Understanding the global picture

When you arrive to the Project Management world for the first time, you may start hearing a lot of technicalities like: project charter, scope creep, timeline/schedule, forecast, issue and risk management, constraints... and a lot more. In order to better understand these techie stuff, you first need to have a clear picture of the project lifecycle

In this post, we will go together through all the phases of the project lifecycle and I'll be sharing with you my insights for each of them.

Project Initiation

You have been assigned to the project, and this is the first phase you have to manage. The objective of the Initiation phase is to define the project at a very high level, as you still don't have enough detail to go deeper. 

This point may require some investigation works from your side, but it's mandatory to properly set the basis to start building afterwards
Some of the key activities to be done during this phase are:
  • Business Case: You may have to create a Business Case to assess the feasibility of your project in order to receive the GO from business.
  • Project Charter: As you are now setting up the basis for your project, you still don't have enough information to provide high level detail. Some variance will be accepted at this point in terms of budget and schedule. You can download my Project Charter template from this link.

Project Planning

From my point of view, this is the most important point in all the project lifecycle and will take most of your time to properly prepare it. During this phase you will develop the roadmap to be followed.

The good point here, is that if you did a good job at this phase, you'll avoid most of the surprises later in Execution (but don't be too optimistic, unplanned things will arise anyway and you'll have to manage).

Some of the key activities that take place during this phase are:
  • Project Charter: In this phase you'll have to rework the Project Charter and add a higher detail for all the sections. This document should be closed at the end of the Planning phase and could serve as a decision point for the Go / No-Go to Execution phase (in case of having a Gate). Project Goals and Project Scope should be closed at this phase and included in this document. Project Goals should follow the S.M.A.R.T. approach (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based).
  • Project Timeline (Gantt Chart): The project timeline together with the main Milestones and Deliverables is expected to be delivered in this phase. The WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) could be also included at this point. You have some cool MS Project exercises I shared following this link.
  • Risk Management Plan: A thorough risk assessment should take place and be presented. This point could be added to the Project Charter. You'll have to present the list of risks with the probability/impact for each one and the mitigation actions
  • Budget breakdown: Last but not least, the financials. As the Project Manager you should have the full picture of all the costs your project will require. Let me share some examples: Timesheeting for internal resources, Professional Services, Hardware, Software and all the additional lines you consider should be added here. You should also differentiate between CAPEX and OPEX, because both cases will be treated differently from a financial point of view. 

Project Execution

The Project Kick-Off meeting usually marks the start of this phase (you can check the post I shared about the Kick-Off meeting here). The objective of this phase is to deliver the scope of the project. During this phase most of the project deliverables will be completed and the project milestones achieved.

Some of the key activities that take place during this phase are:

  • Resource Management: During the execution phase you'll have to assess the workload of your project team and take action if needed. Priorities may have to be set at certain moments. 
  • Stakeholder Management: The Project Manager should keep engaged all the key stakeholders. Good communication with them is also a key success factor for the project. This topic should be tackled by creating the Communication Plan during the Planning Phase.
  • Procurement Management: If needed, the Project Manager will have to follow the purchase process to deliver the committed scope. In this case, the project timeline will have to be aligned with the lead times provided by the vendor.
  • Project reporting: You will have to report project progress to the project sponsor. One Steering Committee meeting may be taking place in a monthly basis. You may also want to schedule a weekly Executive follow up meeting to keep your sponsor engaged. 

Project Monitoring and Controlling

The third and fourth phase are not sequential. Project Monitoring will run simultaneously with Project Execution. The objective of this phase is to ensure that objectives, project deliverables and milestones are met. 

During this phase the Project Manager will monitor the project health by using KPIs (Key Performance Indicator). Some KPIs I usually use for my projects are: Overall, Scope, Schedule and Budget. These KPIs will follow the RAG approach (Red, Amber, Green) and will represent the project status accordingly.

Important tip: For using KPIs, the Overall indicator should take the worst case. If Budget is amber and the others are green, then Overall should be amber.

Project Tracking is also an important point in this phase. Several tracking systems should be set up in order to let the Project Manager follow the different project streams and take action if needed. Some topics to be tracked: timeline, budget/forecast, actions, risks/issues.... I usually work with the RAID log system for this purpose. 

Project Closure 

This is the final phase of the project lifecycle. The Project Closure phase marks the end of the project after the delivery of the committed scope. 

Some of the key activities that take place during this phase are:

  • Lessons learned: It's responsibility of the Project Manager to evaluate what went well during the project and also to identify project failures and how were solved.
  • Asset Management: If you didn't manage this topic during the execution phase, now it's time. Before formally closing the project, you should check that all the new assets are already created in your systems and properly registered.
  • Budget Closure: You may need to follow some process to proceed with the budget closure. You may have to justify the budget you didn't use.
  • Documentation Storage: Once all project documentation will be ready, it's time to double check is uploaded to the proper shared repository (if not done yet).

Important tip: During the project closure phase, the Project Manager should organize a team dinner. It's important to be thankful and appreciate all the efforts done by the team.

So, what about you? How are you managing your projects? Would you add any additional activity in any of the phases? Please, feel free to share with me your thoughts about this topic by adding a comment to this post. 

Video explanation 

Project Management
March 12, 2022


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