Stages of project management

You have a project to manage. Congratulations! The roller coaster is about to begin!

The good news is that project management consists of a series of simple steps and principles.

The fundamentals of project management are:

  • Organize.
  • Help others get organized.
  • Try to avoid problems before they hinder your ability to do your job.

Well, now you know that project management is neither large nor frightening, let’s see what you can do to make your project go smoothly.

What are the 5 stages of project management?

There are 5 key steps to manage a project. You’ll also hear that they’re known as the project lifecycle. Are:

  • Initiation
  • Planning
  • Execution
  • Monitor and control
  • Closing.
“But what do those terms really mean?”

I’m glad you asked me that question. Let’s go there…

INITIATION (Determines where you’re going)

The project initiation stage is where you see what you’re supposed to do and find out what everything will look like once you’re done. In other words, set your goal so you know where you’re headed.

If you don’t do this, you’ll end up randomly wandering through an indeterminate area of project and you’ll never know if you’re done or not, because you never defined what it would look like “once finished”.

“Would you please tell me which way should I go from here?”

“That will depend on where you want to go,” the Cat said.

“I don’t care much where…” Alice said.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go, ” said the Cat.

“As long as I get to SOME PART,” Alicia added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’ll be sure to get somewhere, ” said the Cat, “if you walk a little.”

The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, (Lewis Carroll)

Don’t be like Alice. Use the initiation phase to find out where you’re going to make it easier for you to get there.

Activities of the initiation phase
  • Be clear about what the project really entails. What are you asked to do? For whom? This person is your project sponsor. Read more about project sponsors.
  • Write down project goals and goals so everyone understands what’s required.
  • Get the commitment of the people needed to do the job: talk to your line managers and remember what your role will be in the team. Use a RACI or RASCI chart (usually the same) to help.
  • Get a commitment to the budget required to do the job: talk to your project sponsor
Tools and documents for this step.

PLANNING (How are we going to do this?)

Now that you know where you’re going… How are you going to get there?. Well, here’s what you do at the planning stage.

There are a number of approaches to consider for planning and all involve working as a team. As good as you are knowing your organization, you can’t know everything. Engage experts in each subject— it will save you a lot of time later. You must also create goodwill and team spirit from the beginning (motivation).

Start with your goal. Divide it into smaller and smaller parts until you’re done with action items. Combine that with some ideas and mind maps to help discover additional tasks and you’ll soon finish with a complete list of to-dos.

However, a to-do list alone is not enough. You will also need:

  • Put the tasks in a reasonable order. “You can’t place the windows in a building without having the foundations and walls already built.” Sorting tasks will help you calculate dependencies between them.
  • Estimate the effort required. So far you only have one to-do list. Some tasks will take an hour. Others may take a week. Calculate how long each task will take, given the resources you have.
  • Cost of work: Projects cost money. The amount of money you need depends on what you’re doing. Take your big to-do list and calculate what budget you need for all of them.
  • Gather all this task information to create a project schedule. That’s a holistic view of what work needs to be done when and by whom.

Tip: Your action items should be tasks that take a week or less to be delivered.

At this point, it’s also a good idea to think about what might prevent you from delivering your plan. The things that can make it harder for the target are called risks.

For example, if you’re throwing a charity party in a garden, there’s a risk that it’ll rain during the day. You can plan and manage risk by suggesting how to make the impact not so bad if it happens. You can decide to cancel the garden party 24 hours in advance, hire a marquee to have some interior space in case of rain, ask all attendees to come with an umbrella when they arrive, etc. As a team, you’ll have to choose the best way to address a situation before it happens.

Use the steps below as a checklist for the project planning phase.

Activities of the planning phase
  • Make a great to-do list with your computer.
  • Put tasks in a logical order.
  • Make everyone agree on how long they think they’ll take their goals.
  • Create a timeline (this could be a Gantt chart or any other way to display dates and tasks over time, but make sure it’s something you can easily update).
Tools and documents for this step.

EXECUTION (Performing the work)

Ready to do the job? By now, you should be.

Now you have a clear, step-by-step list of what to do and when it should be done.

The execution phase of the project simply means doing the work.

Activities of the implementation phase.
  • Helping the team do “their best work”: removes obstacles.
  • Do your own job too.

MONITORING AND CONTROL (Keeping everything in progress)

You “monitor and control” while doing the work.

While your team is busy doing the work, you are busy tracking what the team is doing, helping to solve problems.

Project monitoring techniques include:

  • Have conversations with people on your team about how their work is going.
  • Have regular team meetings to assess progress.
  • Learn from what happened earlier in the project and use that experience to make changes or predict behavior around what comes next.
  • Use software to help track what’s on the target and what’s not based on the timesheet data people entered.

Basically, monitoring and evaluating the project means observing what’s happening and using your professional judgment to decide if you’re satisfied with it.

And if you’re not happy, you must act to do something differently.

Monitoring and Control Phase Activities
  • Review progress against your plan at least weekly.
  • Take all necessary steps to keep the plan as close as possible.
  • Talk to your sponsor if things go wrong and you can’t fix them yourself.
  • Write regular project status reports.
  • Track changes made so you have a record of why they occurred and what the impact was.
  • Deal with any problems as they arise.
Tools and documents for this step.
  • “Project Workbook” and “Budget Tracking”
  • Project execution plan template.


Closing your project effectively is important if you want to be able to get away from it. In some cases, you may not have to go away if you have completed something you will use and manage in the future. But for most project managers, once a project is delivered, they go on to deliver something else.

For that to happen, you need to be able to get away.

The closing phase of the project is the last part of the project. Make sure you’ve tied up all the loose ends and that the people who are going to use what you’ve delivered know what to do with it. We call on the people who receive the final result of the project “operational team”.

For example, if you created a new software application, the project team would be:

  • Writing a user guide and other supporting documentation for the Marketing team.
  • Make sure that the IT people who manage the new app in the future know how it was created and what it’s done.
  • Provide the operating computer with a guide to system administration features so that they know how to configure the application.
  • Train IT Support to address common user inquiries about how to use the application.

Use the following action steps as a project closing checklist.

Activities of the project closure phase
  • Get approval from the sponsor who agrees that the project is closed.
  • Deliver the project to the people who will use it in the future.
  • Have a final meeting of lessons learned or a retrospective in which you discuss what worked and what didn’t work, so you can do the next project better.
  • Celebrate the team’s success (read 15 ways to celebrate success for ideas on how to do this).
Tools and documents for this step.

And that’s it. You’ve reached the end of the project. Well done!

There’s a lot to assimilate, I know. But once you start, I promise you that everything will start to make sense and help you feel more organized and in control.

Ultimately, what you’re trying to do is complete a job and not get too stressed while keeping your management team happy. If you manage to do that, you’ve done well!

Stages of project management
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