The Project Life Cycle: Improve Your Process & Communication With This Simple Framework

Complex projects involve a lot of people, tasks, and procedures. Having a comprehensive knowledge of the project life cycle, its types, and its various phases can lead to a more successful outcome. To understand more about the types and phases of a project life cycle, let’s start with the basics—what exactly is a project life cycle?

What Is A Project Life Cycle?

A project life cycle is a phase-wise structure for a project manager to coordinate a campaign from start to finish. This acts as a checklist to not only keep track of details but also to keep the project structured. Understanding your project’s life cycle is also useful when changes occur or you are managing multiple projects. It’s important to choose the right type of project life cycle for your project. So let’s discuss different types of project life cycles out there.

What Are The Types of Project Life Cycle?

1. Predictive Life Cycle

As the name suggests, a Predictive life cycle offers a predictive workflow. Every detail regarding a project including its schedule, costs, and the process is pre-decided. A team then performs in a manner to stick to the plan for finishing a project. This makes the whole process predictive because the scope of changes is minimal. illustration of a predictive product life cycle: 1. analysis 2. requirement specification 3. design 4. development 5. testing and integration 6. implementation/deployment Source This project life cycle is also famously known as the “waterfall method”. The phases in such projects are divided distinctly. A project can only progress when the previous phase is completed so the overall workflow looks like a waterfall. Is it the right fit for my project? This type of project life cycle is ideal for simple projects. The Predictive life cycle approach builds a final product in one cycle only. For complex projects, there are a lot of changes involved while doing a project and often require more than one cycle to get it right. The Predictive life cycle fails to offer that flexibility.

2. Iterative Life Cycle

The Iterative life cycle also matches the name and description it holds. This life cycle is an iteration or repetition of a predictive life cycle in small packets. In this approach too, most of the project is pre-planned, but the goal is to make a minimum viable product in the first iteration. illustration of a predictive product life cycle: 1. initial planning > planning > requirements > analysis & design > implementation > testing > evaluation > loops back through planning, requirements, analysis & design, implementation and finally goes to deployment. This demonstrates that the process might be repeated multiple times. Source This product is then demonstrated and feedback is taken to build a strategy for the second iteration and the product is improved. Any changes are also incorporated before the second iteration. After many such small waterfalls, a final product is delivered. Is it the right fit for my project? This kind of project life cycle is good for a little complex project because of the flexibility it offers. It is better at handling sudden changes in scope, cost, or schedule of a project in a better manner. But even after solving many problems posed by the Predictive life cycle, there are still some projects that require us to adapt very fast. These projects are not well defined and demand constant changes, and that brings us to the Adaptive life cycle.

3. Adaptive Life Cycle

This type of project life cycle is totally opposite from a Predictive life cycle. This approach is more open to change and works for very complex projects where it is difficult to define the project requirements beforehand. In this approach, the iterations are time-bound and rapid. Each iteration is known as an increment and is focused on delivering a part of the project each time. As each iteration is rapid—new changes are incorporated after each cycle—making it the most flexible project life cycle. illustration of adaptive project life cycle: three 'sprints' which include the following steps: plan, design, develop, test, deploy, review, launch. Each sprint's 'launch' goes to the next sprint, ending at sprint 3. Source Is it the right fit for my project? The adaptive life cycle is based on working over feedback in each iteration. This requires the team to communicate and collaborate in the clearest way possible to deal with changes. Such methodology is ideal for a complex project where customer feedback is of utmost importance. But it also makes it difficult for a project manager to define the scope of a project and offer clarity regarding deadlines and cost of a project.

What Are The 5 Phases Of A Project Life Cycle?

Each of these project life cycles goes through five phases. A good understanding of these phases is a must for any project manager who wants to better handle the project and keep it structured. [visual of these 5 phases]

1. Project Initiation Phase

This phase involves developing a vision of the project. A customer or stakeholder puts forward their requirements and goals for the project manager. You then provide a rough idea about the requirements and the overall outline of the project. This phase decides whether the project is feasible or not. If the customer and project manager agree on the requirements and vision of the project then it is started right away. Information to collect:
  1. Project goals
  2. Project requirements
  3. Project scope
  4. Project deliverables
  5. Project dependencies
  6. Possible scope creeps
If the project is feasible then the project is moved to its next phase of the project life cycle.

2. Project Planning Phase

This is the most important phase of a project life cycle. This phase defines how a project is going to be implemented in a detailed manner.
  • Step 1: Create a plan for completing the project within the time constraints and budget.
  • Step 2: Break down the project into a series of tasks and procedures.
  • Step 3: Allocate the right amount of budget and time to each phase of the project. This forms a work breakdown structure that is communicated to everyone on the team.
You also need to come up with a project management plan to coordinate the work and measure its progress. All of this must be approved by the customer or stakeholder to move the project forward. This helps in having a common vision as well as having clearance about what the end deliverable is going to look like. After the planning phase, time is for the execution of everything decided by a project manager leading us to the project execution phase.

3. Project Execution Phase

Project execution is the phase where the real challenge for a project manager begins. A project plan is now finally executed. Resources are allocated and teams are formed to start doing some tasks. Project managers make sure that the appropriate amount of time and resources are given to each task and procedure and at the right time. The project manager is also required to keep track of deadlines and manage the team so there is no compromise on the quality of the product. If any changes are suggested by the customer or stakeholder, a project manager must communicate those changes to the team. The project manager will also pivot the project in the right manner to accommodate such changes without losing the pace of a project. Such a complex execution not only requires sharp management but also requires a sharp view of everything that's going on. That takes us to the next phase of a project life cycle.

4. Project Monitoring & Control Phase

In this phase, a project manager is required to match the progress of a project on paper and in execution. Careful monitoring helps in knowing what kind of guidance a team needs and how work can be executed in a better way. This requires you to check whether each task is executed on time. If it's not, define what the reason could be and then solve such issues to get the project back on track. This requires a lot of reporting from team members to inform the progress and the problems you are facing. Correcting these problems at the right time keeps the project on track and keeps the environment stress-free and productive. The project manager also involves stakeholders or customers in this phase to get approval in between for better execution. If the project plan and execution are kept in check and it is controlled in the right manner then the project is completed promptly under the given budget. This takes us to the last phase of a project life cycle.

5. Project Closure Phase

This phase is underestimated at times because the heavy task of completing the project is done but this phase holds its importance. Project analysis is a big part of this phase. This phase requires a project manager to check the quality of deliverables, communicate with the stakeholders about the completion of the project, gain their approval, and then finally deliver the project. This phase of a project life cycle also acknowledges the role of everyone involved in the project and officially releases them from the project. At last, the project manager reflects on what worked and what did not. It determines whether the project was successful or not. It also enriches the experience of a project manager to work even better on the next project. [graphic on retro: A Simple Project Closeout Retro Framework What worked? What didn’t? What would we do differently next time?]

Final Thoughts

Project management is a very tough job, but having complete information about the project life cycle, its types, and its phases can make it easier. It is the best way to keep the project structured as it is uniform across the industry. Having a way to define the process keeps everyone on the same track and helps in collaboratively doing the project. It also acts as a great checklist for each project so that the project manager doesn't skip anything. All of this knowledge along with some dedication can help you do your next project in a more structured and reliable manner.
About the Author

Shyamal is the Founder of SmartTask, an online work management tool that's helping teams be more productive by having clarity on who's doing what by when. Has a penchant for researching and sharing strategies that could benefit a team's productivity.