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The Project Lifecycle is the set of phases that a project goes through – it is a high-level outline of the project activities.
When to use
An understanding of the lifecycle is beneficial during the planning phase of the project to set expectations on project planning detail. Project lifecycle is also used to structure the project execution phases.
All projects go through a project lifecycle. There are four categories of lifecyles. Although a project normally remains in one category throughout the life of the project, it can change categories based upon business and organizational constraints and initiatives.
If the project is well-defined, conducting familiar types of effort, and using a stable resource pool; the project can use a predictive lifecycle that allows the entire project to be planned in detail at the beginning of the project. Each phase and the activities within that phase are understood and therefore can be “predicted.” The predictive lifecycle is driven by the project plan.
The iterative project is performed as a series of miniprojects that are often similar in nature. Each iteration follows a similar pattern. It is either duplicating the same project activities in a new location or time period. Or it is following a standard approach for discovery. The results of one iteration are often the starting point for the next iteration. The iterative lifecycle is driven by the discovery, or lack thereof, of new information from the previous iteration.
The incremental project is one whose performance grows over time. A stretch goal is set at the beginning of the project and the work is done in phases, with an assessment being made at the end of each phase to determine how much progress has been made towards the goal. The number of increments that are needed are not known at the beginning of the project. In addition, the nature of the work in later increments will depend upon the results of the previous increment. The incremental lifecycle is driven by performance growth.
If the project is uncertain or unstable; an adaptive lifecycle is more appropriate. In an adaptive lifecycle, the instability and uncertainty prevents the project team from planning the project in detail at the beginning of the project. In this case, the team must plan portions of the project one phase or element at a time, “adapting” the plan to the current situation. An adaptive lifecycle requires a high degree of stakeholder interaction due to the continuous changes that occur in the project.
Hints & tips
- Most organizations have created a procedure or template for categories of projects that outline the project lifecycle and phase exit criteria.
- The phase entry and exit points are typically reviewed with the stakeholders to demonstrate progress and obtain stakeholder buy-in.
- Ideally, lifecylce phases represent completing and retiring a major amount of project risk.
- Project Lifecycle Definition: “The series of phases that a project passes through from its start to its completion.” PMBOK® Guide
This definition is taken from the Glossary of the Project Management Institute, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2017.
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PMI, PMP and PMBOK are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.