Project management is often misunderstood. While many professionals view it as managing project timelines, there is so much more to the job. Thankfully, we’ve put together an easy guide to understanding the five project management phases.
Why are the five phases so important to know? Understanding the project management life cycle will help you implement better internal processes with the help of project management software. By the end of this article, you’ll be able to measure the effectiveness of future projects to keep your team on track for success.
Let’s start with a quick introduction to the many phases of project management.
There are five key project management steps, though there are many additional tactics you can implement to create a more effective internal process. Each phase makes up an important part of a project’s organizational structure—from initiation to closure. It’s a great guideline to ensure every part of a project stays on track and can even help measure the success of a project after it’s live.
This five-phase model was defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI) in the project life cycle PMBOK® Guide, otherwise known as the Project Management Body of Knowledge. The PMBOK® Guide is a great reference point for all professionals looking to grow their project management knowledge and skillset.
So what exactly are the five key phases of a successful project? Let’s find out.
In the initiation phase of the project management model, the project is defined on a broad level. This is the time to identify project sponsors and stakeholders and begin the initial research phase. It’s also a good idea to document the project in writing so you can easily distribute the communication plan to the rest of the team. Many teams begin a project with an initial project kickoff meeting or feasibility study. How you decide to kick it off should depend on your team’s preferred communication style.
In addition to presenting the initial idea of the project, you should also outline the benefits, cost, and risk factors associated with project deliverables. You may even want to outline additional metrics depending on how your organization measures success.
Once you’ve assessed the project, you’ll then create a business case or—for smaller projects—a project charter. These tools can help you outline and pitch your project in-depth, incorporating details such as the project’s goals, budget, and timeline. Whether you create a business case or a project charter, these tools are particularly helpful for referencing later and quickly pinpointing the project’s objectives down the road.
Here’s an example of what should be included in a business case or project charter.
Company Name: Apollo Enterprises
Project Name: The OKR Playbook
Project Manager: Kabir Madan
Objective: The objective of this report is to increase lead generation by offering world-class resources to our customer base.
Stakeholders: Daniela Vargas, Kat Mooney, Ray Brooks.
Timeline: June 1 to July 20, 2021.
Benefits: The benefits of this report include adapting a new competitive advantage, creating a new lead funnel, and ultimately resulting in a high ROI given the low project budget.
Risks: While we see more benefits than risks, we could be pulling in unqualified leads that won’t convert.
In the project planning stage of project management, you’ll create clear goals using a project roadmap. While there are multiple ways to execute goal planning, SMART goals, CLEAR goals, and objectives and key results (OKRs) are three project planning strategies that can help you get started.Read: How to create a project plan that works to keep you on track
SMART goals is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Many teams use this method because of its ability to improve team communication, define a clear roadmap, and result in trackable metrics.Read: Write better SMART goals with these tips and examples
CLEAR goals is an acronym that stands for Collaborative, Limited, Emotional, Appreciable, and Refinable. Many teams opt for this method because it’s a little more realistic to put into practice and focuses on collaboration.
OKRs differ more significantly from the other two methods. This method can open goals up to the entire company, creating visibility throughout an organization. Instead of starting with a project and then defining the objective, OKRs start with the objective and then create projects around that goal. Learn more about OKR goal management to determine if it’s right for your organization.Read: How to set OKRs
While the three strategies take different approaches, they all drive similar results. It’s up to you to choose the method that most closely matches your business objective.
Additional resources you may use in the project planning phase of project management include milestone charts, Gantt charts, and project risk management analyses—all of which can help clarify details for stakeholders. While these areas may have been discovered during the initial scope of the project, the planning phase is the perfect time to expand on the objectives, goals, and risks.
Here’s an example we put together of a goal breakdown using the SMART project management methodology.
Initial goal: Increase lead generation
Improved SMART goal:
Specific: Increase lead generation by distributing a resource guide
Measurable: Increase monthly lead generation by 15%.
Achievable: Based on a recent study, we know our customers are interested in a resource guide.
Realistic: Collect customer contact information in exchange for our resource guide.
Time-Bound: Produce an annual resource guide every January to maintain our lead traffic.
In the execution phase, your team will focus on achieving the objectives that were set. They will use the information gathered in the first two steps to create and launch the project within the specified timeframe using teamwork and collaboration.
Start by assigning tasks to team members. If you already use a project management tool, you can add these tasks to your project workflow so your team can quickly access resources and communicate in one place. Timeline software and other project mapping tools can help your team visualize each step of the project.
Next, you should prepare your tracking and success methodology so that everyone clearly understands how success will be measured. These could be specific performance indicators you plan to track or post-campaign goals you’re looking to meet.
Since deadlines and workloads change daily, make sure to update the project schedule as needed and close out dependencies once met. If you have a drop-dead deadline, make sure you organize your team’s schedule based on priority. It’s a good idea to check in with team members regularly to make sure the project is on pace and that deliverables are being met.
Although schedules fluctuate, it’s important to stay as close to the original timeline as possible so you don’t run into scope creep. In other words, don’t go too far past the original scope of the project.Read: 7 common causes of scope creep, and how to avoid them
Take a look at this example timeline plan to better understand how to organize a work breakdown structure.
Project Timeline: June 1 to July 20, 2021
Project Team: Kabir Madan, Daniela Vargas, Kat Mooney, Ray Brooks
June 1: Kabir to set up project tasks and assign to team members.
June 14: Daniela to gather resource data.
June 18: Daniela to organize data and submit to Ray for design.
June 28: Ray to submit design draft 1 to Kabir for review.
July 1: Kabir to provide design feedback.
July 6: Ray to submit the final design to Kat for implementation.
July 12: Kat to submit staging site to Kabir for review.
July 15: Kabir to provide staging feedback.
July 19: Kat to submit the final staging to the team for testing.
July 20: Resource guide to go live.
Measuring the effectiveness of a project is important for several reasons. Being able to improve the project is a big one, but it’s also important because team members can learn from both success and failure. There are many different key performance indicators (KPIs) you can use to set and achieve strategic goals using goal setting software. The KPIs you use will depend on your line of work and the type of project you’re working on.
One of the first performance metrics you should consider is the initial objective. Did the project address the problem you were trying to solve? It’s easy to get disconnected from the initial objective but it’s important to keep it in mind when measuring performance.
Your next step should be to examine other KPIs to determine if the project was a success. Some universal KPIs include return on investment (ROI), cost performance index (CPI), planned value (PV), actual cost (AC), and earned value (EV)—though there are many more than just those.
Communicate to stakeholders on the success of the project, including what went right and what went wrong. Being honest and open to feedback is the best way for team members to learn from their mistakes.
Take a look at our example KPIs below.
Project Objective: Grow lead acquisition by 15% MoM
Actual Cost: $6,487 in billable hours.
Earned Value: $47,300 in MoM acquisition growth
Return on Investment: $40,813
Schedule Performance Index (earned value divided by planned value): .88
Customer Acquisition Cost (cost divided by number of leads): $.61 per lead
MoM Lead Acquisition: 18% improvement
MoM Site Traffic: 4% improvement
Net Profit Margin: 8% improvement
This phase varies the most between different companies and teams. While some like to acknowledge hard work, others like to immediately get started on the next big thing. There is no right or wrong way to close a project, and it’s up to you to figure out what works best for you and your team.
When closing a project, you may want to meet with project stakeholders for a more in-depth look at success. This type of meeting is often referred to as a “post mortem.” If you decide to host a meeting, you may want to send out an anonymous survey beforehand to ensure all critical issues are covered during the meeting. It’s a good idea to go over the KPIs you measured in the performance phase so all parties involved have a clear understanding of what did and didn’t go well. This prevents any repeat mistakes in future projects.
It’s also a good idea to organize and store project materials in a shared folder for teammates to access before closing a project. Materials such as project briefs, templates, copy assets, design files, development work, and so forth are important to keep handy when the time comes to evaluate performance.
An important opportunity that is often missed in the project closure phase is continuing to monitor performance. Does your team get in the habit of setting and forgetting old projects? It’s important to constantly test and reinvent new ways to execute projects to continue growing as a business.
Here is an example of a post mortem meeting agenda to help bring your next project to a close.
Project Name: The OKR Playbook
Date: August 20, 2021
Time: 10:00 to 11:00am CST
Quick recap of the project (10:00am): Kabir will go over the initial goals and objectives of the project and recap deliverables.
Recap of the outcome (10:15am): Kabir will review the project performance, focusing on our initial lead generation goal and additional key KPIs.
Stakeholder input (10:30am): Kabir, Daniela, Kat, and Ray to share their input on what went well and what could have gone better.
Action items: Kabir to send out meeting notes by EOD 8/20 and schedule optimizations to be completed by 9/3.
Please come to the post mortem prepared with input on ways we can improve performance going forward.
With the average knowledge worker switching between 10 apps up to 25 times per day and the majority of teams still working remotely, teamwork has never been more distributed. This makes project management such an important part of any successful organization. Whether you’re a team of five or 500, keeping tasks and communication organized and in one place can be a challenge. Using these five project management steps can help your team stay on track and ensure productivity is at its highest.
In addition to understanding the project cycle management life cycle, there are also additional benefits of project management. Not only can the right project management tools keep work and goals organized in one place, but they can also eliminate confusion, improve team effectiveness, increase efficiency, and align communication. That leaves more time to focus on the important stuff—like growing a successful business.
A good place to start improving your current methods is by continuously learning about new tools and resources. While project management methods like kanban boards and Scrum sprints have been around for some time, there are new software capabilities that can help your team reach a new level of productivity and success. The key to project management is to never stop trying new methods.Read: What are the benefits of project management?
With so many elements to explore, where do you even start? That’s easy: start by looking to your team. At the end of the day, your job is to enable team members to do their best work.
The project management process and tools you implement should improve communication, increase productivity with the help of productivity software, and help ease deadline pressure. When in doubt, just ask your team. You’d be amazed at what a group of individuals can accomplish when they put their heads together.