing
  3. Influence of stakeholders
  4. Level of uncertainty and risk

Sequential in nature

The phases in a project life cycle are generally sequential in nature although, for large and complex projects there may be some overlapping between them.

Cost and staffing

Costs and staffing are low at the initiation phase, peak during the subsequent phases then, drops rapidly as the project draws to the conclusion.

Influence of stakeholders

Stakeholders influence on project characteristics and cost is highest at the start point but gets progressively lower as the project continues.

Level of uncertainty and risk

The level of uncertainty and risk of failing is greatest at the initiation and definition phases of a project. The certainty gets progressively better and risk comes down as the project progresses towards next phases.


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