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5 stages of the project management process

A few weeks ago, we took a big step back and talked about the basics of project management – what it is, how it works, and the role of the project manager. To expand on my last post, I’m going to take some time this week to discuss the five stages of the project management process.

According to PMI, project management can roughly be defined as “the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to a broad range of activities in order to meet the requirements of a particular project.” I would add that project management should also be a repeatable and predictable process – or as close to it as possible – that you can use for each project in your organization.

To achieve this, it’s important to have a clear and written project management process that covers these five stages of the project life cycle:

  1. Project initiation
  2. Project planning
  3. Project execution
  4. Project monitoring
  5. Project closure

In this post, I’ll expand on each of these five stages to show you how, together, they can be used to create a coherent and repeatable project management process.


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Stages of the project management process

Before we go further, I should note that this process is designed to be a general roadmap for project management. You’re encouraged to adapt and modify your project management process to meet your company’s needs and goals.

1. Project initiation

The first stage of your project management process is also one of the most critical. In this stage, the project manager and the key stakeholders must take an honest look at the proposed project to determine its value, feasibility and benefit to the company. This is the stage in which you pitch the business case for your project, and clearly identify why you’re doing it in the first place.

Some key project parameters to hash out in Stage 1 of the project management process include:

  • The project’s “why”
  • Research into the feasibility of the project
  • Project goals, timeline, costs, resources, etc.
  • Cost-benefit analysis
  • Project brief – who, what, why, how and how much

Putting the legwork into clearly and accurately presenting each of these key project parameters will give you the ammo you need to get final approval from decision makers at your company.

This phase of the project management process also offers incredibly value background information for your team. They will know exactly what the goals are and why they’re working on the project from the beginning, which in turn contributes to better team engagement and a sense of ownership over the project.

2. Project planning

Stage 2 of the project management process is where the rubber hits the road in terms of building out your project plan, assigning resources, committing to your timeline and building your team. Project managers should carefully – and in collaboration with their team and key stakeholders – lay out every detail of the project plan, from beginning to end. This plan will drive the project execution in its entirety.

While this phase will likely vary depending on the size of the business and the company, some key deliverables to consider in Stage 2 include:

  • The project charter, which includes the scope of work, time-effort estimates and Work Breakdown structure, team roles and responsibilities, project milestones, approval process and communications plan.
  • Success metrics, which clearly outline what a successful project looks like. Choose KPIs that make sense for your project, and establish goals that your team can work towards.
  • Risk management plan, which outlines all – or as many as possible – of the risk factors that could derail or delay your project. Identify the risk, provide details about what the risk is, and provide a contingency plan for what to do if that risk happens.
  • Decision makers should be identified early and kept in the loop for the duration of the project. Get their buy in to the plan early so that you can receive prompt sign off on the project deliverables once you’re complete.

The project planning phase is one of the most important parts of the project management process because this is where you outline the entirety of what can and will be completed during the project, and what success looks like. Projects that become derailed or experience significant scope creep often suffer from a lack of solid planning in Stage 2.

3. Project execution

This stage of the project management process is when the actual work is done. This is when you take your plan outlined in the project charter and put it into action – tasks are assigned to each team member and the fun begins.

Because project managers at this stage will be relying on the expertise of their team members to get execute the plan, their role is typically to guide the group through each milestone. Think of the project manager has the rudder of the ship, while team members act as the sails, pushing the project forward.

It’s critical that the team sticks to the plan at this stage of the project management process, as this is when scope creep and all of those risk factors from Stage 2 can start to enter into the equation. The project manager is responsible for following project variables:

  • Budget – is the planned budget still sufficient to finish the project?
  • Timelines – is the team meeting their deadlines in order to stick to the planned timeline?
  • Resources – do we have enough resources to complete the project as planned?
  • Risks – have any of the identified risks occurred? How did we handle them? Has it affected the project timeline?
  • Internal reviews and communications – how are the team doing? Is everyone confident that the project is going according to plan?
  • Meetings – staging regular meetings to address concerns, share updates and maintain engagement.

The great thing about this phase of the project management process – apart from this being when all the action occurs – is that the project manager gets to see their well thought out plan unfold. If the PM did their due diligence in Stages 1 and 2, then Stage 3 should be smooth sailing.

4. Project monitoring

Stage 4 of the project management process will typically be executed in conjunction with Stage 3. This relates to the actual monitoring and reporting of KPIs, budgets, resources and timelines associated with the project, and communicating them to the stakeholders.

Project managers can use a wide variety of tools to accurately monitor their project variables. MindManager, for example, allows PMs and their teams to track task completion, task dependencies and resource allocation in one single dashboard. The Gantt and Kanban views in MindManager are also a great way to visualize your overall project timeline and the critical path to success.

The exact project metrics that relate to a given project will naturally determine which tools are most suitable for Stage 4 of the project management process.

5. Project closure

Once you’ve gotten through Stages 3 and 4 of the project management process (i.e. executing your plan and completing the project) it’s now time to close out the project. This includes closing out tasks in your PM platforms, handing off project deliverables to the stakeholders, finalizing your KPI reporting and holding a debriefing session with your team.

The debrief at the end of each project is often skipped, but can be one of the most valuable exercises in the entire project management process. Having a casual and honest conversation with your team about what worked, what didn’t work and what could be done better is valuable intel to help guide your PM process in the future.

Once all the final administrative work is done, and the project is officially closed out, don’t forget to celebrate with your team! Congratulations – you’ve now completed one full life cycle of the project management process.

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