Managing a project is a sequence of steps that are called the project phases. This is not to say that there aren’t surprises and it certainly doesn’t mean there’s only one thing happening at a time. But there are identifiable project phases that are planned and executed. The project manager and sponsor must reach agreement on which phases are going to be used on each project and how much time and money will be invested in each phase. One size of project management does not fit all projects. As we discuss the project phases, we’ll talk about what phases you can do for two types of projects: a small project done within a department and a larger project done for a customer or client.
When we initiate a project, we begin the planning process. That’s where we identify what the project should produce. The project sponsor usually initiates the project with a document called a statement of work or SOW. That document gives the project manager information about what end result the sponsor wants from the project. Then the project manager will meet with the sponsor and talk about the deliverables the project has to produce. The major deliverable is the project scope and that’s the business result the project sponsor wants. Even on a small project, during the initiation phase the sponsor and the project manager will identify the major deliverables that will lead them from where they are now to the major deliverable, the project scope.
Let’s start the discussion with a small project example. All the work may be done within one department where the project manager works for the department manager who is the project sponsor and the boss of all the project team members. The sponsor will create the SOW and then work with the project manager to define the major deliverables. Then they might go straight to developing the project charter which is the final step of the initiation phase. The charter lays out the scope and deliverables, the resources required and the risks that have to be managed. It also gives rough estimates of the project’s budget and duration. That might be all that’s needed to initiate a small project.
On a larger project, one done for a client for example, there may be many more steps in the initiation phase. The organization in which the project is being performed may require a feasibility study to document the likelihood of success and the costs and resources required. Before granting initial project approval, the organization may require a formal business case which documents the return on investment, the cost/benefit analysis and the payback of the proposed project. The project manager might begin the process of identifying stakeholders and their requirements during initiation. They will use that information to analyze the project’s scope as well as the high-level risks. As the scale and importance of the project increases, the initiation phase changes to an effort that may require weeks of effort by a team of people. Even on a large project the initiation phase ends with the charter, just like the small project. The charter is going to be longer and contain a lot more data but it is the document that, when approved, authorizes the sponsor and project manager to begin detailed planning of the project.
Project Phases – Planning Steps: Management Plans, Schedules, Budgets and Risks
After the charter is approved by the sponsor or by the organization, the project planning phase begins. It includes two kinds of plans. The project manager prepares project management plans. These plans tell the team and the sponsor how they will manage the project scope, schedule, cost and budgets, procurement, risk, human resources, quality, stakeholders and change control.
On small projects, some of these management plans may only state, “We are not going to track costs and budgets on this project because the costs are included in the department budget.” That is a totally adequate small project management plan for costs. The management plans specify what specific techniques we will use to manage each of the above areas, who will be accountable for the management and control process and how much resource we will use. The reason this approach is a best practice is because when we start executing the project plan, all the decisions have been made and we can focus on executing as efficiently as possible. The overall project management plan includes specific plans like the project schedule and also the project management plans for schedule which tells us how were going to manage the schedule. The project planning phase tells everyone what they are supposed to do, how they are supposed to do it and when we will begin to execute the plan.
Project Phases – Executing the Plan Steps
The executing phase of a project is where all the work gets done, all the money gets spent and all the tasks get completed to produce the deliverables. If the project manager has done his or her job correctly, it is a fairly straightforward process because people follow the plans and execute them. The risks that the project faces have been mitigated or avoided and other problems have been corrected as they occurred. The executing phase should be boring.
Project Phases – Monitoring, Controlling and Managing Change Request Steps
The monitoring phase of the project happens at the same time as the executing phase. Every week the project manager compares what the project team produced versus what was planned. Any differences between the plan and actual results are variances. The project manager reports the variances between plan and actual in a weekly status report to the project sponsor. In that report, the project manager details what is happening on the project and provides a sponsor with forecasts of when the project will be finished and what the actual costs will be. If things are not going according to plan, the project manager will also prepare plans to fix the problems and bring the project back into alignment with its plan. Hopefully the sponsor approves these corrective actions and the project manager implements them. The goal is to deliver what was planned; no more and no less.
Controlling the project is the second half of this phase or project step. The project manager is handling requests for changes to the promised deliverables and the project plan. The purpose of change control is not to prevent all changes. The project manager must carefully analyze every change request and its impact on the project budget, duration, risk, quality and resources. The project manager analyzes every requested change and quantifies the impact on the project budget and duration. They should make a specific recommendation for every change request and then forward it to the sponsor. The project manager wants to get the sponsor’s approval of the budget and time required to complete the project including the requested changes. When this process is not in place, the project suffers from scope creep. That’s where the deliverables expand and change over time without any adjustment in the project budget or duration. Scope creep causes significant variances to the plan because of changes to the scope and deliverables. It is a major source of project failure.
Project Phases – Closing Steps
When the last deliverable is produced and accepted by the project sponsor and stakeholders, the final step is project closeout. The project manager makes sure all the vendors are paid and all deliverables are formally accepted by the appropriate stakeholders. But the primary purpose of closeout is to make future projects more successful. As part of the closing routine, the project manager conducts a lessons learned meeting with the sponsor, stakeholders and team members. They discuss what went well and what did not as well as how problems should be handled differently next time. The project manager archives those lessons learned meeting notes so that project managers who start a similar project have the benefit of the lessons that were learned from the current project. The archive for a completed project should include the management plans that were developed for the project as well as the schedule, budget, change requests, plus the estimated and the actual costs and hours worth of work. This latter data makes the estimating of a new project much much easier. With all that work completed, the project manager is ready for a new assignment.