Project Management Life Cycle Phases
Before we start discussing the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PBMOK) framework, it is important to note that the PMBOK framework is one of many project management frameworks. It just so happens, though, that the PMBOK framework is the most popular due to the large number of project management professionals certified through the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification sponsored by the Project Management Institute (PMI.org). PMI also is the organization that put out the PMBOK. The popularity of PMBOK is a key reason why this tutorial is focusing on the PMBOK perspective for this section. Otherwise, we could have picked from one of a multitude of other project management frameworks since most of them follow a similar plan-do-check-act approach made popular by Deming.
But before diving in, it is important to understand a few key terms used by PMBOK to ensure that we have calibrated our terminology. Each framework has its own twist on terms, so it is important to understand key PMBOK terminology before starting. For example, Portfolio Management can mean something very different in the federal space — sometimes synonymous with investment management.
PMBOK Project Life Cycle
Project Managers or organizations can divide projects into phases to provide better management control over the project. Collectively, these phases are known as the project life cycle. Some organizations identify a specific set of life cycle phases for use on all of their projects, which do not change.
The project life cycle defines the phases that connect the beginning of a project to the end of the project. Within each project life cycle phase, the PMBOK® Guide introduces a process standard which can be applied to most projects, most of the time. It is built upon the principle that projects are unique endeavors, and therefore how you accomplish the processes and define the life cycle depends on the requirements and conditions of the project.
The transition from one phase to the next generally involves the completion of a set of specific activities or some kind of technical delivery or handoff. Generally, the requirements specified within the phase must be completed before moving on to the next phase. According to PMBOK, a project life cycle defines:
- What work must be accomplished
- What deliverables must be generated and reviewed
- Who must be involved
- How to control and approve each phase
A phase is a specific portion of a project that is defined by a collection of related activities and a defined set of deliverables that must be completed at the end of each project phase. Phases are generally sequential. There is no specific limit on the number of phases a project can have. However, there are generally at least 3 phases in a project:
- The Initiation Phase
- The Intermediate Phase(s)
- The Final Phase
It is important to note that the PMBOK does not specifically define a project life cycle other than what I’ve mentioned above.
It is also important to note that a project phase is not the same thing is a process group. For example, if a project decides to perform an initial feasibility study, then the project can decide to break out the feasibility study into a separate phase called, say, “Determine Feasibility Study”. There is more on process groups in the next section.
PMBOK Process Groups
The PMBOK process groups are collections of processes that have been aggregated in one of five groupings:
- Initiation Processes
- Executing Processes
- Monitoring and Controlling Processes
- Closing Processes
Let me reiterate that process groups are not project phases since all the process groups can repeat within each project phase. Specifically which process groups and which processes within the process group repeat in each phase? That depends on the structure of the project and where you are within the project. Depending on the project, not all process groups have to repeat, or even repeat with the same applied rigor, inside each phase. This is because the deliverables for each phase are most likely unique. Thus, every phase could have a tailored plan for applying process groups.
I think the important think to take from PMBOK is that it is a framework (based on the plan-do-check-act principles of Deming). It encourages planning, performing and checking your work. It recommends a series of processes, grouped into process groups, to be able to execute based on a plan-do-check-act cycle. But the main focus of the PMBOK is not to define a project life cycle per se. The process groups provide guidance on applying the plan-do-check-act principles on activities, processes, project phases, and any other activity that requires planning-executing-checking.
The following figure depicts the relationship between project phases and the process groups as discussed above.
So in the above figure, the life cycle has an initiation phase, a series of intermediate phases, and a final phase. The process groups can be repeated in each project phase — although tailored based on other needs of the phase.
- Project Integration Management
- Project Scope Management
- Project Time Management
- Project Cost Management
- Project Quality Management
- Project Human Resource Management
- Project Communications Management
- Project Risk Management
- Project Procurement Management
So, when you lay it all out visually, the picture looks something like this. The cross-weaving of the process groups and knowledge areas makes a matrix. For anyone studying to take the PMP certification exam, it is important to study the Project Management process groups below — knowing it by process group (vertically) as well as knowledge area (horizontally).