Before we can enter a discussion about an improved project lifecycle it is worth clarifying some semantics. The use of the word lifecycle is probably a throwback to biology where a lifecycle refers to the birth-reproduction-death cycle of species. However, as a project seldom automatically spawns another project, the use of lifecycle seems ill advised. When referring to a single project we should discuss its lifespan. However, discretion being the better part of valour, here we will continue to (mis)use lifecycle for clarity. So, before there is much ado about nothing, let us begin…
The project lifecycle is a pivotal concept in the understanding of projects, mapping out the progress of the project from birth to death. However, there seems to be an almost endless confusion over what the project lifecycle is. It is important to understand the project lifecycle, because it is one of the three fundamental dimensions of project concepts; the others being the project processes and the project topics, or knowledge areas.
The first mistake is to confuse the product life with the project life. If you would not employ a project manager to supervise your production manager, then the project has finished. At the other end, facility closures are also projects. They start when the production stops and end when the project manager is finished. These are special cases in a productís life and are not normal production, even if that involves mass customization.
Another common confusion is to mistake the project processes for the lifecycle, which is an altogether, separate dimension of project concepts. The project processes are not sequential, but are iterative and simultaneous. These processes exist within the project and within each identifiable phase of the project lifecycle.
Projects, by definition, have a start and finish like any good race. At the simplest level projects have two phases, Planning and Doing. Whilst this might suffice for a simple project another generic layer can be added to the lifecycle of most projects. It has been suggested this can be achieved by subdividing each phase, Plan and Do, into two further phases each leading to a lifecycle of Conceive/ Define/ Execute/ Finish, or C-D-E-F.
Does the commonality of all projects stop there? Is there a method for including the stage-gate principle into the project lifecycle? Can the project lifecycle help to make sense in organizing the work breakdown structure (WBS)? Can a model for the project lifecycle cover the emergent aspect of management by projects?
Without trying to create a straightjacket of one size fits all, is there a way forward?
Project Management Institute Standards Committee, "A Guide to the
Project Management Body of Knowledge", pg 28 Figure 3-1,
Project Management Institute, 1996