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project-management-phases

Five Phases of Project Management

Lena WimmerLena Wimmer 7 min read

When you start working on a project, the whole thing may seem overwhelming. What should you do first? What matters most? There are tons of questions that need to be answered and it’s hard to decide where to start.

This is where project management frameworks and tools come to the rescue. One of the most popular solutions is the five-stage project management model. This approach was developed by the Project Management Institute, the world’s largest non-profit organization in the field. Using a model like this is sure to help you keep track of your project’s progress and deliver your goals and objectives on time.

In this article, we’re going to discuss:

  • what each of the 5 phases of project management focuses on
  • how working with the five-stage model can help you execute a project successfully
  • how you can benefit from using task management tools like Stackfield in this regard

Ready to get some structure into that project management of yours? Well then, let’s go!

What are the 5 phases of project management

According to the Project Management Institute mentioned above, project management is defined as

the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements (PMI)

Simply put, you need some know-how, tools and approaches to achieve your goals. One of these approaches also includes the five-stage phase model developed by PMI:

  1. Initiating
  2. Planning
  3. Execution
  4. Monitoring
  5. Closing

Each of these phases is focused on meeting a specific goal. It is also worth noting that while these phases usually take part chronologically, one after another, some of them may occur simultaneously. We’re going to cover this in more detail later on.

1. Initiating phase

Everything has its origin. For a project, this is the initiation phase with the project idea at the very beginning. The initiation phase is the time at when the idea is about to be put into concrete terms, i.e. it is precisely defined and analysed. Finally, the team should play it safe and find out whether it makes sense and whether it is profitable to start the project.

Project manager and team thus define the project scope, the primary goals, all resources that will be necessary and what the company hopes to accomplish with the project. It’s good to start your project from defining a business case, which is the reason for starting the whole initiative. Be sure to make the case clear, concise and easy to understand for everyone involved in the project. At this stage, techniques like SWOT analysis can be of great help. As the acronym suggests, they will help you spot the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for your project.

As soon as the introductory phase begins, internal collaboration tools play a major role, especially when people work remotely from time to time. A project management software should serve as a central place for all information about the project that is now discussed.

Tips for the initiating phase:

  • Conduct a feasibility study: According to projectmanager.com, a feasibility study is an assessment of the practicality of a proposed plan. In other words, you need to see whether you have enough funds, human resources and tools to achieve the goal. A well-conducted study is sure to make this clear for you.
  • Choose your team members wisely: List all the potential team members, analyze their strengths, weaknesses and needs. Take a moment to decide if they’re a good fit for the project and how they’re going to get along with other teammates. Remember that they’re going to spend a lot of time together so it’s important to get it right from the very beginning.

2. Planning phase

Next comes the planning phase, and you might be wondering how it’s different from the initiating one. Yet, the latter also about planning to some degree. We already know that the project is to be carried out and have initial approaches that will point the way in the course of the project. But now it goes into detail. Goals and requirements are now specified in detail. Specifications regarding resources and the scope of the project are officially recorded. And what about the risks? This is a crucial question that must needs to be answered in advance by a sophisticated risk management system.

A large part of the planning phase is usually devoted to the elaboration of the project order (or project charter), which generally results in the project being authorised. In retrospect, the document serves as a guideline with explicit specifications regarding the defined objectives and scope. If the latter component is well defined, the risk of scope creep can be considerably reduced. You can see the basic structure and background of the project from the project order. If the project manager changes, the document can be a real lifesaver for the project.

Tips for the planning phase:

  • Keep your focus on the goals: You probably already have some objectives in mind. It’s much easier to track them if they’re defined in a smart way – and by smart, we mean SMART. The SMART framework will help you set your goals in a way that’s easy to understand, track and measure - just like the newer CLEAR model, which gains in popularity in line with agile processes.
  • Set up milestones: Once you start executing your project, you’re going to need a way to track progress. This is why it’s important to set milestones in the planning phase – they will keep you motivated along the way.
  • Agree on a communication plan: One of the most important aspects of project management and yet often underestimated is that of communication. It is decisive for success and (since the issue unfortunately receives too little attention) failure. It must be clearly defined how the team communicates, what is communicated and to whom is communicated. It is important that the team has access to all relevant data at all times. For this purpose, a communication and project management software provides the best possible support.

3. Executing phase

The third phase, is what the general public primarily thinks of when talking about project management: execution. This is where all plans and strategies are finally implemented. A kick-off meeting is often organized to familiarize everyone with the goals and assign responsibilities to each team member. The team is the fundament of this phase. The project manager directs the team members in the right direction - from the kick-off, towards the milestones and, eventually, finally to project completion.

Tips for the executing phase:

  • Keep your eye on the schedule: The executing phase is usually the longest one in the entire process. Some tasks may take longer than expected, which might ultimately lead to missing deadlines and making the team members less engaged. This aspect applies both to the executing and the monitoring phase – we’re going to describe it in a more detailed way with the next stage. The best way to tackle this issue is to organize regular meetings throughout the project. Make sure that everyone stays up to date with other team members.
  • Be attentive when it comes to communication: As soon as you see any communication problems emerging, be sure to take action right away. It’s better to act quick, find the reason and come up with a solution than wait for the problem to unfold later on in the project. A small communication problem can have a significant on the rest of your team, which is why it’s better to work on these issues as soon as they emerge.

4. Monitoring and controlling phase

Execution without monitoring is virtually impossible, which is why phase 3 and phase 4 often run simultaneously. So while the team is busy executing all the tasks, the project manager keeps track of all the key metrics and risk factors. He is responsible for ensuring that the project team doesn't exceed the budget and that all deadlines are met. The fact that so-called scope creeps, i.e. massive overruns of the project scope, occur so frequently shows that too little attention is paid to monitoring in practice. If the scope changes, it will ultimately impact the budget and the duration of the project. This also applies vice versa. A regular comparison with the project plan is therefore essential.

Tips for the monitoring phase:

  • Focus on the main metric: Are you familiar with the North Star Metric concept? It’s a single most important metric that captures the main purpose of a project. For instance, a sales project’s North Star Metric can be the number of leads. When you focus on one main objective, it’s easier to reach your goal.
  • Visualization: Longer projects can be difficult to manage over time. In order to keep a clear overview, you should utilize the visual support provided by project management software. The Gantt chart gives a quick overview of dates, deadlines and the progress of the project in general. Kanban Boards are able to reliably reproduce workflows and display the processing status of the entire process as well as individual tasks.

5. Closing phase

As exciting as projects may be. The most beautiful phase is still the final phase - the closure. Not is the time to celebrate, pop the champagne and … reflect. What still needs to be done is a presentation of the project to the stakeholders and a brief summary of what went well and what didn’t resp. what you might want to improve in future. If a project management tool was used, any data is quickly available.

Tip for the closing phase:

  • Take a moment to recognize the best performers: The team makes project work possible in the first place. And teams consist of individuals who work better together when their work is rewarded. A nice team event, words of appreciation or a small reward for hard work will motivate employees for future projects. After all, happy team members are still the best team members.
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Lena Wimmer
About the Author:
Lena Wimmer is Product Marketing Manager at Stackfield. She is passionate about American literary history, great content and cinematography.
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