Project Management Simply Explained - A Logical Framework to Help Your Understanding


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What is the Project Life Cycle all about?

In our previous page we discussed the functions of project management and observed the difference between planning a project and delivering the product. "Product", by the way, could be a facility, system, service or other "deliverable". Clearly, successful project management requires careful planning to precede the production work itself and, indeed, this is at the heart of the modern concept of effective project management.

The origin of the project life cycle, life cycle process, project timeline, work flow, or whatever you want to call it, is to be found in the term project management itself. For convenience we'll call it "PLC". First, a project has, by definition, a start and a finish, while the essence of management is to plan before doing. From this we may conclude that the PLC has four basic sequential periods, namely, start", "plan", "do", and "finish". Indeed, the works of many authors recognize that a project, passes through these four major and distinct generic project phases.

Even at this high level, we continue to marvel at how many organizations skip over a satisfactory start period as a cost avoidance measure, or the project manager short-changes the finish period because either the time, or the money, or both have run out.

Unfortunately, there has been no general agreement on what these four phases should be called. Consequently, they are invariably called by different names. In the engineering and construction industry one hears terms like "initiation, planning, implementation and commissioning". In software engineering quite different terms are used, such as: "Inception, elaboration, construction and transition". However, the general intent is the same. Figure 2 shows the project life cycle diagrammatically.

Figure 2: The Project Life Cycle

We like to refer to the four phases as Conceive, Define, Execute and Finish, which happens to be convenient because the sequence C, D, E, F, is easier to remember. In a well organized project each phase is expected to deliver a result at which point an executive decision can be taken on whether to proceed or turn back. These major milestones are typically referred to as "control points", or better: Executive Control Points. However, their intent might be better served by the term "emergency exit ramps" — opportunities to pull over if the vehicle is not performing well. Obviously the switch from planning to production represents a significant turning point and hence requires a go/no-go decision which should be the result of a senior management review and determination of whether or not to provide the project with further funding.

Several features of the PLC are worth noting here:

  • Crossing this planning/production boundary typically signals a major change in pace, change in the organizational structure and change in the numbers and types of skills required.
  • How each phase is managed, is heavily dependent on the type of project and its degree of technological uncertainty. For example, the greater the uncertainty, the more the iteration that may be necessary, especially in the planning phase
  • The PLC provides a major baseline for all educational, presentation, and practical management purposes

the Sequence Significant?  Is the Sequence Significant?

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