January 25, 2023
As a marketer, understanding the importance of a project life cycle is essential to achieve the goals of your organization. Whether you're heading up the management of advertising campaigns or just getting started with creating your own newsletter, collaborating with your project management team to deliver your objectives on time is crucial.
In this article, we go over the four key phases of a successful project life cycle in detail so nothing is missed. With these steps, you'll minimize risks and maximize efficiency. Learn the best practices of each phase so you can work with your project managers to identify where you need improvements throughout the project. Let's get started.
The project life cycle is typically divided into four distinct phases, each phase is designed to ensure the success of your project.
The first phase of each project is called the Initiation phase or project initiation. This is where you'll want to identify the main problem that the business is facing and determine if there is a business case. In certain instances, you'll want to conduct a feasibility study so you can quickly figure out the relevance of the proposed project.
Simple questions like whether you have the correct stakeholders in place to kick off the project should be asked along with whether your team has the correct skillset to tackle the problem or even the right technological stack.
At this time, the investigations and discussions should be high-level. Identify the key deliverables, project scope, and ideal stakeholders during this time. It's really just a gut check on whether you can go forward with the project or set it aside for another initiative with higher priority.
The next phase of the project life cycle is the project plan, this is where we define how the project objectives that are identified during initiation will be achieved. A series of documents may be produced if the scope of the project is large enough.
This is where you'll want to create a plan for project resources that specify which team members need to be part of the project and at which points in the project. When done correctly, a resource plan will maximize efficiency so team members are not sitting idle waiting for work if they have dependencies.
A risk management plan may also be called for. This document outlines the main risks that the team foresees. Even unknown risks can be called out at this time. These can be referred to as known unknowns. For example, maybe you know that Apple iOS is expecting an update that may affect your project, but you don't know exactly which day the update will occur because it hasn't been announced. This could be a line item in the risk management report.
By tackling risks early on in the project, they end up costing the project stakeholders less, compared to the later stages of the project when risks and surprises are expensive.
Communication plans can be particularly effective these days when you have a higher chance of working with a remote team. This document can identify who should be included in various checkpoints of the project and what should be communicated to the stakeholders during specific milestones.
Ideally, you'll want to also include how often the communication should happen and if there are any particular reports or parameters to include in said communication.
Creating a budget for your project will be important to ensure you aren't breaking the bank as you head toward your milestones. This is an absolute requirement if you're working with clients, however, some in-house teams don't adhere to a budget.
Nonetheless, it's still important to track where the expenses are going in case a supervisor asks you during the project. You'll want to look prepared and fiscally responsible.
It's possible that during the project, implementors will get stuck in a cycle where they're not sure when they are actually "done" with their work. This is where an acceptance plan is incredibly helpful during complex projects where there are a lot of moving parts.
Clearly defining "what done looks like" and when to move on to the next part of the project is key to keeping it on track.
Finally, you'll want to create a schedule of tasks. For larger projects, this could be a more official document called a work breakdown structure (WBS), but often agile teams will just use a Gantt chart if it's a smaller project with the major work tracks identified on the visual schedule.
Every company manages projects differently, but these are the common pieces of project documentation to produce during the project planning phase. Once the planning is complete, it's time to move to the project execution.
Simply put, the execution phase, is where all of the planning comes to life and where the actual work gets done. Each team member should have their tasks mapped out and dependencies identified where applicable.
The project manager now moves toward a leadership role where they are monitoring the progress, unblocking members, and adjust for change requests when they occur.
If you are working with clients, stakeholder management is key during this phase. You want to report based on actual metrics and facts. Let the clients know when things are going smoothly and when the project needs adjustments. By not being transparent throughout the project, you risk surprising the client if things get difficult or something outside of the risk assessment occurs.
Similarly, communication is key to showing confidence in the execution of the project. Follow the communication plan and adjust accordingly.
If you feel a stakeholder is asking for updates more often, make note of this for future projects with the same stakeholder.
At the end of a project, or closing phase, it can be tempting to just move on to the rest of your backlog. This is a mistake that many teams make. As a result, they potentially miss out on key learnings that could make the next project cycle more successful.
At a minimum, you should conduct a retrospective on the project so you can identify:
During this phase, it's also important to double-check that the project's goals were met and if not, what were the obstacles.
Also, check in with the key stakeholders to make sure they received what they were expecting from the deliverables of the project.
Ideally, all of your projects should go through these four distinct project phases during development. Note, however, the amount of detail per phase can shift depending on project scope.
Work with your project manager to ensure your deliverables are accounted for during the project initiation phase. After, detail out the tasks per milestone and ensure it shows up on the project timeline.
During the project execution phase, check back against your original project plan and raise any risks as soon as they come up to your project management team.
Finally, as you head toward the project closure phase, make sure you spend time giving feedback during a project retrospective to make incremental improvements.
With all of these steps followed, you'll be sure to have an effective project management process for years to come.
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