The first stage in the project management cycle is the initiation phase. It involves the identification of the business problem/opportunity, the definition of a solution, the formation of a project, and the establishment of the project team presenting the solution to the customer. A business case is created during the phase to reflect the project’s reasoning and document an appropriate response to the customer’s needs. It provides a detailed statement of the problem and relevant solutions. The case should contain a comprehensive description of the problem/opportunity, an overview of alternative solutions, an analysis of the benefits, risks, costs, and issues, a preferred solution, project requirements, and a summary of an implementation plan. The business case is directed to the sponsor for approval to receive the funding for a feasibility study assessing the practicality and profitability of the project (Watt, 2014). The completion of the survey marks the beginning of the next phase or the termination of the unrealistic or infeasible project.
It is vital to properly define the project because the clarity and accuracy of the case determine its success and compliance with the customer’s needs. Inadequate understanding of the need and the project’s objectives may result in misinterpreted goals, waste of resources, and inappropriate solutions (Watt, 2014). On the contrary, clear objectives established using quantifiable terms allow the project team to obtain a homogeneous view of the goals’ meanings and measure their achievement. Moreover, the objectives should be attainable and realistic, which can be achieved by collaborating between project managers and workers to complete the projects’ tasks. Therefore, the managers should support the efforts of the workers, who are aware of the objectives and the steps needed to accomplish the tasks.
The benefits of the project should be determined during the initiation stage and reflected in the business case. The knowledge of the advantages is essential because it allows the manager to select the right project option that is cost-effective and involves reasonable resource allocation. For example, it is not worth undertaking a project if the costs for its completion significantly exceed its expected benefits (Grit, 2021). Project costs may be associated with required working time (person-hours), materials, housing, and equipment. A weighted decision matrix can be used for this purpose, as the decision-making tool contains a set of criteria, which can be weighted in terms of importance. The project’s benefits may include immediate cost savings, improved product/service quality, additional income, or personnel motivation. The most important criteria have the highest weighting, and the scores of the potential options are multiplied by the weighting. Thus, the resulting scores demonstrate the advantages of each project, provide an objective comparison of available options, and help decision-makers select the best solution from the list of alternatives.
A project charter can be utilized to understand the requirements and justify the project. The formal document authorizes the actions of the team and determines the stakeholders/customers. The project team should know the requirements because they reflect the characteristics and functionality of the final deliverable. The conditions can be classified as functional (described in ordinary language), non-functional (development restrictions/constraints), technical, business (outcomes, needs), user-related (interface design), and regulatory (laws, licenses). The requirements should be measurable to be recorded in the traceability matrix during the planning phase. Finally, the success of the project should be measured using the criteria, such as schedule, quality, cost, customer satisfaction, and performance. The quantifiable measures are vital because the metrics or standards create the guidelines for each phase of the project management.
The planning phase is the second stage in the project management life cycle. The detailed step includes the documentation of the plans, the definition of the project deliverables/requirements, and the design of the schedule. The planning phase aims to review and refine the objectives established during the initiation stage and propose the steps for achieving these objectives. Specific resources and activities are identified to proceed with the project successfully. Next, the purposes are described by users in qualitative language, and the project manager contributes quantitative and measurable definitions of each term, including schedule, cost, or quality measures (Watt, 2014). Clearly articulating the objectives is important because faulty goals may misdirect the resulting project that will not satisfy the customer’s need. It is reasonable to follow the SMART rule because the stage involves the creation of the plans for the subsequent implementation and closure phases. Therefore, the project objectives should be specific (clear, concise), measurable (expressed in quantitative terms), acceptable (stakeholder-approved), realistic (achievable), and time-based (controlled by deadlines).
The phase consists of a set of essential processes, such as scope planning, breakdown structure preparation, schedule development, resource, budget, procurement planning, and quality and communication assessments. Scope planning helps to define all the work needed to achieve the objectives and accurately document intermediate (plans, schedule, budget) and final (products, services) deliverables. Work breakdown structure divides the work or complex tasks into components for estimation, scheduling, and monitoring purposes. The schedule development instruments utilized by project managers are a Gantt chart (scheduled activities), milestones, network diagrams (task relationships), and the critical path (task sequence).
Resource planning tools include expert judgment, alternative analysis, published estimated data, project management software, and bottom-up estimating. Budget planning can be performed by determining resource cost rates, performing vendor bid and reserve analysis, and evaluating the cost of quality. The procurement management plan contains the details of contract types (fixed-price, cost-reimbursable), delivery dates, standard documents, the number of vendors/contractors, and prequalified sellers. Quality planning requires measuring and interpreting quality via cost-benefit analysis, benchmarking, experiments, cost of quality, control charts, and cause-and-effect diagrams. Finally, the communication plan indicates stakeholders, their expectations, and the results of the communication requirements analysis.
The planning phase is the most challenging stage of the cycle, but it is critical for the success of the project’s implementation. The step is complex, as it requires the team to determine the work that should be completed in the following stage, while the manager coordinates the project’s budget by calculating cost estimates. The budget ensures the efficient monitoring and control of cost expenditures during the implementation stage (Watt, 2014). However, the perfectly planned project can encounter unexpected challenges, which can be identified using risk management. Risks are events or conditions affecting the project and the process of its implementation. Risk assessment helps identify potential risks and their impacts, and mitigation plans minimize the negative effects of risk events. A risk breakdown structure based on the organization of risks into categories can improve the team’s understanding of known risks. The strategies of risk management are avoidance (prevention), mitigation, transferring (insurance), or acceptance. Thus, the planning phase and the processes discussed above establish the foundation for successful implementation, while risk management allows for assessing or resolving any unforeseen issues.
The third stage in the project management lifecycle is the implementation (execution) phase. During the step, the project plan is executed, the scheduled activities are performed, and the resources are directed to complete the objectives determined in the previous stages. The phase requires the manager and the team to implement the project plans and produce the deliverables. A deliverable is any product or service developed by the project team and offered to the customer, client, or sponsor. The project plan and the requirements document contain information on activities and tasks related to the deliverables. The implementation process also relies on continuous monitoring of performance, effective communication, and proper adjustments, which can be recorded as variances from the initial plan (Watt, 2014). The information on the progress is reported to the project manager, who employs it to control the project’s direction and activities’ performance by comparing the reports against the project plan. In case of inconsistencies with the original plan, the manager directs the team back on the course or recommends publishing appropriate modifications and informing the stakeholders about the updates promptly.
The implementation plan should move towards completion because the scheduled work is associated with the highest costs, and the planned activities need to result in the accomplishment of the strategic goals. Moreover, the delayed identification of problems and adjustments requests during the closing phase may result in lower project quality and customer dissatisfaction with the final product/service (Watt, 2014). To address this issue, the implementation plan contains a list of goals divided into small, actionable steps and milestones, which need to be completed by the end of the project. It should be noted that the implementation progress and the completion of objectives may be monitored by the manager to ensure the seamless transfer to the closure phase. Regular team meetings might also be organized to evaluate the project according to the acceptance criteria and control its direction. Status reports specifying the product’s cost, schedule, and quality, are issued to inform the stakeholders and keep them up to date. The endpoint is approached when the customer accepts or rejects the deliverables, which signifies the beginning of the closure phase.
Setbacks can hinder the progress of the project and should be considered by the project manager. The failure to meet deadlines might be addressed by employing a costly procedure of crashing or adding/transferring more resources to critical tasks to perform them quickly. Alternatively, the lack of time can be compensated by fast-tracking the project or performing two tasks simultaneously. However, the use of schedule compression tools poses the risk of inconsistency in project quality. Change control encourages the project manager to investigate how the adjustments influence the triple constraint (TC) and the quality. The evaluation will determine whether the change is reasonable and impacts the TC involving cost, time, and scope (Watt, 2014). Change control is only required when the adjustment affects the TC, and there is no need to use the set of procedures in the cases of minor adjustments. The changes should be documented in the change request and approved by the change control board and the sponsor. The methods allow the project manager to assess the impact of the adjustment and introduce relevant documentation updates.
The closing phase is the fourth stage of the project management cycle. It is focused on the release of final deliverables, providing project documentation to the customer, terminating contracts with suppliers, and informing the stakeholders about the project’s completion. Contract closure is an essential procedure that supports the closing process by determining if the contract terms were satisfactorily completed. Furthermore, the project records are updated, and the final results are accurately documented. Following the contract closure, the team is released, the final payments are complete, and a lessons-learned meeting is organized (Watt, 2014). The studies can be conducted to acknowledge the benefits or the drawbacks of the strategies implemented during the project and analyze the experience to assist future project teams. Next, the documents used in the project are securely archived and stored for future references, tax reviews, or lawsuits. The list of archived records includes charter documents, budget, scope statements, change reports, the manager’s executive summary, and the Darnall-Preston Complexity Index (DPCI) ratings.
The closing phase might be neglected because the completion of the implementation tasks suggests that the team is ready to initiate the next project. However, the phase should not be overlooked, as it is an important part of the management lifecycle for several reasons. First, the contract closure process provides the formal notice on satisfactory or rejected deliverables, which may reveal the problems and indicate the need for improvements/adjustments in a punch list (Watt, 2014). Second, lessons learned meetings conducted throughout the closing phase could show the areas for review, such as the effectiveness of trust and alignment, schedule and budget management, and risk mitigation strategies. The analysis of the reasons for the success or failure in the aforementioned areas can increase the productivity of the team and improve the quality of future projects. Third, the client’s feedback and the report on customer satisfaction developed during the phase provide opportunities to enhance communication with the stakeholders. Finally, the celebration allows the manager and the team to recognize their efforts and contributions to the project’s success and officially mark its completion.
The outcomes of the project need to be evaluated to determine whether they were a success or failure. The combination of the lessons-learned meetings discussed above and the follow-up studies can explain the characteristics of the outcomes based on the measurable objectives determined in the initiation phase. On the one hand, Kerzner (2019) suggests that staying within the budget limits of 10 percent or 15 percent of the allocated time and completing 95 percent of the project’s scope are considered acceptable outcomes. Thus, success can be defined by compliance with the metrics of budget, time, and the scope of the project.
On the other hand, the project fails if the manager and the team cannot meet the established objectives and deliver the final product or service to the customer. For example, the negative outcomes may be represented by the members’ inability to complete the project on time or effectively manage the budget and risks due to unrealistic goals. Alternatively, the project can be terminated prematurely when it fails to meet profit projections by a certain point in time. It might be concluded that following the SMART framework can enhance the outcomes and maximize the probability of the project’s success.
Grit, R. (2021). Project management: A practical approach (5th ed.). Routledge.
Kerzner, H. (2019). Innovation project management: Methods, case studies, and tools for managing innovation projects. Wiley.
Watt, A. (2014). Project management. BCcampus Open Education.