Successful Project Life Cycle - How to Get your Team On Board

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.

Phases of the Project Life Cycle

The project life cycle is typically divided into four distinct phases, each phase is designed to ensure the success of your project.

Project Initiation

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.

Project Planning

Credit: Unsplash, Jason Goodman

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.

Project Execution

Credit: Unsplash, Jason Goodman

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.

Project Closure

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:

  • What went right with the project (wins!)
  • What went wrong with the project (misses)
  • What we could do better (learnings)

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.

What's Next?

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I ensure that I have the right stakeholders and resources for my project?

To ensure you have the right stakeholders and resources for your project, start by identifying the key deliverables, project scope, and ideal stakeholders during the project initiation phase. Make sure that your team has the necessary skillset and the right technological stack to tackle the problem. Communicate with stakeholders and evaluate their roles and contributions to the project. If needed, consider conducting a feasibility study to determine the project's relevance and the availability of required resources.

Do I need to be a certified Project Manager to run a successful project?

While having a certification in project management, such as PMP or PRINCE2, can be helpful and enhance your credibility, it is not a strict requirement for running a successful project. What's more important is having a strong understanding of project management principles, effective communication skills, and the ability to lead and motivate a team.

Experience in managing projects, problem-solving, and adaptability also play crucial roles in ensuring project success. Many project managers gain these skills and knowledge through hands-on experience, learning from mentors, and participating in professional development courses or workshops.

What is the purpose of a risk management plan, and how does it help my project?

A risk management plan aims to identify, assess, and prioritize potential risks that could impact your project. By outlining the main risks, their likelihood, and potential impact on the project, you can better prepare to mitigate or respond to these risks. Addressing risks early in the project life cycle can help reduce their overall impact and cost, ensuring a smoother and more successful project execution.

Why is it important to create a budget for a project, even if it's an in-house project?

Creating a budget for a project, regardless of whether it's an in-house project or for a client, is crucial for several reasons. A budget helps track expenses, allocate resources efficiently, and ensure that the project stays within financial constraints. It demonstrates fiscal responsibility and preparedness, which is essential when reporting to supervisors or stakeholders. Additionally, a well-defined budget can help identify areas where cost savings can be made, enabling the team to allocate funds to other critical aspects of the project.

What is a work breakdown structure (WBS) and when should it be used?

A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a hierarchical decomposition of a project into smaller, more manageable tasks or work packages. It helps in organizing and defining the total scope of the project, providing a clear visual representation of tasks, their relationships, and the project timeline. The WBS is typically used in larger projects with complex tasks and multiple dependencies. By using a WBS, project managers and team members can better understand the project structure, track progress, and allocate resources efficiently.


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