What Are Projects In Project Management – Life cycle, Characteristics, Examples & More

Projects are temporary, no matter how many years they last. This is because projects exist to solve particular problems and achieve specific goals efficiently. 

As Joseph M. Juran rightly put it, “A project is a problem scheduled for solution.”

The size of the project is thus determined by the nature of the problem it is intended to solve. That said, the benefits of project management in organizations go beyond merely keeping within the project’s allocated resources, including timelines, cost, deliverables, and scope. So, the difference is in the value and efficiency that project management delivers.

The project manager is in complete control of the project and also keeps all stakeholders on the same page. This accords project teams the opportunity to collaborate on tasks and own the project’s vision and align with it in the course of executing their duties. 

How Does Project Management Help?

The importance of project management cuts across different businesses and industries. While they can achieve the goals and objectives in any setting, they are better and more efficiently completed within a project management structure. Initially, project management was reserved for special projects, for instance, delivering new or innovative products or initiating a digital transformation.

Today, more organizations, especially the large ones, adopt project management for the more routine operational tasks to accomplish them more efficiently and deliver higher value. 

Project management involves proper planning, execution, and monitoring. It helps in increasing the chances of achieving optimal results for pre-set objectives. It also enables project managers and other stakeholders to analyze the importance of any particular project for an organization and utilize business resources appropriately.

In essence, project management helps set the scope, budget, and process of a project accurately. 

What Are Projects In Project Management - Life cycle, Characteristics, Examples & More 1

Characteristics of a Project

What qualifies an undertaking to be a project? 

You may have already worked on a project without realizing it.

Here are the seven characteristics that define a project.

Projects are bound by time

As we have already seen, projects are temporary in nature. It means that all projects have defined start and end times within which the project concept is birthed, planned, executed, and delivered.

Once project objectives have been met, the project comes to a close. In addition to the time resource, projects are also bound within scope, quality, and cost constraints. Project goals are thus formulated within the available resources.

A few times, however, projects have been terminated before their planned end-time or before their goals have been achieved. This often happens when it becomes clear that the project is no longer viable.

Projects are purposeful

The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as a pool of human and non-human resources in a temporary undertaking to achieve a specific purpose.

Projects are initiated to accomplish specific objectives against the available resources. Also, after the project’s purpose has been achieved, it will bring a project to a close. The insights that have been drawn from it are documented for reference.

As the project progresses through the predefined phases, monitoring and evaluation are done to ensure that the project’s cause for existence and objectives are fulfilled accordingly. 

Projects progress through a life cycle to accomplish goals

The project life cycle represents the different phases that a project goes through from start to completion. So, all projects typically go through four stages which are:

  • Initiation
  • Planning
  • Implementation
  • Closure

Just as projects are limited to available resources, different phases in a project should have resources allocated to them in advance. A project’s requirements may change, which is bound to impact the resources allocated to it.

For this reason, project managers ought to ensure that the project is practically flexible to accommodate changes and still remain viable.

In addition, each project phase has part of the resources exclusively allocated to it to enable effective monitoring and evaluation.  

Projects are unique

By PMBOK Guide standards, projects are temporary and undertaken to create a unique project service or result. Projects are unique in purpose, goals, location, structure, resources, activities, and other project variables to make each project different from the others.

Projects are channels used to venture into the unfamiliar

Every project has a level of risk and uncertainty. Not much is known about the outcome of activities through the project life cycle until they are actually executed. Hence, projects are usually based on projections of results. However, the level of risk differs from one task to another.

This will depend on how well the project is planned and steered through the project life cycle phases, resources available, and also the toolset adopted to execute the project, among other factors. 

Projects require cross-departmental collaboration

Projects require teams or individuals with different skills, roles, and responsibilities in various departments to collaborate to achieve a common purpose or solution.

So, collaboration presents immense benefits in project management as it pools together valuable ideas, skills, and expertise needed to deliver value.

A project is a single entity

Even though a single project will bring together diverse skills, functions, roles, participants, and even disciplines, it remains a single entity. This is because all these components unite towards achieving the project goals.

How to Differentiate Between a Project and Operations?

Many undertakings that often pass off as projects are more often not projects but operations. This is because they do not possess the qualities listed above.

As illustrated in the table below, operations are usually ongoing undertakings without finite timescale and are not unique owing to their routine nature.

ProjectsOperations
TemporaryPermanent (ongoing)
Delivers unique output (Product or service)Provides the same result continuously
Innovative in natureRepetitive in nature
It exists before a productIt exists after a product
TransformationalEnhances the performance of regular practice

Project Boundaries Explained

A project boundary is a definition of the limits and exclusions of the project work. Project boundaries are also listed as project boundaries identification in the scope statement.

Boundaries are essential for the project as they will state the things applicable to the project and those out of the project’s limits. This also helps the project manager to determine the content of project activities.

Factors to be considered when identifying project boundaries include:

  • Project goals and objectives
  • Project/product scope
  • Project phases
  • Project resources

The Nature of a Project

The nature of a project is optimistic. Any project manager hopes that they will accomplish the goals set out for a project, and also the output results in the betterment of a firm/individual. Projects vary by size, industry, objectives, organization, and production.

However, the nature of every project, large or small, is to pass through a pre-planned life cycle right from initiation to its completion.

The Project Life Cycle

A project process is divided into five main phases, collectively known as the project life cycle. Given the amount of work that goes into planning an entire project, moreover, breaking the project into steps for effective execution and monitoring is more practical.

The project life cycle provides a framework within which the project activities and also resources are organized into a logical execution sequence for optimal utilization of resources and ultimately the best outcome. 

Each project phase is goal-oriented and will include:

  • A list of activities that need to be accomplished during the phase
  • Details of team members and their roles
  • Project deliverables
  • Resources allocated to the specific phase of the project
  • Performance monitoring guidelines
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Phases of the Project Management Life Cycle

Here is a breakdown of the phases of a project life cycle.

Project Initiation Phase

The project initiation phase marks the onset of projects. Typically, a project will be initiated in response to an opportunity that needs to be explored and also a problem to be solved. By then, they should have conducted a cost-benefit analysis. 

The cost-benefit analysis includes conducting a feasibility study, defining the project scope, establishing the project deliverables, and the stakeholders involved to build a business case.

In this phase, the project charter becomes the most critical document as it outlines:

  • The vision and mission of the business
  • Goals of the project and the value it will deliver to the business
  • A list of all the stakeholders involved in the project
  • Project deliverables
  • Project scope and budget
  • Anticipated risks

Once all these details have been verified and the project approved, the project officially kicks off, project teams assemble, and planning begins. 

Project Planning Phase

During project planning, the project manager needs to understand the project requirements and objectives. The planning phase is the most critical stage for any project as planning impacts the project’s risk and outcomes. 

During the planning phase, a project plan is developed to provide all stakeholders with the roadmap for the project. Also, it outlines all the activities, tasks, timelines, roles, costs, milestones, deliverables, and other dependencies required to execute the project successfully. 

The project plan is crucial during the execution, monitoring, and closing phases of the project. It details the project goals and objectives and the ‘how to’ and the ‘who does what’ during implementation.

The following documents are prepared during the planning phase:

  • Scope statement
  • Work breakdown structure (WBS)
  • Project plan
  • Project schedule
  • Change request management
  • Communication plan
  • Project quality plan
  • Acceptance plan

Click here to know more about what is project management?

Project Execution Phase

Project planning and execution are two of the essential phases in achieving the goals of a project. The execution phase is typically the longest and takes up the most significant allocation of resources as the actual implementation of the project is done.

At this point, controlling the project’s resources, monitoring the project’s progress, and maintaining clear communication among all the stakeholders becomes crucial.

The project team uses the WBS and the project schedule to execute the tasks outlined in the project plan. Also, frequent team meetings are held to report the project progress, evaluate variances in the project, as well as address change requests, and update the project plan in case of any.

The project manager ensures that he keeps all stakeholders up to date on the project’s progress through status reports. So, communication should be appropriate as indicated in the communication plan.

Once the deliverables have been produced, the final product delivered and accepted by the customer following the acceptance criteria, the project is ready for closure.

Monitoring and Controlling phase

Even though monitoring and control are intended to check the entire project management process, it is handier during the execution phase. Monitoring and controlling are done to ensure that the project moves in the right direction and within the defined scope. When the project progresses as planned, the risk is minimized. 

Ideally, monitoring the project’s actual performance is compared against the planned performance and also the appropriate course of action taken if there is a variance.

Closing phase

The project is closed after it has achieved its goals and the product is ready for release and delivery to the client. This last phase is also known as the follow-up phase, where the project manager and the teams come together to discuss the project events and insights in a closing meeting.

They will recap the entire life cycle to draw lessons and takeaways from it, identify strengths and opportunities for improvement, and document them alongside other project data for future reference.

Sometimes, the project is closed before completion, mainly due to failure.

A Project is Considered Successful

When a successful project is completed on time, within the budget, and having achieved its objective(s).

Here are seven pointers of a successful project.

  • Completed on time or before time
  • Executed within the budget
  • Objectives are met
  • Meets or exceeds the expectations of the stakeholders 
  • Arising issues were addressed proactively
  • Output is beneficial to the user
  • Positive feedback from the project execution team about how they ran the project

Types of Projects in Project Management

Though many projects share the same characteristics, they are never the same. So, they fall into various categories based on different factors. It is essential to classify projects as this helps the organization highlight its features and also develop the most appropriate approach to execute them. 

Types of Projects According to Their Source of Funding

  • Public projects whose source of funding is the government or government institutions
  • Private projects that are privately funded by the business or venture capital financing
  • Hybrid projects whose source of funding is both private and public

Types of Projects Based on Project Content

  • Construction projects are those whose output is an artifact, for example, an IT system development project. 
  • Business implementation projects aimed at introducing a new/improvement feature or change in the business systems or processes. 
  • Research projects are carried out to seek knowledge or insights for decision-making.
  • Procurement projects that establish B2B relationships for the sourcing of products or services.

Types of Projects Based on the time it Takes to Implement Them

  • Typical projects are those projects that have adequate time allowed to conduct them; as such, they will pass through the project life cycle to produce the expected quality output.
  • Disaster projects are impromptu projects involving very high capital injection with minimal execution time.
  • Crash projects are those projects that incur extra costs to be executed within a short period, and project phases will typically overlap.

Types of Project Management Methodologies

Some main types of project management methodologies are:

Waterfall Project Management

This style implements the project process in waves, and each step is dependent on its successor.

Agile Project Management

It involves working in smaller iterative processes and often requires project pivoting. Learn more about Agile Methodology.

Scrum Project Management

It is a faster process and very beneficial for smaller firms. It is done to achieve results quickly. So, click here to know more about scrum project management.

Kanban Project Management

It is a variant of Agile Project Management and is best for large organizations. The tasks are also simulated with processes to reduce the number of functions over time.

Lean Project Management

Lean Project Management works the same as Kanban Project Management, plus it focuses on customers too. It makes sure that the project is implemented so that the timely delivery of services/goods can be made to customers.

Examples of Successful Projects

Some examples of successful projects are:

  • The UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) was established in 2016. This project was initiated in 2009, and its goal was to bring India’s 1.23+ billion citizens under the world’s most extensive biometric system, Aadhaar.
  • American Airlines faced problems in technology overlapping when they merged with US Airways. They adopted a project to adapt to the changes and capitalize on their employees to better the business to manage this change. This project helped them a lot to grow.

Benefits of Project Management Software for Better Project Management

The purpose of project management software is to help project managers with planning, scheduling, resource allocation, and control, change management, document sharing and collaboration, quality management, and also more project management functions. Also, the project management software is an administration tool that helps project managers execute their duties through the different phases of the project life cycle. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Change Management in Project Management?

Companies will, from time to time, introduce new systems or processes as outcomes of initiated projects. These changes affect the usual way of operations and often have an impact on human resources. Change management is thus a structured way of managing these changes to help people transition from the previous to the new status by positively adapting to the latest systems and processes. This enhances business performance and helps the organization attain its strategic goals.

2. What is Agile Methodology in Project Management?

An agile methodology is an approach through which a project is broken down into several phases to be executed iteratively. Moreover, this approach emphasizes the continuous development and improvement of product features through incorporating feedback after every iteration and changes in requirements to deliver high-value products.

3. What is Cost-Benefit Analysis in Project Management?

Before a project is initiated, it is crucial to perform a cost-benefit analysis for the product or service being built. A cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is how an evaluation is done to check the costs of an undertaking versus its benefits. Using the CBA, all possible expenses and advantages of the project are listed then the following values are calculated to ascertain its viability.

  • Return on investment (ROI)
  • Internal rate of return (IRR)
  • Net present value (NPV)
  • Payback period

4. What is Cost Management in Project Management?

This is how a project’s costs are planned, budgeted, and controlled through the various phases of the project lifecycle. This also enables the proper utilization of resources and the project teams to achieve project goals within the cost allocation put in place.

5. What is Cost Variance in Project Management?

Cost variance refers to the comparison between the planned and actual project budget. This is done by calculating the difference, in other words, variance, between the BCWP (budgeted cost of work performed) and the ACWP (actual cost of work performed). 

Conclusion

Project management is a broad multidisciplinary yet specialized field that employs temporary undertakings to initiate good organizational change. It is undoubtedly one of the most exciting and fulfilling careers to pursue. You can also learn all about ‘what is a project’ and project management with project management certification courses from Simplilearn.

To take your career to the ultimate level, you can apply for our PG Program with the University of Massachusetts. You will learn tools and digital skills to help you lead and manage complex transformational projects and also become a digital-age project leader. Start the fantastic learning journey now!

Also Read: Top 12 Best Project Management Software for the Businesses to Use in 2021

Images by Gerd Altmann and Pete Linforth

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