Project management

Five stages of project management


The project management process is usually broken down into separate phases that take the project from the beginning to the end. These stages include:

  • initiation
  • planning
  • execution
  • monitoring and control
  • closure

These phases often overlap with the project life cycle. They can help you determine the right flow and sequence of operations to bring your project to a conclusion. Our project management checklist can further help you segment the tasks for each of the project phases.

1. Project initiation

Initiation is the formal start of a project. It usually begins with the issue of a project mandate which briefly describes the purpose of the project and authorises budget spend.

At this stage, you should define the project at a broad level. This often begins with:

  • a business case - justifying the need for the project and estimating potential benefits
  • a feasibility study - evaluating the problem and determining if the project will solve it

If you decide to undertake the project, you should then create a project initiation document (PID). This is the foundation of your project and a critical reference point for the next stages. Key components of your PID should be:

  • your business case
  • project goals, scope and size
  • project organisation (defining the 'who, why, what, when and how' of the project)
  • project constraints
  • project risks
  • stakeholders
  • project controls and reporting framework
  • the criteria for closing and assessing the project

Download a sample project initiation document (DOC, 44K).

2. Project definition and planning

Project planning is key to successful project management. This stage typically begins with setting goals. The two most common approaches include:

  • the SMART method (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely)
  • the CLEAR method (collaborative, limited, emotional, appreciable, refinable)

At this stage, you will also define the project scope, and develop a project plan and work breakdown schedule. This involves identifying:

  • time, cost and resources that are at your disposal
  • roles and responsibilities for the project
  • quality
  • milestones
  • baseline performance measures
  • progress checkpoints
  • risk and resources for resolving unforeseen issues

During this stage, you may also want to develop a communication plan (especially if you have external stakeholders), as well as a risk management plan.

Download an example of a project plan for a premises move (DOC, 191K).

3. Project launch and implementation

Implementation (also called project execution) simply means putting your project plan into action. It often begins with a project 'kick-off meeting'.

During this phase, you will carry out the tasks and activities from your project plan to produce the project deliverables. For example, if you are creating a promotional pack for a trade show, early deliverables might be to gather product information and prices, and complete all of your product photography and get it signed off by the customer.

Project managers may direct this work by:

  • overseeing a team
  • managing budget and resources
  • communicating to stakeholders

Careful monitoring and control at this stage can help you keep the project plan on track. You can use a range of tools and processes to help you manage things like time, cost, quality and risks, or to communicate progress and manage customer acceptance.

4. Project monitoring and control

Monitoring and control often overlap with execution as they often occur at the same time. They require measuring project progression and performance, and dealing with any issues that arise from day-to-day work.

You can use key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine if your project is on track. Things you could measure include, for example:

  • if your project is on schedule and budget
  • if specific tasks are being completed
  • if issues are adequately addressed

During this time, you may need to adjust schedules and resources to ensure that your project remains on track. See how to measure performance and set targets.

5. Project close

During this last phase, you will complete your work and dissolve the project. Closure doesn't necessarily mean success, but simply the final point of the project - eg closure can happen when you cancel projects that fail.

Project closure often involves things like:

  • handing over the deliverables
  • releasing staff and resources
  • archiving or handing over any relevant project documents
  • cancelling supplier contracts
  • completion of all activities across the project
  • preparing the final project budget and report
  • handover into business as usual if this applies

After closure, you can carry out a post-implementation project review (sometimes referred to as a 'post mortem' meeting). This is an opportunity to evaluate what went well and what didn't. Understanding failures, if there were any, can help you learn lessons and improve the way you carry out future projects.

See also project management templates and tools.