Understanding Project Life Cycles and Project Management Processes (PMI PMP)

Posted by Certprime® on June 29, 2020 | Project Management

Understanding Project Life Cycles and Project Management Processes

Project life cycles are similar to the life cycle that parents experience raising their children to adulthood. Children start out as infants and generate lots of excitement wherever they go. However, not much is known about them at first. So we study them as they grow and assess their needs. Over time, they mature and grow (and cost a lot of money in the process), until one day the parents’ job is done. 

Projects start out just like this and progress along a similar path. Someone comes up with a great idea for a project and actively solicits support for the project. The project, after being approved, progresses through the intermediate phases to the ending phase, where the project is completed and closed out. 

Project Life Cycles and Phases

All projects are divided into phases, and all projects, large or small, have a similar life cycle structure. At a minimum, a project will have a beginning or initiation phase, an intermediate phase or phases, and an ending phase. The number of phases depends on the project complexity and its industry. All the collective phases the project progresses through in concert are called the project life cycle

The end of each phase allows the project manager, stakeholders, and project sponsor the opportunity to determine if the project should continue to the next phase. Project phases evolve through the life cycle in a series of “handoffs.” The end of one phase typically marks the beginning of the next. For example, in the construction industry, feasibility studies often take place in the beginning phase of a project. The purpose of the feasibility study might be to determine if the project is worth undertaking and whether the project will be profitable for the construction company. The completion and approval of the feasibility study trigger the beginning of the planning and design phase. 

You will recognize phase completion because each phase has a specific deliverable, or multiple deliverables, that marks the end of the phase. A deliverable is an output that must be produced to bring the phase or project to completion. Deliverables are tangible and can be measured and easily proved. For instance, a hypothetical deliverable produced in the beginning phase of our construction industry example would be the feasibility study. Deliverables might also include things like design documents, project budgets, blueprints, project schedules, prototypes, etc. This analysis allows those involved the opportunity to determine if the project should continue to the next phase. The feasibility study might show that environmental impacts of an enormous nature would result if the construction project were undertaken at the proposed location. Based on this information, a go or no-go decision can be made at the end of this phase. The end of a phase also gives the project manager the ability to discover, address, and take corrective action against errors discovered during the phase.

There are times when phases are overlapped to shorten or compress the project schedule. The Guide to the PMBOK terms this fast tracking. Fast tracking means that a later phase is started prior to completing and approving the phase, or phases, that come before it.

All projects follow the life cycle pattern and, as a result, have the following things in common. In the beginning phase, which is where the Initiation process occurs, costs are low, and there are few team members assigned to the project. As the project progresses, costs and staffing increases and then tapers off at the closing phase. The potential that the project will come to a successful ending is lowest at the beginning of the project with an increasing chance for success as the project progresses through the life cycle stages. Risk is highest at the beginning of the project and gradually decreases the closer the project comes to completion. And stakeholders have the greatest chance of influencing the project in the beginning phases and less and less influence as the project progresses. 

To give you a better idea of when certain characteristics influence a project, refer to the table below. A recap of the impacts in the beginning life cycle phase is shown here. 

Characteristics of the Initiation Process 

Low Impact/Probability

High Impact/Probability



Staffing levels

Stakeholder influence

Chance for successful completion


Project Management Processes

Project management processes, according to the Guide to the PMBOK, organize and describe the work of the project. These processes are performed by people and, much like the project phases, are interrelated and dependent on one another. For example, it would be difficult to identify specific project activities without first having an understanding of the project requirements.

PMI Process Groups

The Guide to the PMBOK documents five process groups in the project management process: Initiation, Planning, Executing, Controlling, and Closing. We’ll look at an overview of each process here and go into more detail in later chapters. 


The Initiation process, as its name implies, occurs at the beginning of the project or phase. Initiation acknowledges that a project, or the next project phase, should begin. Initiation grants the approval to commit the organization’s resources to working on the project or phase. 


Planning is the process of formulating and revising planning documents to be used throughout the remainder of the project. This process group is where the project requirements are fleshed out and stakeholders are identified. Planning has more processes than any of the other project management processes. The Executing, Controlling, and Closing process groups all rely on the Planning process group and the documentation produced during the Planning processes in order to carry out their functions. Project managers will perform frequent iterations of the Planning processes prior to project completion. Projects are unique, and as such have never been done before. Therefore, Planning must encompass all areas of project management and consider budgets, activity definition, scope planning, schedule development, risk identification, staff acquisition, procurement planning, and more. The greatest conflicts a project manger will encounter in this process group are project prioritization issues. 


The Executing process group involves putting the project plans into action. It’s here that the project manager will coordinate and direct project resources to meet the objectives of the project plan. The Executing process keeps the project plan on track and ensures that future execution of project plans stays in line with project objectives. The Executing process group will utilize the most project time and resources. Costs are usually highest during the Executing process. Project managers will experience the greatest conflicts over schedules in this phase.


The Controlling process group is where project performance measurements are taken and analyzed to determine if the project is staying true to the project plan. If it’s discovered that variances exist, corrective action is taken to get the project activities aligned with the project plan. This might require additional passes through the Planning process to realign to the project objectives.


The Closing process group is probably the most often skipped process in project management. Once the project objectives have been met, most of us are ready to move on to the next project. However, Closing is important as all the project information is gathered now and stored for future reference. The documentation collected during Closing processes can be reviewed and utilized to avert potential problems on future projects. Contract closeout occurs here, and formal acceptance and approval are obtained from project stakeholders.

The Process Flow

The five process groups are iterative and should not be thought of as one-time processes. These processes will be revisited throughout the project life cycle several times as the project is refined. PMI calls this process of going back through the process groups an iterative process. The completion of each process allows the project manager and stakeholders to reexamine the business needs of the project and determine if the project is satisfying those needs. And it is another opportunity to make a go or no-go decision. 

Keep in mind that during phases of a project, the Closing phase can provide input to the Initiation phase. For example, once the feasibility study we discussed earlier is accepted or closed, it becomes input to the Initiation phase of design and planning.

It’s important to understand the flow of these processes for the exam. If you remember the processes and their inputs and outputs, it will help you when you’re trying to decipher an exam question. Sometimes just understanding which process the question is asking about will help you determine the answer. One trick you could use to memorize these processes is to remember syrup of ipecac. (You probably have some of this poison antidote in your medicine cabinet at home.) When you sound out the first initial of each of the processes, it sounds like “ipecac”—IPECC (Initiation, Planning, Executing, Controlling, and Closing). 

Processes exist within most of the process groups. For example, the Closing life cycle process group consists of two processes, Contract Closeout and Administrative Closure. Each process takes inputs and uses them in conjunction with various tools and techniques to produce outputs. It’s outside the scope of this book to list all the inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs for each process in each life cycle phase. You’ll find these detailed in the Guide to the PMBOK, and I highly recommend you get familiar with them. There are test questions regarding inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs. One way to keep them all straight is to remember tools and techniques usually require action of some sort, be it measuring, applying some skill or technique, planning, or using expert judgment. Outputs are usually in the form of a deliverable. Remember that a deliverable is characterized with results or outcomes that can be measured, are tangible, and are provable. Last but not least, outputs from one process sometimes serve as inputs to another process. 

Establishing the Project Management Office

The concept of a project management office, sometimes referred to as the PMO, has been around for several years. You won’t need to know anything about PMOs for the exam. However, in practice, you’ll find many organizations are establishing PMOs in many different forms. The purposes of establishing a PMO, and its benefits, are many. The most common reason a company starts a project management office is to establish and maintain procedures and standards for project management methodologies to be used throughout the organization. In some organizations, project managers might work directly for the PMO and are assigned from this office to projects as they are initiated. The PMO, depending on its size and function, sometimes has experts available that assist project managers in project planning, estimating, and business assumption verification tasks. They serve as mentors to junior-level project managers and act as consultants to the senior project managers. 

The PMO takes responsibility for maintaining and archiving project documentation. All project documentation and information is collected and tracked by the PMO for future reference. This office compares project goals with project progress and gives feedback to the project teams. This office also measures the project performance of active projects and suggests corrective actions. The PMO evaluates completed projects for their adherence to the triple constraints and asks the following: Did the project meet the time frames established, did it stay within budget, and was the quality acceptable?

Project management offices are becoming more common in organizations today, if for no other reason, simply to serve as a collection point for project documentation. Some PMOs are fairly sophisticated and prescribe the standards and methodologies to be used in all project phases across the enterprise. Still others provide all these functions and also offer project management consulting services. However, the establishment of a PMO is not required in order for you to apply good project management practices to your next project.


Phew, we covered a lot of ground in this chapter. We learned that projects exist to bring about a unique product or service. Projects are temporary in nature and have definite beginning and ending dates. 

Stakeholders are those people or organizations that have a vested interest in the outcome of the project. Stakeholders include people like the project sponsor, the customer, key management personnel, the project manager, contractors, suppliers, and more. Projects are considered complete when the project meets or exceeds the expectations of the stakeholders.

Project management is a discipline that brings together a set of tools and techniques to describe, organize, and monitor the work of project activities. Project managers are the ones responsible for carrying out these activities.

Every project must work within constraints. The primary constraints that will affect all projects are the triple constraints of budget, time, and quality.

Project managers have a wide variety of skills. Not only should they be versed in the field they’re working in, but in general management skills as well. Communication is the most important skill a project manager will use in the course of a project.

Organizational structures come in variations of three forms: functional, projectized, and matrix organizations. Functional organizations are traditional with hierarchical reporting structures. Project managers have little to no authority in this organization. Projectized organizations are structured around project work, and staff personnel report to project managers. Project managers have full authority in this organizational structure. Matrix organ-izations are a combination of the functional and projectized. A project manager’s authority varies depending on the structure of the matrix, be it a weak matrix, balanced matrix, or strong matrix.

Projects progress along a life cycle path. The life cycle consists of phases, and the Guide to the PMBOK process groups are performed throughout the project’s life cycle. The Guide to the PMBOK process groups are Initiation, Planning, Executing, Controlling, and Closing.

Project management offices are a way to organize and establish standards for project management techniques within an organization. They can also serve as a project library, housing project documentation for future reference.

Exam Essentials

Be able to describe the difference between projects and operations.  A project is temporary in nature with a definite beginning and ending date. Operations are ongoing.

Be able to denote some of the skills every good project manager should possess.  Communication, budgeting, organizational, problem solving, negotiation and influencing, leading, and team building.

Be able to differentiate the different organizational structures.  Organizations are usually structured in some combination of the following: functional, projectized, and matrix (including weak matrix, balanced matrix, and strong matrix).

Be able to name the five project management processes.  Initiation, Planning, Executing, Controlling, and Closing.

Key Terms

We’ve learned a lot of new key words in this chapter. PMI has worked hard to develop and define standard project management terms that apply across industries. Here is a list of some of the terms we came across in this article:


project life cycle


project management

fast tracking

project management office (PMO)

functional organization

project manager


project sponsor

matrix organization

projectized organization



progressive elaboration



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