The 5 Phases of Project Management (And How You Can Execute Them Better)
by Mashum Mollah Management 21 August 2018
You’ve heard of chemistry and biology, physics and astronomy — but what do you know of the science of project management? While plenty of other business duties can be considered art or sport, project management requires the same diligence and rigor as many of the hard sciences. Neglecting even the smallest detail in a project can spell disaster, which is why project management professionals are paid so well to keep everything in line.
If you can’t afford a dedicated project manager, you should spend more time learning about the typical project management lifecycle and how it applies to your business efforts. Here’s a breakdown of the five major phases of project management — and how you can improve efficiency and effectiveness at your firm.
Also called project initiation, ideation and similar terms meaning inception and creation, this phase — as you might expect — is all about defining the project. This is when it’s important to consider project management vs programme management, as projects and programmes have a different scope, complexity, risk, and various other factors.
Different projects will have different jumping-off points; you might have a client with a precise vision of the end result, or you might wander into a project with a half-formed idea of what you want and why. Much of this phase is spent on research, to determine whether a project is feasible, how long it should take and what it should cost. If testing of the concept is necessary, this is the proper phase to execute it.
This phase is the most misunderstood. You might be tempted to skip this phase altogether and proceed with the project, especially if it is already relatively well-defined. However, by doing this, you could miss critical information in the contract document, misunderstand the statement of work or fail to document the division of responsibility amongst your staff. This will lead to costly mistakes, delays and may be canceled orders from clients. Thus, the best way to improve this phase is to execute it in full, regardless of how eager your team is to get started.
The planning phase is filled with — again, you probably guessed it — planning. Specifically, you should be planning the goals for the project and be designing a roadmap to keep everyone on task, on schedule, and under budget.
Plenty of people struggle with effective goal-setting, so it should be little surprise that there are troubles during this phase of project management. You will find greater success by following either of the following goal-setting methods:
S.M.A.R.T. In this method, goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. If anyone of these factors is missing from a goal, it is not a goal worth chasing.
C.L.E.A.R. Newer and less familiar to most but more appropriate to the modern business environment, this method requires goals to be collaborative, limited (in scope), emotional (i.e. engaging employees’ passion), appreciable (i.e. capable of being broken into smaller, more manageable tasks) and refinable (i.e. flexible to emerging conditions).
Also called execution, this is the period in which your team works on the project. To those inexperienced in project management, this phase can feel like the most important; after all, it is when visible progress is made. However, that doesn’t mean you should focus your sights on launch. If you are blinded by your desire to execute the project, you might miss opportunities in prior phases or fail to pay appropriate attention to simultaneous and later phases. A good project manager lets their team participate in execution while they hang back and delve into the next phase.
This phase, sometimes called project performance or monitoring, rivals conception and planning in terms of importance. During this phase, project managers watch the execution of the project and ensure every action aligns with the plan. To do this effectively, you will need strong key performance indicators (KPIs), to include:
- Project objectives, which measure adherence to schedule and budget
- Quality deliverables, which determine whether tasks are producing the correct results
- Effect and cost tracking, which also helps determine whether schedule and budget are appropriate
- Project performance, which monitors necessary changes to the project, perhaps to account for surprise costs or delays.
The launch and control phases will continue for as long as a project is active, which could be as short as a few days or as long as decades. However, eventually a project will end, and that’s what this phase is about. During project closure, you should terminate contractors hired specifically for this project and recognize valuable team members (ideally with tangible rewards but verbal, public recognition works, too).
There are two important actions to ease the ending of a project. First, you need to give your team closure for the project, so they can transition to a new project successfully. An event or celebration does this most effectively because it gives your workers a time and place to let off steam. Secondly, you need to evaluate the successes and failures of the project to determine what you learned that you can apply to future projects. By doing this “post-mortem,” you should improve your processes every time a project is complete.
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