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Spring Cleaning and the “Rites of Passage” Into the Five Project Phases
By Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, Founder, Cheetah Learning

By Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP®, PMI-ACP, Chief Cheetah and Founder of Cheetah Learning

As a Project Manager, you are most likely familiar with the five project phases (also known as the project life-cycle or “process groups”) outlined in the PMBOK® Guide: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring & controlling, and closing. However, do you know the 47 PM “processes” that these five phases encompass? How do you know you’ve moved from one project phases to the next? In this post, we want to sharpen up your knowledge on the distinction between the project phases through the metaphor of “rites of passage.” Just like the seasons, project phases follow a life cycle marked by certain activities (like spring cleaning) that indicate you’ve entered the next phase. By knowing the “rites of passage” into each new project phases, you’ll be better equipped to keep track of which processes belong in each project phase, and, ultimately, better manage your projects.

  • From Initiating to Planning

    The first project phases, initiating, involves just two processes: developing the project charter and identifying stakeholders. You know you’ve moved to planning when you start working on anything more detailed about how the work will be done: collecting requirements, creating the work breakdown schedule (WBS), and defining the project scope, for example. The rite of passage into planning, then, is marked by asking, “how?” and “what?” What work needs to get done? How will the work get done? What resources are needed to complete the project? While in “initiating” you tend to ask “who?,” you know you’ve moved to planning when you start asking “how” and “what” questions about planning details.

  • From Planning to Executing

    The transition between planning and executing may seem obvious – the former is “talking,” the latter is “doing.” However, it’s not quite that simple; you’ll still be doing quite a bit of “talking” in the executing phase. The rite of passage into executing is that your “talk” turns its attention to the project team: acquiring, developing, and managing the project team. As a PM, you may not be directly involved with the team’s work, but your “doing” takes the form of keeping the team on-track and making sure there’s adequate and appropriate communication between the project team and other stakeholders.

  • From Executing to Monitoring & Controlling

    In a way, monitoring and controlling is just an extension of executing – more “doing.” You know you’ve transitioned from executing when the project begins to change (as it inevitably will). As a PM, your job is to make sure the project doesn’t get “derailed” onto a new track, away from the project scope and budget. Keeping the project on track will involve controlling costs, monitoring risks, and verifying scope – but also making changes to the scope and schedule when needed. This requires ongoing communication with project stakeholders to make sure everyone is on the same page about project changes large and small.

  • From Monitoring & Controlling to Closing

    Finally, the move to “closing” is marked by the rite of passage of successfully turning over the project deliverables to the customer. Closing doesn’t always happen all at once at the end of the project; if your team using agile methodology, for example, you may “close” many times throughout the lifespan of the project as you hand over small work packages to the customer. What marks “closing” is that your project team stops working on a particular deliverable and the customer accepts it – not necessarily when it happens.

Spring Cleaning as a Rite of Passage

Know the “rites of passage” that distinguish the five project phases will help you adhere to PMBOK® Guide Project Management processes and keep your project team and stakeholders on the same page about the project life cycle. Even if you haven’t memorized the 47 PM processes, knowing these project phases and their rites of passage will help keep your management practices, and projects, on-track for successful completion. On every project, you go through these project phases at varying levels of conscious awareness and capability. The better you get at each phase, the better you get at delivering value doing your projects. Your projects will go more smoothly and make the experience better for all involved.

This is why it literally pays to treat some things you do as the seasons change like a project – for example, spring cleaning.

About the Know How Network and Cheetah Learning

The Know How Network is a monthly column written by Michelle LaBrosse, the founder and Chief Cheetah of Cheetah Learning. Distributed to hundreds of newsletters and media outlets around the world, the Know How Network brings the promise, purpose and passion of Project Management to people everywhere. Visit www.cheetahlearning.com to learn more about Cheetah PM, the fastest way to learn about Project Management and get your PMP. You can also get your career in gear with CheetahWare, free Project Management tools from Cheetah Learning.

About the Author

Michelle LaBrosse is the founder and Chief Cheetah of Cheetah Learning. An international expert on accelerated learning and Project Management, she has grown Cheetah Learning into the market leader for Project Management training and professional development. In 2006, The Project Management Institute, www.pmi.org, selected Michelle as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the World, and only one of two women selected from the training and education industry. Michelle is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner & President Management program for entrepreneurs, and is the author of Cheetah Project Management and Cheetah Negotiations. Cheetah Learning is a virtual company and has 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide.

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