2.4 Project Life Cycle

Regardless of size and scope, all projects follow the overall structure of (starting, organizing, executing, and closing—see figure below).  Changes are easier/less costly in the beginning of the project and risk, uncertainty and stakeholder influence reduces as the project draws to its closure.

pmbok guide generic life cycle structure

Figure 2-2: Typical Cost and Staffing Levels across a Generic Project Life Cycle Structure

Project management life cycle is not the same as product/service (i.e., the project’s end result) life cycle.  Product life cycle is dependent on the norms of its industry and requirements of its host organization.  For instance development of a software package using an object oriented language such as Java can be based on one of the Object Oriented Analysis and Design (OOAD) methodologies which dictate product life cycle levels such as requirement analysis, detailed design, coding, debugging, release, maintenance.

Each one of these phases of product life cycle can be a project or multiple projects, or the entire product life cycle can be managed within a single project.  The key is to distinguish between the project life cycle and the product life cycle.

The chapter after the next (which is the bulk of this course) is about project management process groups.  These process groups are initiating the project, planning the project, executing the work of the project, monitoring and controlling the work of the project, and closing the project.  In the following Figure, a single phase project is illustrated.  You can easily map the process groups mentioned to the illustration and note the non-linear nature of planning, executing, and controlling processes (i.e., they are iterative and ongoing).

pmbok guide single phase project

Figure 2-3: Example of a Single-Phase Project

Projects can be single-phases or multi-phased.  If more than one phase, they can be sequential or overlapping.  To illustrate the difference between product phase and project phase pay attention to the following examples:

  • In the industrial construction industry (e.g., building a refinery, cross country gas pipelines, expansion of a cement factory, etc.) the work is defined in three overall components: Engineering, Procurement, and Construction. Some contracts are for the entire span of work (from concept to turn key) and they are known as EPC, some contracts are for two components, such PC, which means the organization will be handed the engineering specs, drawings, requirements, and input and is solely responsible for the procurement of equipment, parts, and tools and construct the designed entity, such as a petrochemical complex.  In many cases the contract is for one of the three components such as C, meaning the company is responsible for all or parts of the construction component of EPC.
  • Following on the example below, the EPC components can be sequential meaning that procurement begins after the completion of engineering, and construction begins after procurement has been finalized. Or, the processes can be overlapping meaning that the procurement processes can begin while engineering is still ongoing and construction can begin before the E and P are completed.   This is called fast tracking is going to be covered in the chapter after the next.
  • Your organization can be handling a portion of the construction as a subcontractor, and within your project you have teams specializing in engineering design, have a procurement team and a warehouse, and carry out the construction of a section of the refinery. Interaction between product components and project phases in this case becomes a bit intertwined, but at the grand picture your company’s project is part of the C phase of the EPC product phases.
  • Keep in mind that each of the processes sequential or overlapping is a full project in its own right and is represented by a diagram like figure 2 – 3 (see next figure).

pmbok guide project with overlapping phases

Figure 2-4: Example of a Project with Overlapping Phases

A very common mistake among those preparing for the PMP®[4] exam is mistaking the project management process groups with project phases.  For instance in the above figure the project has two phases: Designing a house, and constructing the house.  The two phases are overlapping, which means that the construction phase begins before the design phase is completely finalized as a lot of the design artifacts (such as the master design) can be used to start the actual construction while the remainder of the design deliverables are being produced.  Please pay attention to the fact that each of these two processes consists of the five project management process groups, and the project itself is made of the two overlapping phases.  In the next table, major project life cycles/phase structures are catalogued.  Please review the table carefully so that you don’t progress to the next section with the misconception that project process groups and the project life cycle are the same.

pmbok guide typical project lifecycles


Table 2-3: Typical Project Lifecycles

To illustrate the difference between these life cycles let’s go over an example: Jake is a regional director with a large technical company and he has been managing projects in the IT networking domain for more than 20 years.  For most projects, due to the fact that he has managed many of them before (has specialized expertise in both project management as well as product domain fields) his preferred lifecycle is predictive as his project templates don’t change often and the product of his projects are very similar.   Due to his excellent track record he was noticed by senior management from the headquarters and was tasked with a project to standardize the network security of all their offices across the country.

Although Jake has full command of the technical component of the project (network security) but due to the scale of the project, cultural differences, and interdepartmental office politics he adopts the iterative and incremental life cycle as in each project iteration he takes care of one or more major deliverable of the project.  The first phase of his project was focused on cataloging all computers connected to the company’s network.  The second phase was to group the network connections such as VPN, Hotspot, Wi-Fi and assigning them to the inventory of computers created in phase 1.  As you can see each phase has a life of its own but the overall combination of them results in the completion of the project.

Jake and his team learn a lot about different challenges this life cycle brought about as well as difficulties in managing more a more complex IT network project.  The project was managed successfully.  One of the consequences of the successful delivery of this project was that the technical support department started seeing a higher than normal call volume for new employee account setup, mobile account compatibility, VPN access level, etc.

Since Jake and his team had thorough knowledge of the company’s network infrastructure they were tasked with a new project to create an intranet-based troubleshooting wizard so that users could identify the cause of their network connection problems before calling the technical support department. For instance a salesperson that travels across the country already has hotspot, Wi-Fi, and VPN access setup but cannot connect to certain office networks unless he calls the technical support department and have them setup the network connection for him.  The goal of the new project is to troubleshoot the connection errors so that the technical support representative spends the least amount of time fixing it.

This is a completely new territory to Jake as he has never managed a website project before, has very little technical support background, and has a great deal of difficulty envisioning how the website would be able to perform the very complex task of changing user’s computer settings so that they can use a new network connection anywhere in the country.  For this project he chooses the adaptive life cycle structure as he wants a rapid development platform where the main stakeholders can learn as much about the project and its product as the project team learns about their requirements (a constant give and take).  His team employs extensive prototyping in collaborative design and review sessions.  This approach enables him to engage the many stakeholders in a constructive manner and deliver the project one set of requirements at a time.

As you can see Jake had to use different life cycles for the projects described above due their differences in product of the project expertise, degree of change in the environment, size and complexity of the project, and risk levels.

[1] Project Management Institute, A Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) –Fifth Edition, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2013, Figure 2-8, Page 39

[2] Project Management Institute, A Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) –Fifth Edition, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2013, Figure 2-10, Page 42

[3] Project Management Institute, A Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) –Fifth Edition, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2013, Figure 2-12, Page 43

[4] PMP is a registered trademark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

[5] Loosely adopted from Project Management Institute, A Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) –Fifth Edition, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2013, Pages 44-46

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