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What is a Project Life Cycle?

By Jeri Sullivan
Updated May 16, 2024
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A project life cycle is the process of taking a project from conception stage through closeout. There are many steps in a project life cycle and, depending on the type of project, some may take significantly longer than others. Typically, there is a project manager that is responsible for the overall success of the project. There are also various functional area experts assigned as team members which are responsible for ensuring certain aspects of the project are implemented correctly.

The first step in a project life cycle is to identify a need. This initial step defines the project, and what the desired outcome will be. The project manager is assigned and a tentative time line for project completion is developed. If funding has not been secured, then business justification and funding requests are submitted. There may also be meetings to decide how the project milestones will be measured and who will be responsible for each project life cycle step.

The second step in a project life cycle is planning. Though a top level plan was submitted during the initial phase, the detailed milestone and execution plans are defined during the planning stage. Each deliverable is outlined along with an expected completion date. If there are multiple dependencies such as task one must be completed before task two can commence, there is often a Gantt chart developed so all team members know who is responsible for what.

The third step in a project life cycle is execution. This is the phase where all of the plans are put into action. Each team member proceeds with his or her required task while the project manager oversees to make sure everyone stays on schedule. The project manager also monitors the milestones with regards to budgets to ensure each milestone is completed on budget. If a particular task is in jeopardy, the project manager will work with the team members to add additional personnel or money so the entire project can stay on schedule.

The final step in a project life cycle is close-out. During this phase, the individual tasks are completed and the entire project is submitted for approval. If the project was something concrete, such as a new product launch or actual construction, close-out also includes delivery of the product to the end customer. Team members are released from their project duties and allowed to go back to their normal jobs and the project manager submits a final report outlining how the team performed with regards to time lines and budgets. Often, the report will include suggestions on how to improve future projects based on the experiences from the current project so the next project manager will know what did and did not work well.

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