All of us have already undertaken a project in our personal or professional life. Directly coming from the strategy of project management, we will discuss the main steps to succeed in any project. Let us agree that even the greatest project – if it is not initiated correctly and does not respect the basics steps – will most certainly be headed for disaster. Admittedly, certain people can just do it naturally. Anyone who is aware of these steps, however, is more likely to succeed and save a lot more time.
“Learn the four phases of the project management life cycle to keep your project organized and on track from initiation to close.”
There are diverse types of projects, mainly professional and personal ones. The aims of these projects are clearly different, but they share the same basic structures. Most of the time people do not think about it, or they are so obvious that they do not even realise it. Knowing the different stages allows to identify where it went wrong and to correct it. Many projects would be more successful if the person in charge, usually the project manager, was aware of these four steps: Initiation, Planning, Execution and Closure. These steps will prevent wastage of money and/or resources and allow them to be used more efficiently.
Initiation – outset of a project
Project initiation is the first phase. It generally comes from an idea or a desire to achieve something. There are some points that every project initiation report has to fulfil before starting:
This step will also help you to determine the feasibility of a project and set achievable goals. These are two highly important points in any project management success. Many failed, just because the person did not take the time to think about it.
These questions will give the scope of the project. It will be a guiding force throughout the project and will help keep it on track. One of the most common mistakes is to be a victim of scope creep. Sometimes the project scope changes – it is unavoidable. In this case, it is essential to keep the same goals throughout the project. Then, it is important to keep in mind the points mentioned above and the feasibility of it.
For all these reasons, it is better to have the project written down somewhere. That will give it a clear outline and offer more chance to succeed. Of course, it does not have to be exhaustive, but to fill these points will permit the smooth running of the project. For professional projects, the initiation phase points out the utility of it and convinces potential stakeholders (management team, financial contributor, project team, etc.). The project manager has to demonstrate his communication and negotiation skills. (S)He also needs to be practical and realistic. Otherwise, the project will not be sustainable in the long term.
Planning – from idea to paper
This phase refers to every element the project manager has to set up. A plan is a collection of baseline and subsidiary plans for the success of the project. The project manager has to establish the necessary steps to achieve the purpose and to break down the larger project into small tasks and to establish a clear schedule.
- Create a project plan (identify the project timeline, including the phases of a project, the tasks to be performed and possible constraints)
- Create a workflow diagram (easier to visualize all the process and different members of the team know their roles exactly)
- Estimate the budget and create a financial plan (a way to estimate how much each task requires)
- Gather resources (reunite the team for the project and make sure they all have the necessary tools (hardware, software, etc.)
- Anticipate risks (anything that can slow the progress of the project and find solutions to avoid it)
- Hold a project meeting (discuss the outline of the project to quickly start the project)
Everything planned in this stage will ease the process for the next step of the project. It is then better to take a bit more time in the planning section to have a solid foundation for the rest of the project. Moreover, all the members of the project can rely on the plan and see how it progresses. The plan is not set in stone; it can vary according to external factors. However, the project manager has to ensure that the project stays in the planned scope and fulfils its aim. (S)He has to be organised and methodical.
Execution – from paper to action
This section is all about deliverables and outputs. According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge:
“The Executing Process Group consists of those processes performed to complete the work defined in the project management plan to satisfy the project specifications.”
This phase is usually the longest stage and consumes the most energy and resources, but is clearly the most vital part of the project. One of the duties of the project leader is to manage people, follow processes and communicate information to all stakeholders.
In other terms, (s)he has to:
- Create tasks and organise workflows (coordinate the team, to be sure team members are not overworked)
- Brief the team members on tasks (explain tasks, provide necessary guidance to the team)
- Communicate with stakeholders (everyone knows how the project progresses)
- Monitor quality of the work (ensure the purpose of the project is respected and monitor the potential risk)
- Manage the budget (monitor spending and keeping the project on track in term of assets and resources)
This stage is comprised of several smaller processes. Each plays an important role in the completion and success of the project. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, external factors can affect the project. The project manager has to be versatile, calm, fast and reactive to keep the project on track.
Closure – finishing line of the project
At this stage, the technical part of the project is finished. There are still some parts to be discussed. Managing a project is not only about tasks and resources, budgets and deadlines. It is also important to take a step back and learn from it.
So, the project manager has to:
- Analyse the project performance (determine if the goals of the project were met)
- Analyse the team performance (evaluate the performance of the team during the project)
- Document project closure (write a report to key stakeholders to ensure there is not any loose end on any aspect of the project)
- Conduct post-implementation review (conduct the final analysis of the project and mistakes to take into account for a similar project in the future)
- Finalise accounting of the project (close the account of the project, allocate remaining resources for future ones.)
“By remaining on task even though the project’s work is completed, you will be prepared to take everything you’ve learned and implement it for your next project.”