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The project life cycle

To accommodate the predominance of programmes and portfolios as aspects of project management, the definition of the project life cycle has extended over the years. This article highlights the inter-related phases of a project, programme or portfolio.

A life cycle defines the inter-related phases of a project, programme or portfolio and provides a structure for governing the progression of the work.

(Association for Project Management 2012)

All projects, programmes and portfolios (P3) are designed to deliver objectives. These objectives may be expressed as outputs, outcomes or benefits. A P3 life cycle illustrates the distinct phases that take an initial idea, develop it into detailed objectives and then deliver those objectives.

All life cycles follow a similar high-level generic sequence but this can be expressed in quite different ways. Life cycles will differ across industries and business sectors.

The most common type is the linear life cycle, sometimes known as the linear sequential model or waterfall method. In addition to the linear model, other life cycle formats include:

  • Parallel: This is similar to the linear but phases are carried out in parallel to increase the pace of delivery.
  • Spiral: This is often employed where many options, requirements and constraints are unknown at the start (eg in prototyping or research projects).
  • ‘V’: This is applied in software development where requirements are defined and the development tools are well known.

The phased structure of the project life cycle facilitates the creation of governance and feedback mechanisms:

  • Stages: Development work can be further subdivided into a series of management stages with work being authorised one stage at a time.
  • Gate reviews: These are conducted at the end of a phase. Senior management will consider performance to-date and plans for the next phase before deciding whether it is viable.
  • Post-reviews: Learning from experience is a key factor in maturity. Post-project reviews document lessons learned for use in the future.
  • Benefit reviews: Benefit reviews measure the achievement of benefits against the business case.

All phases of the life cycle are important. No phase should be omitted but they may be adjusted to accommodate the development methodology and context of the work.

Your task

At what stage do you think a project ends?


Association for Project Management. (2012). APM Body of Knowledge. (6th ed.). https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/permalink/f/1r06c36/COV_ALMA2151804150002011

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This article is from the free online course:

Foundations of Project Management

Coventry University