Friday, July 3, 2009

Project Phases and Project Life Cycles

All projects are divided into phases, and all projects, large or small, have a similar life cycle structure. At a minimum, a project will have a beginning or initiation phase, an intermediate phase or phases, and an ending phase. The number of phases depends on the project complexity and the industry. For example, information technology projects might progress through phases such as requirements, design, program, test, and implement. All the collective phases the project progresses through in concert are called the project life cycle.

The end of each phase allows the project manager, stakeholders, and project sponsor the opportunity to determine whether the project should continue to the next phase. In order to progress to the next phase, the deliverable from the phase before it must be reviewed for accuracy and approved. As each phase is completed, it’s handed off to the next phase. You’ll look at handoffs and progressions through these phases next.

Project phases evolve through the life cycle in a series of phase sequences called handoffs, or technical transfers. The end of one phase sequence typically marks the beginning of the next. However, the completion of one phase does not automatically signal the beginning of the next phase. For example, in the construction industry, feasibility studies often take place in the beginning phase of a project.

The purpose of the feasibility study is to determine whether the project is worth undertaking and whether the project will be profitable to the organization. A feasibility study is a preliminary assessment of the viability of the project; the viability or perhaps marketability of the product, service, or result of the project; and the project’s value to the organization. It might also determine whether the product, service, or result of the project is safe and meets industry or governmental standards and regulations. The completion and approval of the feasibility study triggers the beginning of the requirements phase, where requirements are documented and then handed off to the design phase, where blueprints are produced. The feasibility might also show that the project is not worth pursuing and the project is then terminated; thus, the next phase never begins.

Phase Completion
You will recognize phase completion because each phase has a specific deliverable, or multiple deliverables, that marks the end of the phase. A deliverable is an output that must be produced, reviewed, and approved to bring the phase or project to completion. Deliverables are tangible and can be measured and easily proved. For instance, a hypothetical deliverable produced in the beginning phase of a construction industry project would be the feasibility study.

Deliverables might also include things such as design documents, project budgets, blueprints, project schedules, prototypes, and so on. This analysis allows those involved with the opportunity to determine whether the project should continue to the next phase. The feasibility study might show that environmental impacts of an enormous nature would result if the construction project were undertaken at the proposed location. Based on this information, a go or no-go decision can be made at the end of this phase. The end of a phase gives the project manager the ability to discover, address, and take corrective action against errors discovered during the phase.

Sometimes phases are overlapped to shorten or compress the project schedule. This is called
fast tracking. Fast tracking means that a later phase is started prior to completing and approving the phase, or phases, that come before it. This technique is used to shorten the overall duration of the project.

Most projects follow phase sequences within a project life cycle and, as a result, have the following characteristics in common: In the beginning phase, which is where the project is initiated, costs are low, and few team members are assigned to the project. As the project progresses, costs and staffing increase and then taper off at the closing phase. The potential that the project will come to a successful ending is lowest at the beginning of the project; its chance for success increases as the project progresses through its phases and life cycle stages. Risk is highest at the beginning of the project and gradually decreases the closer the project comes to completion.

Stakeholders have the greatest chance of influencing the project and the characteristics of the product, service, or result of the project in the beginning phases and have less and less influence as the project progresses. This same phenomenon exists within the project management processes as well.

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