The project lifecycle is a way of viewing the entirety of a project that establishes the steps to complete a project, helps maintain focus and momentum, and creates better defined high-level stages of completion. It helps to make sure different teams on a project can better coordinate their efforts while helping the project manager make more informed prioritization decisions.
The project lifecycle breaks project management into distinctive stages. These stages are important for planning as they define and guide the steps it takes to complete a project. In addition, these stages help provide a high-level pulse to ensure a project is progressing as planned.
The project lifecycle is not only for planning purposes; the distinct stages of the project lifecycle break actions and deliverables into categories to facilitate progression and review completed tasks for continued improvements in future projects.
Housekeeping: An Analogy About the Project Lifecycle
Think of the project lifecycle process as cleaning a house. If your team simply had the undefined task of cleaning the house, then it’s likely that multiple steps would be forgotten or missed or that some unnecessary tasks might be completed.
This is an unrealistic example, however, since most project managers will break big projects into a series of smaller tasks. However, a 60-item to-do list for housekeeping would still be incredibly daunting to the average homeowner.
But if those to-dos are categorized by progression, the list not only becomes more manageable, it also ensures that the proper parts of the project are done in the right order. For instance, if cleaning supplies need to be purchased, you want to first make sure you know which cleaning supplies to buy and that they are purchased before they’re needed for later tasks.
Comparatively, certain steps of a project should always be completed before others. For instance:
- Before team members’ calendars are scheduled (planning), the contract with the client must be signed, and the deliverables/outcomes must be agreed upon (definition).
- Before team members exit the project and begin working on new projects, the project should be formally closed to make sure everything has been completed and any changes or revisions have been made (close).
- Before new hires or agreements have been made (execution), current resources should be analyzed for availability (planning).
The project lifecycle, then, acts as a blueprint for the steps needed to complete the project.
In many cases, there is crossover between stages. For example, there will likely be multiple stages of planning during the project. However, an initial planning phase helps to develop sufficient details to allow different members of the project team to better coordinate their work and help the project management team make priority decisions.
Final Thoughts on Why the Project Lifecycle is Important
While the margins of the project management lifecycle stage are not always crisp, following the cycle of estimate, plan, delivery, analyze, and optimize, help to prioritize project activities for more effective management and progression.
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