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The Project Life Cycle
By Jonathan Carr

The project life cycle (PLC) can be broken down into the following phases:

I. Concept Phase

A project usually kicks off with a Statement of Work (SOW). A SOW describes project specific deliverables, acceptance criteria, milestones, and project cost. It is an agreement between the customer, stakeholder and the organization for the work to be done which is the project. It should specify in clear and understandable terms the work to be done to developing or producing goods or services to be delivered by the project. Technical requirements and specification are clearly defined, as well quantitative requirements for performance and quality. The SOW is often developed before assembling a project team which is the next necessary step.

Once a project team is put together by a project manager, a few things must happen before the project life cycle (PLC) can commence. First, a team charter must be established so that each team member becomes familiar with each other. A team charter also establishes communication and collaboration methods to be used throughout the project.

A well-written SOW allows the project team to develop a comprehensive Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) which is critical in developing a reliable schedule and budget. The PM’s responsibility is to verify and qualify the SOW requirements to successfully build a WBS. Once the requirements of a project have been agreed upon and the core team members identified, it is time to break the work into tasks. A task is package of work that can be assigned, scheduled, tracked and organized. This is a time-consuming often difficult task , but it is one of the most critical aspects of project management. It is important to get the right people who will do the work involved in detailing the work, although the project manager is responsible for putting it all together.

The standard method of organizing tasks for a project is called the Work Breakdown Structure. The development of a comprehensive, measurable WBS is necessary to identify the skills needed, the budget and develop a schedule. It is almost impossible to complete a project successfully without one, although many try. One of the primary reasons that projects fail is because they start badly at the work definition stage. The WBS is a description of all of the work required to complete the project. If you fail to identify large sections of work, it is very likely that the project will be significantly off budget and off schedule.

The WBS is a deliverable-oriented grouping of project elements that organizes and defines the total work scope of the project. Each descending level of the WBS represents an increasingly detailed definition of the project work (PMBOK). The WBS separates milestones (deliverables) into individual components, and should be prepared at the earliest possible point in the Project Life Cycle.

At the same time, formal change control procedures should be put in place to ensure its scope remains accurate and current once the project is baseline. The first versions of this WBS are often high level drafts with more detail added as the project is further defined in planning. If major changes in the project occur after the initial WBS has been defined and base-lined, then formal change procedures should be used to update it.

The SOW and WBS are all part of the Request for Proposal (RFP) which is presented by the PM for the green light go-ahead on the project. Once it is approved, it is time to move on to the planning phase of the project.

II. Planning Phase

The planning phase is the most crucial phase in the project life cycle (PLC). This is the phase where the triple constraints are accounted for. The triple constraints are defined as cost, time, and scope. Cost represents budget and resources. Time represents the project schedule. Scope can be defined as specifications and quality. Any one of the three constraints can drive a project based on project specific guidelines. For example, there might be a solid deadline in which cost and scope might have to be sacrificed to satisfy the constraint of time. The same goes for the other two constraints driving a project.

In addition to triple constraint planning, there are other means of planning that can mean the difference between project success and failure. A communication plan is a good thing to have so that everyone on the team can get a hold of who they need to. A contingency plan is a good way to allocate funds for emergencies or obstacles which may arise in the PLC. A problem/event escalation plan is a good way to account for personal disagreements that may impact a project. Basically when the “u know what” hits the fan, it is best to have a path of escalation so that the project does not go to waste.

The planning phase of the project life cycle (PLC) should be used as a way to brainstorm every possible resource or problem that can affect the project. Tools such as Microsoft Project can be used to create gantt charts (based on the WBS) for planning and blueprinting the development strategy which is the next phase of the PLC.

AGantt Chart Example

A Gantt Chart Example

III. Development Phase

The development phase is where the physical work of the project takes place. In the case of most IT projects, this is where the Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC) would take place. This is the phase where hardware and software are created to carry out the project. There is nothing major to explain in this phase. It is very open to whatever needs to be developed (based on the SOW) for project success. This phase must be finished before the implementation phase begins just as a waterfall design (previous phase ends before the next phase begins) suggests.

IV. Implementation Phase

The implementation phase is the execution of the project, whatever it may be. The hardware and software or whatever was configured in the development stage is now put to use. This is the stage that determines success or failure. It is here that unforeseen events have a habit of bubbling their way to the surface. Much like the previous phase, there is not much that can be said about this phase of the project other than, “it is what it is.”

A golf analogy for this phase would be this. The setup (planning) and swing (development) have taken place and the golf ball is in flight. It is now up to mother nature to determine the ball flight and landing place.

V. Closeout Phase

After the implementation phase of the project life cycle (PLC), it is important to have a closeout phase. It is here that lessons learned are discussed and extra resources are properly taken care of. The outcome of the project along with mishaps are documented so that future projects can avoid similar mistakes which occurred in this project. At this point, the project life cycle (PLC) ends and new projects begin.


As you can see, this article emphasizes the earlier stages of the project life cycle (PLC). When more effort is put into concept and planning, the rest of the phases run smoother. Project management is not so much a technical-oriented IT position. Most of the computational programming and hardware/software engineering is done by technical staff (software engineers, DBAs, systems analysts, etc). This is not to say that a project manager is not familiar with technical skills. Most PMs possess a degree in computer science or a related field. Project management is the art of utilizing the project team members using a business-oriented IT skill set as if you were playing a game of chess with checkmate being a project on time and on budget.

© 2009 Jonathan Carr – Atlas Editorials .

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