5 Phases of the Project Management Life Cycle

Project Management

by Kate Rodriguez, 11 January 2023

Planning and executing a project requires an understanding of the project management life cycle. As a project manager, you need to follow a clear progression of steps so your project team members can create the deliverables that stakeholders expect.  

What are the 5 stages of a project life cycle? The initiation phase, planning phase, execution phase, controlling phase, and closing phase. Your adherence to these stages can guide your next project plan. 

What is the project management life cycle?

First, let’s define project management. This term refers to establishing and following an approach to completing a project. It’s about intentionally strategizing how you execute a project before, during, and after people work on it. 

That’s why different project management methods exist, such as Agile, Waterfall, and Scrum. Pick the technique that works best for your company and create a new product or service for your business.

What all project management approaches have in common are 5 fundamental phases that lay the foundation for every project. The Project Management Institute (PMI) calls these phases the project management life cycle. This framework helps you run the operation smoothly and effectively from start to finish.

The seven steps of project management are:

  • Defining the project

  • Creating an action plan

  • Budgeting and scheduling

  • Allocating resources

  • Empowering your team

  • Holding meetings

  • Taking post-completion appraisal

There are actually multiple types of project life cycles. Four different types of project life cycle models are predictive, iterative, incremental, and adaptive. The predictive model follows the PMI’s 5-stage project management life cycle, which is what we’ll cover here.

Phases of the Project Life Cycle

The steps in the project life cycle can occur in sequential order, overlap or run concurrently. Regardless of your project management methodology, make sure your address these interrelated factors to achieve a successful project.

Project Initiation

You must establish the basics of your situation before you do any actual planning. That’s why the first phase is initiation. All projects begin with this step.

Initiation is essentially pre-planning. It’s the period when you conceptualize what you want to achieve. To do this effectively, you need to perform a high-level assessment of the theoretical project and your circumstances. 

The project manager should research the state of the company and gather data to shape the project strategy. Key information includes: 

  • Project objectives

  • Company goals and vision

  • Stakeholder requirements

  • Client expectations

  • Target deliverables

  • Benefits and risks

  • Existing and needed resources

  • Anticipated budget, dependencies, and timeframe

Depending on the size of the entire project, you may be able to perform the project initiation phase within a single meeting. Or, it may take multiple weeks to gather metrics. 

Everyone involved should be able to voice their concerns, suggestions, and expectations before moving forward. You need buy-in from all project stakeholders before you move on to the next stage. Expect problems ahead if anyone doesn’t approve of your assessment or project goals.

At this time, you’re answering the what and why, not the how. A more precise vision for the project will help you plan more effectively in the next life cycle phase. 


  • A business case, which justifies the potential value and risks of undertaking the project. 

  • A project charter, which defines the project scope, feasibility, constraints, and benefits. 

  • A separate feasibility study if the project is large enough to be a major risk

Project Planning

Once you begin this second phase, you’ll dig into the nitty gritty. The planning phase is when your project team decides on specific techniques to accomplish your goals.

Begin by taking the overarching objectives you defined in the initiation phase and dig deeper. Iron out finer details like:

  • Individual responsibilities

  • Theorize solutions for potential risks

  • Make a resource plan for procurement 

  • Create a project schedule

  • Establish milestones and benchmarks

  • Form a communication plan

  • Build a change management procedure

The project planning phase should result in a guide for everyone to follow as they work on the project. Perform risk management and mitigation as you establish the project timeline and distribute responsibilities. 

This second life cycle phase is when you create the Project Management Plan, a document that defines how the project will be executed, monitored, and evaluated. The difference between a project plan and a project life cycle is this: A project plan is the actual document that defines how the project will be executed. It’s created during the second stage of the life cycle, the planning phase.

You may want to use project management software to keep track of active tasks, duties, statuses, and changes. A Gantt chart can also help you visualize your schedule in a simple, cohesive way. You can find templates for this and other planning documents like a work breakdown structure. 


  • A project plan, which is a guide for completing the project and includes the schedule, workflow, and milestones.

  • A kickoff meeting, when you’ll touch base with your project team 

Project Execution

It’s time to get down to business! The third phase of the project management process involves executing your plan. During the project execution phase, your team follows your course of action as defined in the project roadmap.

How you operate during this stage largely depends on your chosen project management methodology, but it will include: 

  • Deliverable testing and approval

  • Client management

  • Additional team training as needed

  • Resource allocation

  • Keeping stakeholders briefed

Project team members will fulfill their duties as prescribed in the project plan. By implementing your original strategy, your crew should gradually get closer achieving the objectives. Help your team accomplish tasks through effective resource management. Meet on a regular basis and solve problems as they arise. 

This execution phase will take the most time during the project life cycle. It may take months or years to conclude this stage. You can save a lot of time and money if you thoroughly performed the planning steps beforehand. It will be easier to complete tasks, stay underbudget, and meet deadlines. 

This is the stage in which your project will fail or succeed. You’ll either bring the blueprint to life by creating a functioning deliverable or need to return to the drawing board.


  • A functioning, approved deliverable that satisfies the requirements established in the initiation phase 

Project Monitoring and Controlling

For most project teams, this phase occurs concurrently with the previous phase. During the project monitoring phase, the project manager assesses the project’s progress and ensures workers are meeting benchmarks. Many project management methodologies are structured for constant streamlining.

Oversee and take corrective action when needed regarding: 

  • Budget spending and costs

  • Key task completion

  • User feedback

  • Project scope adjustments

  • Overcoming roadblocks

You’re observing overall advancement through the completion of individual tasks. If needed, you can appoint someone to head up quality control. They’ll measure the state of project deliverables to ensure they align with the Project Management Plan.

Is the product resembling what you envisioned, or do you need to course-correct? If you need to adjust, make sure you follow the project change management process. Be a proactive project manager by taking action to mitigate problems and minimize their impact. Monitor project progress and intervene when needed.

Project Closing

You’ve reached the final stage of the project life cycle: project completion. During this final phase, you’ll determine if you’ve achieved a successful project and will perform a post-mortem assessment to improve your work on future projects.

The closure phase goes beyond merely finishing the project. Project closure should involve a thorough wrap-up and reflection of the entire process. Tie up all loose ends, including: 

  • Launching the deliverables

  • Establishing a process for making product updates or patches

  • Hold a post-mortem meeting

  • Archiving all project documentation

  • Transitioning team members to their new duties

  • Recognizing team members’ efforts

  • Reporting final expenditures to stakeholders

  • Returning borrowed resources

Hold performance reviews to discuss contributors’ strengths and weaknesses. Recognize individual efforts and celebrate your accomplishments as a team. Remember that this feat wouldn’t have been possible without your all-star contributors!


  • Comprehensive documentation of the entire project that can be accessed by stakeholders and future managers

  • A list of takeaways based upon reflection, including process points to improve upon or maintain for future projects. 

Help Finding Freelance Project Managers

You don’t have to become an expert on the project management life cycle before your company’s next undertaking; you can just hire someone who already is! 

MVP Match can connect you with a freelance project manager to guide your team’s mission from beginning to end. Or you can hire an entire freelance project team to do all the work for you. Contact us for a quick business consultation.

Are you already a skilled project manager? Lend other companies your skills by becoming a member of the MVP Match freelance network.

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