This post focuses on traditional projects, which are the most common and usually project phases are shown as such.
It is easy to confuse phase with stage, but while the former is related to the steps to be taken during the execution of the project, and thus it applies to the project life cycle; phases are more a project management concept related to the different stages through which the project passes.
Common project phases
Thus, if we consider a project managed according to the traditional approach, we will have the phases of initialization, planning, execution, control and follow-up, and closure. These are normally shown as follows:
- Initialization. This phase corresponds to the initial definition of the project and its approval for execution.
- Planning. As its name indicates, this is the phase where the different management plans are developed (chronogram, list of tasks and deliverables, resource plans, risk management plans, etc.).
- Monitoring and control. Although shown in sequence, this phase is usually superimposed on the execution phase. In this phase, the executed tasks are controlled, compared with the planning (baselines), and countermeasures are defined and applied in case of deviations.
- Execution. During execution is when the planned tasks are actually carried out in order to complete the deliverables.
- Closure. In this phase it is certified that the deliverables have been achieved, or that they can no longer be achieved, which results in the end of the project or stage. This formal completion leads to the release of resources and feedback of the project management process with lessons learned.
Order of the project phases
The theory says that the phases are in sequence, what is also logic, but in practice you will see them a little differently.
On the one hand, their order is not so sequential, which means that you do not fully complete one phase to start the next one; rather, they overlap, resulting in the next chart:
This doesn’t mean that the project is compressed, but that in reality the phases run slightly in parallel. This is because some aspects within the phases are usually developed progressively, as there is information to do so. And this information usually comes from the start of the next phase.
For example; in the initialization phase is where the project must be defined and its feasibility analyzed, which sometimes requires a more detailed view of the planning, or start defining the product (the typical conceptual project in many sectors) to see if what you want to do is feasible or not. Therefore, it is possible that planning and execution can start earlier by supporting initialization.
Planning is usually done progressively, since it can be developed in more detail as more information about the project becomes available. Additionally, changes and deviations will force you to adjust the planning during execution.
Monitoring and control are almost overlapping. Obviously, you control and monitor what is being executed, so these phases are almost overlapping. Without anything to control, there is no control.
On the other hand, it is very common for these phases to be developed more or less formally within each stage of the project.
A stage can be defined as a set of tasks that generate a result with its own meaning. Therefore, each stage has a beginning, an execution, and an end, usually coupled with a delivery (formal or not); which allows each stage to be treated similarly to a project.
Advantages of overlapping project phases
And how do these two aspects affect the practical management of a project, and is there any advantage in adopting this way of working?
Working with project phases allows you to focus your efforts on the stage you are working on, since you will have more short-term objectives and therefore easier to manage. On the other hand, the team to manage is reduced, since only those who have a task in the stage will work.
Progressive quality checks
Taking advantage of the stage beginnings and ends, you can make a quality control of the project, since these are deliverables that often pass from one work team to the next, so the people who receive them can help you to tell if the deliverable is correct or not.
Dividing the project in phases facilitates planning and estimation tasks, since they can be done progressively. Initially you can start with general estimates or planning, and as you progress in the project you can develop in more detail those that affect the next stage, taking advantage of the greater information available.
Easier risk management
From the two previous points it is clear that you can better manage risks, since on the one hand the greater control allows you to reduce the risk of making mistakes or solving them in early stages of the project; and on the other hand, planning with more information is more reliable and accurate.
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