The Ultimate Guide to the Mastering Project Life Cycle

The Ultimate Guide to the Mastering Project Life Cycle

The project life cycle is a helpful way to think about a project: there’s a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning is all about planning, the middle is about the execution, and the end is the delivery and reviewing of what went well and what didn’t.

Understanding the project life cycle is an important part of project management. It defines the stages a project goes through from the start till completion. It also provides a framework and guidance for proper execution.

Learn how you can maximize your project success by understanding the different phases of the project life cycle. This blog has everything you need to master the project life cycle, no matter how big or small your project is.

Definition of Project Life Cycle

The project management life cycle is a structured and sequential framework that guides the execution of a project from the beginning to the end. If you want a dictionary definition, then the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines the project life cycle as “the series of phases that a project passes through from its initiation to its closure.”

The life cycle consists of 5 phases:

  • Initiation
  • Planning
  • Execution
  • Controlling and Monitoring
  • Closure

The components that go within a project management life cycle are:

  1. Outlining of goals for each phase
  2. Working on a plan to achieve the final outcome
  3. Detailing the technical tasks of each segment
  4. Identifying the resources for each phase
  5. Listing the systems needed to support resources
  6. Bringing together all stakeholders
  7. Agreeing on who will validate and approve each phase

It’s important to remember that while a project life cycle provides structure, it also has enough room for flexibility and adaptability to the changing requirements or conditions. This allows you to respond appropriately to unexpected challenges.

Importance of Project Management Life Cycle

The project life cycle provides a structured approach to managing a project from start to finish. What does this look like in the real world? Clearer roles and responsibilities, streamlined communication channels, more accountability, and a higher number of successful projects. Fewer balls are dropped and fewer mistakes are made.

Various Kinds of Project Life Cycles

When we think of project life cycles, the most common model is a linear one that takes a project from point A to point B. However, that’s not the only type of model a team can implement for project lifecycles.

Let’s learn about the different types of project life cycles.

Predictive or Waterfall Cycle

The Project Management Institute describes the predictive or waterfall lifecycle as the one where every nuance, such as objectives, budget, and tasks, is planned in the beginning. The philosophy of this project lifecycle is to “plan the work and then do the plan.”

Also, the phrases in this traditional life cycle are generally more sequential, with some to minimal overlaps. The work completed in each phase is distinct from each other. The purpose of accounting for everything in the beginning and then working to execute as per plan is to minimize any deviation.

The Ultimate Guide to the Mastering Project Life Cycle


The advantage of the traditional life cycle is that it’s easy to follow, execute, and replicate. This type of planning is ideal for smaller projects that don’t have multiple variables or a high level of complexity.Manufacturing of cars or electronics easily fits into the waterfall life cycle. All the specs and goals of the product are decided in the beginning and the process is developed to meet those targets.

The disadvantage of this life cycle is that it hampers one’s ability to adapt to any changes in conditions without ongoing major rework. This rework generally takes up a lot of time, cost, and effort.

Iterative Cycle

A more flexible approach to the traditional life cycle is the iterative cycle. Even this cycle has 5 phases. However, there is no fixed linear progression. Each stage can be repeated as many times as required till the exit criteria are met. For instance, a team can move between the design and development part of an app development project several times till it satisfies the exit stage requirements.

Some find it helpful to think of the iterative phases as a series of mini waterfalls. This type of framework is ideal for small projects that have a clear project scope. Feedback from each stage is incorporated and the planning process occurs continuously. 

Adaptive or Change-Driven

The adaptive or agile life cycle has a more flexible or changeable approach to project management. In this model, customer feedback and inputs are the key to successful projects. Also, in the agile or change-driven model, all the stages may not have a clear start and end point. The phases also aren’t necessarily linear. This is because there is a heavy dependency on customer feedback before one can progress forward.

This model of project life cycle is best for complex projects that have a clear project outcome, but some requirements are ambiguous. A challenge of adopting this model is that not all customers will want to be involved at such a deep level. Sometimes, it might not be possible or practical for them to participate at a high level.

Hybrid Life Cycle

The last type of project life cycle is a hybrid life cycle. You might have guessed from the name that this approach is a combination of all previous project management styles. The project manager or team decides which model should be used or whether to take certain parts of each module and apply them.

Selecting the right framework for a project goes a long way in delivering the right result.

Resource management and allocation

5 Phases of a Project Life Cycle

The PMBOK states that the five stages of a project life cycle take a project idea and turn it into a viable product or service. The five distinct phases are initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closure. 

We look into each phase in more detail.

Do remember that not all projects will necessarily go through all five stages. For instance, if there is a time-sensitive project, the manager might opt for a four-step process over the traditional five. A more complex project, like setting up a new hospital wing, might follow the five-step methodology because it offers more detail and depth.

1) Initiation – Starting Things Off

The first stage is all about kicking things off. This is the time when you get details of the project from all relevant stakeholders. The objective of this phase is to:

  • Identify the need, problem, or opportunity
  • Understand project scope and desired outcome
  • List out key stakeholders
  • Know the stakeholder expectations
  • Write out SMART goals
  • Identify required resources

The initiation phase also involves doing some studies and research — a feasibility study and a risk assessment. The feasibility study will tell if the project is viable, while the risk assessment will help managers understand liabilities and develop mitigation strategies.

There is also the creation of a project charter during this stage. A project charter is a document that outlines the project scope, purpose, objectives, and initial timeline. The charter is a formal document that gives the manager the green light to move forward with the project.

Without completing the initiation step, your project will be prone to grave errors like inaccurate goals or forgetting to involve key stakeholders.

Example of Initiation Phase of Project:

You are a recruiting firm hired by an aeronautical parts manufacturer. The initiation phase will involve a call with the hiring authorities of the manufacturer. They will explain their hiring needs and give details on what they expect from the ideal candidates. The call will go over things such as salary (budget) and the timeframe they need the open positions filled.

2) Project Planning – Creating the Blueprint

During this second stage, you are going to create the master blueprint for the project. This phase is akin to drawing a roadmap for the execution of the project. The importance of this step is that it helps you get from idea to final deliverables in an intelligent manner. This stage also adds even more clarity and structure to the project.

Documents or deliverables that are part of this stage are:

  • Resource allocation plan
  • Detailed project timeline with deliverables and timelines
  • Communication plan to identify processes and stakeholders – Who is the authority for each part? Who all need to be informed about changes?
  • Setting quality targets and benchmarks
  • Risk mitigation plan that highlights contingency plans
  • Details of tools, softwares, and processes used in the project
  • Identification of tasks and interdependencies
  • A project budget that includes the estimation of materials, resources, and equipment

Workload planning tools like eRS will make it easier to identify, allocate, and manage resources. The right resource management tools can lead to the identification of bottlenecks (not enough labor available for a task) and keep the project budget in check.

Example of Project Planning Phase:

Let’s take an example of an app development project. In the project planning stage, the team will develop a project brief that highlights the app scope, costs, resources to be used, and timeline. Milestones for each testing phase will be included. This brief will be shared with the client and any feedback from them will be incorporated into the plan. Both parties will also agree on how many changes can be made at each stage to ensure the project gets completed on time.

3) Execution — Getting Things Done

This is where you get to work and start getting things done. It’s the stage where one implements the processes and strategies previously discussed and developed in the planning phase.

In this phase, it’s not just about checking off the to-do list. There needs to be heightened levels of communication and collaboration to ensure the work is being done accurately. A certain amount of control also needs to be there.

During the execution period, certain challenges may arise and the project train can get derailed:

  • Unavailability of resources or materials
  • Unfavorable market conditions changes like price increases
  • Last-minute changes in project requirements

Prompt communication and collaboration and defined work processes and risk mitigation plans will help overcome these obstacles.

In this phase, tasks will be assigned and completed by resources, and progress and quality reports will be generated. Client review meetings will also be held.

To master this stage, here are a few tips:

  • Hold a kick-off meeting to officially get everyone into work mode. When people exit the meeting, there should be no confusion about what needs to be done and by whom.
  • Post the meeting, proactively send out supporting resources, action items, links, and the project brief. Having all this material for easy access for all will reduce any time spent in getting the “right” information.

Example of Execution Phase:

Let’s refer back to the app development project for this example. In this stage, the designers will develop the app outline. Once that milestone or checkpoint is crossed, the developers will do the actual coding for the app and develop mock-ups for feedback.

4) Controlling and Monitoring — Measuring Against Checkposts

This stage makes sure that the project train stays on the tracks. But it also happens alongside the execution stage. For this stage, performance metrics (KPIs), on budget, resource utilization, and time taken per task vs. estimated time.

The main outcomes of this step are:

  • Checking progress against the timeline
  • Comparing results and data against baseline and expectations
  • Acting on any deviations to get the project back on track
  • Implementing corrective measures

The previously created documentation, like risk management plans or budgets, will need to be consistently referenced. Also, some plans will need to be updated. For example, the project logbook needs to include all errors and changes.

To ensure one is monitoring the project efficiently, use the following methods:

  1. Bi-weekly or weekly progress meetings with key stakeholders or department heads
  2. Usage of a project management or resource management software that will highlight any discrepancies (resources being overloaded or time per task taking much longer than expected).
  3. Bi-weekly or monthly client feedback meetings to ensure the work is meeting their expectations.

Example of Controlling and Monitoring Phase:

This would be the stage when a software or an app goes into testing. Issues will be logged in a document and then the designers and developers will go back and rectify the bugs. Project managers will consistently view reports to see project progress and how resources are spending their time.

5) Closure —The Final Handover

Yes, you’ve reached the end of the project (yay!) but that doesn’t mean this phase is just about getting the payment check from the customer. The closure stage is just as important as the other steps.

In addition to handing over the final project, you may hand over collated documentation or guides/resources about the project. Internal project documents have to be archived properly for easy reference.

This stage is also about reflecting on the project and the lessons learnt. What went well? What needs improvement? This can be documented in a Project Closeout Report.

Many organizations also generate an Impact Report that includes metrics which highlight how the project made a difference to the clients and other stakeholders.

Also, don’t forget to celebrate the completion of a project. Any project requires hard work and not appreciating the work can lead to employee dissatisfaction. So order food for the team and let off some steam.

Example of Closure Phase:

Let’s say you have created an electronic product. The closure phase would be giving the final product to the client. You would also provide them with any training material or how-to-use guides that they will need. The clients may also require a copy of the design and detailed specifications of the product. After getting the final sign-off from the client, your team will meet to share their thoughts on the project.

A Complete Example of Project Life Cycle: Metro Construction

Here’s a thorough, complex example of a project and what each stage would look like in the project management life cycle:

Initiation: Meeting with authorities or government bodies to understand the requirements of the metro project. Learn about the key stakeholders.

Planning: The project charter will be created. It will include a detailed timeline and proposed budget. Also include details such as which stations will the metro line cross, what will be the route, and which materials will be used during construction. A list of resources required will be developed. The government bodies will provide feedback on the initial project plan. The feedback will be incorporated and the final project charter will be signed off on.

Execution: All the necessary approval will be secured and then the construction of the line will begin.

Control and Monitoring: Checking the costs of the metro line development against the approved budget. Also, using a staff management system to ensure the resources are utilized efficiently and there is no gap in resources or materials.

Closure: Hand over the completed metro line to the government, alongside all technical and safety protocols. As this is a complex project, the closure phase could also involve training sessions for those who’d be managing the metro line daily.

Resource management and allocation

How to Ace the Project Life Cycle

We spoke to the experts and are sharing some insightful tips on how to get the most out of your project life cycle.

  1. Have specific and measurable goals and project objectives. A goal such as “increase product sales by 5% by June 2024” is a better goal than “increase sales.” The first goal gives a specific target and therefore everyone knows what to work towards. It also gives a deadline so people know the time frame they have in hand.
  2. Invest in the correct employee management solution. You can read the following guide to find the right work management app/software for your business needs. The appropriate app will allocate resources and make project tracking more efficient and free from error.
  3. Secure buy-in from all relevant stakeholders before beginning the project. If there is any resistance from management in the project, it will make achieving progress more difficult.
  4. Train the project managers in project management skills. You can even ask them to read up on Mintzberg’s Managerial roles or books on management.

Just a quick reminder that mastering all aspects of a project life cycle is an ongoing process. As one gains more experience and utilizes appropriate tools, the life cycle can continue to get optimized.

How eRS Ties Into the Project Life Cycle

eRS is a flexible, AI-powered, cloud-based resource management system that seamlessly fits into any stage of the project life cycle. The tool has all the required employee management features that will help you master your project life cycle.

eRS provides the following capabilities to optimize your project life cycle:

  • Secure and centralized dashboard of all projects and resources
  • Powerful search engine to identify qualified resources for each task
  • Ability to assign and track task progress (kanban boards, Gantt charts)
  • Time tracking features that will tell you how much time a resource has spent on a task
  • Resource overload indicators that will help balance work allotment
  • AI-powered capacity planner for upcoming projects
  • Task prioritization
  • Real-time data on project processes, costs, and resource availability

Furthermore, these features align with the five stages of the project life cycle. For instance, the calendar or timesheet feature can be used to identify the availability of stakeholders to hold an initiation meeting. Next, the search engine can be utilized in the planning phase to identify resources. The tasks can be assigned during the execution phase and software can be used to monitor and control the progress. Finally, the stored data can be used in the closure stage to generate learning and takeaways for future projects. 

Final Thoughts - Use eRS to Power Through Your Life Cycle

eRS will streamline your workflows, improve collaboration and employee engagement, and increase your bottom line. The software easily integrates with other apps and legacy systems. It provides real-time insights that will increase employee productivity. Take advantage of eRS!

Sign up for a 14-day free trial today and join the 1000+ businesses that use eRS to drive their businesses.

CEO & Founder
Rudraksh Vyas
Rudraksh Vyas, an accomplished CEO at ENBRAUN since 2011, has a proven track record in leading and growing technology-driven businesses. His expertise lies in product development, client management, and implementing effective business strategies, ensuring robust financial and resource management. Prior to his current role, Rudraksh honed his skills in business development, where he excelled in account management and export marketing. He holds a PMP certification from the Project Management Institute and an MBA in International Business from the University of Technology Sydney. Rudraksh's journey reflects a deep commitment to excellence and innovation in the tech industry, making him a respected leader and visionary in his field.

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