Project Life Cycle

project management process groups

What is the project life cycle?

The project life cycle includes the steps required to successfully manage a project from start to finish. There are 5 phases to the project life cycle—initiating, planning, executing, monitoring/controlling, and closing. Each of these project phases (also called the 5 process groups) represents a group of interrelated processes that must take place. 

The 5 phases of project management

Initiating phase

The initiating phase of the project life cycle consists of just two separate processes: the project charter and stakeholder register. The point of this phase is to determine the vision for your project, document what you hope to accomplish, and secure approvals from a sanctioning stakeholder. The key components of the project charter include:

  • Business case

  • Project scope

  • Deliverables

  • Objectives

  • Resources needed

  • Milestone plan and timeline

  • Cost estimate

  • Risks and issues

  • Dependencies

When you take the time to establish a clear and cohesive vision, think through who should ideally be involved in bringing the project to life, and secure the resources you’ll need up front, you give your project a strong start that sets the stage for everything that comes next.

Planning phase

The planning phase process group is where you build the project infrastructure that will enable you to achieve your goal within your predetermined time and budget constraints, starting with a project management plan, project scope, work breakdown structure and more—and wrapping up with qualitative and quantitative risk analyses and risk responses. This is your detailed roadmap—your blueprint for success. When you reach the end of this phase of the life cycle, everyone on your team will not only understand the vision of the project, they’ll also understand precisely what they need to do to reach the finish line on time and within budget.


Whitepaper: The Complete Guide to Planning Creative Projects

Ebook: 3 Strategies to Plan Successful Marketing Projects


Executing phase

The executing phase is where the rubber hits the road—where most of the budget is allocated and most of the project deliverables are produced. You take your project plan and put it into action, whether that takes weeks, months, or even years. Villanova University defines the goal of this phase as, “managing teams effectively while orchestrating timeline expectations and reaching benchmark goals.” The executing phase often includes team development, stakeholder engagement, and quality assurance activities, either on a formal or informal basis.

Monitoring and controlling phase

The monitoring and controlling phase involves keeping an eye on the actual progress of the project against your plan and taking corrective action where necessary. No amount of perfect planning will exempt you from the need to be constantly vigilant with tracking and reporting. You know what they say about the best-laid plans, after all. 


Blog: Helping Your Team Manage & Track Time

Blog: 4 Simple Ways to Keep Creative Projects On-Track


Closing phase

This final phase of the project life cycle includes just one solitary process, and it’s more than simply checking off the project as done. It’s essential to formally close the project and secure a sign-off or approval from the customer, stakeholders, and/or project sponsor. This process might include:

  • Delivering the project

  • Hosting a post-mortem or lessons learned meeting

  • Archiving project records

  • Celebrating or acknowledging the achievement

  • Officially disbanding or releasing the team

The importance of this final step of the project life cycle can’t be overstated, especially as more organizations are adopting the Hollywood model of work, where temporary teams come together around a specific project, and then disband and regroup for another project, much the way film crews operate. Every film production ends with a “wrap party,” and so should every major work project.

The complete project life cycle

Below is a chart of the complete project life cycle, including the 5 process groups of project management and the steps required in each phase across all knowledge areas. 

five phases of project management chart

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