Project phases are the project manager’s bread and butter. Breaking down projects into phases is similar to the process of breaking goals into objectives, objectives into strategies, strategies into tactics. Not only does it produces more manageable and accurate timetables, it helps keep project team members prepared, purposeful and ambitious. There is no gospel when it comes to project phase names, but a general blueprint has been proven successful for almost any project a project manager would oversee. I detail this blueprint below in the form of 8 project phases. You can get more information on the essentials of project planning with this project management training course.
Step 1: Initiation
The first thing you should do is clearly define the overall project. You aren’t getting into the nitty-gritty yet of design or development, you are trying to figure out what, exactly, the project aims to deliver (this is commonly referred to as the “requirement”).
This definition or “requirement” should be approved by your superiors. This is just standard protocol, even if the project is still only defined in a very broad sense. For obvious reasons, a general understanding of budget and timelines should also be on the table. These do not – and even should not – be excessively detailed. All of that will come later. There’s nothing wrong with detail, but before much of the more intensive work has been done it’s likely the details will be the things that are the most inaccurate.
For a deeper understanding on the theoretical approach to projects, read this article on goal setting theory and understanding how goal setting works.
Step 2: Preparation
“Preparation” has a limited range here. It does not encompass all preparation. This is the preparation that is still completed primarily by the project manager and other managers (or team members who have been appointed to oversee the project).
This phase of preparation is all about work:
- You have to decide which employees you would like on your team. This should be done tactfully.
- If you need other departments or businesses to help you get the project off the ground, now is the time to start contacting and recruiting them. This can be anything from in-house marketing to out-sourced document preparation. Again, the key here is that you are only concerned with the earliest phases of the project.
- You will work with team members to begin dividing the project’s goals into more manageable objectives. If you need help with the details, read this blog post on the differences between goals and objectives. Certain team leaders should be put in charge of ensuring that specific objectives are on-time and up to par; unless you are the project manager of a very small team, you should not be everyone’s superior. Give ownership to a few worthy individuals and this will free up your own time to concentrate on other responsibilities.
Step 3: Planning And Design
During the planning and design phase, the project truly takes shape. This is when broad objectives are whittled into detailed plans. A day-to-day schedule may be too intensive depending on the scope of the project, but at this point you should figure out exactly how the project is going to progress; how is it going to become a reality. Time frames, communications, cost, scope, risk and resources all have to be accounted for.
Don’t forget you have numerous tools at your disposal: milestone charts, gantt charts, etc. But as project manager I shouldn’t have to tell you how to organize your thoughts.
Now is also the time to review the project in an attempt to nip potential disasters in the bud. I mentioned risk above. If you have a risk management team, now is the time to employ them. Addressing problems before the project gets underway often saves an enormous amount of time and money down the road. How might these risks affect the project in later stages? Have we analyzed the risks properly? Are we prepared if these risks become realities? Get help answering these questions with this course on managing project risk.
The final step in this stage is review. Have a few experienced, and preferably high-level, managers review the plan. Iron out the details. The more detailed and accurate the design is from the beginning, the more likely the project is going to succeed in everything it proposes.
Step 4: Testing
Many “project phases” ignore this step, but it’s extremely important. Some aspects of your plan you will not be able to test; an innovative project is going to break new ground and often certain parts of the project cannot be completed, let alone tested, until earlier stages have been implemented first.
But in this phase it is vital to build and test the components of the project that can stand alone (software is an excellent example; learn all about software testing from this course designed by an industry expert). If you can confirm that individual pieces of your project are going to work, you can greatly increase the chances of the project’s overall success. And if there are issues with the individual platforms, you can sort them out now before they interact with other pieces of the project.
Step 5: Going “Live”
Before you go “live,” it is imperative that everything is in its right place; everything is ready to go. If you need to finish training employees, launching software or coordinating with other departments, push the project back a day or two (if you have to) and make sure that absolutely everything is ready to function at full speed as soon as the project goes live.
Step 6: Execution
The project is developed, completed and implemented. Two things must happen, and continue to happen, simultaneously: the project must be monitored so that it progresses as planned and it must be controlled and evaluated for risk. The early stages of project launches are when the majority of risks are realized and problems are encountered. There will no doubt be something that does not function as planned. This will need to be fixed promptly and may require significant revision; this is why it’s vital to be prepared for possible misjudgments.
This is also the time when a lot of the traditional project management responsibilities are utilized, so it might not be a bad time to get your skills certified: this Project Management Professional (PMP) course can help you do that. It will probably be a matter of protocol to hold meetings to discuss progress, to write project updates and development memos, to produce detailed performance reports and project benefits, etc.
You should definitely use this period of execution to reveal as much as the project as possible to as many people as possible. Use this time to promote the project, to build upon the project (if you see how it could be even more beneficial), to ensure its continued success, etc.
Step 7: Project Monitoring And Analysis
This is more than a continuation of the duties performed under “Execution.” While the project continues to run its course, yes, you want to continue to monitor project performance. But you also want to compare progress with your original plan. How could the plan have been improved? Where was it short-sighted? What defects can be eliminated in the future? Successful project managers do not make the same mistakes twice.
You should also use this relative “calm after the storm” to perform quality checks, to identify and analyze key performance indicators, to address scope and possible shifts of focus that occur as time passes, etc. This analytics class can teach beginners or experts a thing or two on how to work with data.
If the project is shifting off course, or if variations are starting to appear, now is the time to determine if these are natural adjustments (and ultimately for the good of the company), or if these need to be re-calibrated because, after all, the project is most successful when it stays on its original track.
Step 8: Project Close
After an enormous amount of hard work, project closing is not the most highly anticipated phase. But it’s also a time when, if you slack off, you can negate all the work you’ve done. You want to close a project so that it can continue to operate successfully with minimal oversight. You do not want it to backfire six months later with all the trouble it causes finding its way back to you.
This is why it is of the utmost importance to document everything you have done: all the initiation, all the preparation, all the testing, all the execution, all the revisions, all the monitoring, all the performance, everything.
You also want to make sure that everyone who was a part of the team is in a position to use the knowledge and experience they gained. It’s always appreciated when the team is recognized for their hard work, so make sure this is taken care of before the project is officially closed.
If you’re new to project management, now is the time to learn as much as you possibly can. Check out this Introduction to Project Management course for help focusing and understanding the practical basics.