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The Project Life Cycle (Phases) - Project Management

Dec 29, 2020
(updated: Mar 20, 2023)
Lesson duration: 5 min

Typically, freelancers start their journey with a specific skill they’re ready to market, whether it’s writing, event planning, or even project management. That skill might be front and center but it’s only half of the story. To truly be successful, you also need to do a great job of managing yourself and staying organized.

That’s with successful project managers have come up with a general project management life cycle that every well-organized endeavor follows. It includes four phases that seem simple but those phases include critical steps that could make or break your project (or your relationship with your client). Let’s take a look at those four phases and what they involve.

Phase 1: Initiation

Initiation is the beginning stage of any undertaking. At this point, you determine your goals and objectives to determine what you want to accomplish, along with all major deliverables. You’ll also decide what it will take to accomplish those goals. That’s known as the scope of the project.

With those generalities in mind, your next step in creating a project is to determine the best way from point A to point B. What are your options for reaching those initial goals? Which of those options is most feasible or most likely to be successful?

Finally, it’s time to start assembling your project team members. This will depend on the business case, but it could involve freelancers among several specialties or perhaps you’re the lone team member.

Phase 2: Planning

In the planning phase, you tackle fine planning details. Overall, this phase has three jobs: identifying tasks, planning a schedule, and estimating costs. 

Zoom in on the large-scale goals of your project and break it down into incremental, manageable steps. Divide this into a task list for each team member.

Next, turn those task lists into schedules. One helpful tool is a Gantt chart, which lets you lay out which tasks each team member will be performing and when. This way, you can make sure everyone is on track for each deliverable’s deadline. It also helps when some team members have to complete specific tasks before other team members can tackle certain items on their to-do lists. 

Finally, it’s time to talk about money. Create detailed lists of all materials you’ll need for this project and those materials’ costs. Once your client approves those costs, start buying them so they’ll be ready when you need them.

Those might be the three primary needs within a planning phase, but for more thorough planning, risk management assessments are helpful too. Play the pessimist and consider all potential risks during your project and how to mitigate them. On top of this, set up a quality monitoring strategy to help keep every task in the project on track. 

Phase 3: Implementation

After all that planning, it’s time to get to work: it’s the execution phase or implementation phase. During this stage, all team members follow through with that planned Gantt chart or task list to knock out their individual responsibilities. 

Throughout your project execution, it’s your job to monitor and control it all, keeping tabs on everyone to make sure each task is accomplished on time. Be sure to keep in touch with your client or other stakeholders along the way too, keeping them up to date on your progress, especially if there are gaps between deliverables.

Phase 4: Closure

Finally, we’ve reached the last phase: project closure. This when you dot all your I’s and cross all your T’s, adding any last finishing touches and sending off your final deliverables. You’ll make any final adjustments the client has and then hand over your project documents. 

You aren’t done when you send off that finished file, though. Now it’s time to do a “lessons learned” assessment. Your team should walk through the project performance to identify what worked well, what problems you faced, and how you could have prevented or better managed those problems.

Seeing the Life Cycle in Action

Sometimes it’s difficult to translate general definitions and strategies into real-life endeavors. Have no fear. Let’s take on a sample project and go through the phases of the project based on how you’d tackle them in real life. For this example, let’s say we’re creating a new website for a client: a hair salon.

During the initiation phase, you’ll work with your client to determine what type of aesthetics they like and how they want their site to function. For example, maybe they want customers to book appointments as well as information about their services and an ecommerce component that lets them sell hair products. While in this phase, you’ll also assemble the full team: web developers, web designers, copywriters, search engine optimization experts, and anyone else you’ll need. 

Next, during the planning phase, you’ll create a full sitemap and then break down the entire site into specific tasks for each team member. Then, lay it all out on a Gantt chart to make the most of everyone’s time. For example, while the designer is creating mock-ups for your client’s review, your copywriter can start writing content as your SEO specialist is researching keywords.

When you hit the implementation stage, it’s time to get working. Everyone has their tasks outlined on their Gantt chart so they can hit the ground running. 

Finally, in the closure stage, you’ll demo the site for your client and make any final adjustments they need. You’ll test all the site’s features to make ure it all runs smoothly.

Following the Project Life Cycle

Every project has unique parameters. Still, these four phases help you make the most of each step, setting up your project for success from the get-go.

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