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Last modified date

Feb 20, 2023

4 Essential Project Management Phases – The Complete Guide

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Alexandra Cote

Blog average read time

12 min

Last modified date

February 20, 2023

If you’re a beginner in the field of project management and you’re looking for an easy way to structure your project management process, we’ve got the right project management life cycle guide to manage your projects from start to finish.

The entire process might seem overwhelming, but if you take a few basic project management steps, you can complete all tasks in the proper sequence and at the right time. If the idea of project management seems somewhat abstract to you, remember that there are a series of logical phases you must go through to complete a project according to a series of guidelines and quality standards.

Here are four essential project management phases and processes that will ease your team’s work and speed up your efforts.

  1. Project initiation phase – dedicated to finding out the exact requirements of your client and analyzing whether or not you have the essential resources to complete the project
  2. Project planning phase – the perfect time for you to put down the exact detailed steps that need to be taken during the project development life cycle
  3. Project execution and monitoring phase – the most important stage during which you prepare deliverables and control the evolution of the project
  4. Project closure phase – close all contracts and discuss what went wrong in the past to prepare for future projects

Start a free Paymo trial and track your own projects through these 4 phases.

1. Project initiation phase

The initiation phase is when you need to find out the goals and requirements of your client to determine the importance of a project for your company’s growth and whether you have the necessary resources to complete the project or not.

Here’s a checklist of two simple project management steps that you must have in order before moving on to the next life cycle:

  • A comprehensive list of the requirements of your client
  • A standard document that includes all of the project’s details

Steps to take:

1. You first need to have an initial meeting with your client. This step is crucial as you have to map out the exact requirements of your client. Find out what is important to them and what they want to achieve. In this way, you ensure the success of your project from the very beginning. No project manager wants to discover that they will have to change something after it’s done just because they haven’t understood their client’s exact needs and goals.

Clear communication should be established between you and your clients even before the actual start of the project. Get all the details you need, and feel free to suggest improvements to their ideas. Analyze whether the decisions they made are suitable for the project development based on your experience since you might have dealt with similar projects before. The issues and risks that arise are often similar. However, this time, you will undoubtedly be able to handle them correctly and avoid unnecessary mistakes and errors in the project development life cycle.

Good to know

The first meetings with a potential client are meant to allow you to choose whether you want to follow through with the project or not. You have the right to refuse a project if it’s too complex or too costly, if you already have to work on other projects that leave you with no time to deal with another, if you don’t have enough resources for it, or even if it doesn’t align with your company’s goals.

What you discuss with your client should always be written down. For larger projects involving more people, you can also create a standard document that will include the project details. Doing this makes sure that no detail will be forgotten in the process.

2. Review. Analyze how the hazards you’ll face can affect your path to reaching the project’s objectives and meeting the client’s requirements. Remember that you must communicate with clients before making decisions since they are the project’s direct beneficiaries.

Here’s a list of 7 project management questions you must ask yourself before starting a project.

2. Project planning phase

After the first discussions with your client, you can start making the exact plans. These must be well-written so that your team will have no difficulty completing their duties. Any error and confusion regarding the primary strategy can slow down the project’s development.

A project management plan is essentially a manual that can guide the team toward reaching your general goals while preparing them for the risks and obstacles they might face. To differentiate this phase from the previous one, you have to think of the initiation step as one during which you only make presumptions based on initial information, while the project planning phase is when you put everything on paper and make final decisions.

A typical project management plan will outline all the activities and tasks the team will undertake depending on a series of resources and timelines.

Here’s a look at a checklist of project planning phases that you need to consider before moving on to execution and control:

  • Hold a kickoff meeting to create a general project plan
  • Find a team with defined roles and responsibilities
  • Opt for a specific method of communication
  • Identify risks and constraints
  • Divide your funds
  • Choose resources
  • Schedule tasks according to a timeline
  • Obtain client approval
  • Review your plan as many times as needed

Steps to take:

1. Create a general plan. Define how the project planning process will be executed and how you will measure and control the results of each task.

Be prepared to answer your team’s questions and address possible concerns they might have. It is fundamental that you actively listen to all of your employees’ ideas and that you integrate their knowledge into the development of your project. Hence, go one step forward and allow your team to contribute to your project’s plan.

It’s also the time for you to decide when a task is considered completed and when is the right time to move on to the next task or more advanced projects.

Additionally, you can set some goals related to the benefits of the project on your company’s development and future projects.

2. Appoint the project’s leading team and distribute key roles and responsibilities. Find the people who have the skills to complete each task. It’s best to form a core team made of members who are experts in different fields.

If your team is missing a key person, you can always look to hire an expert that will match your project’s needs. Make sure that they can play well within a team since it is crucial for your members to communicate effectively and balance their skills. Alternatively, you can train existing members to perform the tasks required for a particular project.

3. Decide on a communications plan. Choose one or more predefined methods through which your team will communicate with each other and your client or sponsor.

Effective communication is key to ensuring that you won’t have to fix any faults or errors and that the final version of your project will be successful. Try to learn more about what kind of information your clients will require on a daily basis, how you can deliver it to them, and what their quality standards are.

4. Take a closer look at risks. Based on your research, you can discuss with your team how to manage each risk or obstacle that might delay your project. You can resort to the help of your experienced staff for more advice and tips on risk avoidance. Starting from fictional scenarios, find ways to prevent risks and fix the damage they make. Discover what you can control and what is best to be avoided.

Take a look at how you can identify a series of risks in project management.

5. Create a financial plan. The budget you set at the beginning will be used during the project development life cycle as a whole. All the funds you require need to be approved, so make sure that the budget you’ll use is justified. Divide your costs by taking into consideration how you’ll be able to allocate your funds to your team. You must prioritize the area in which you want to spend more money. For this, you must think about your project’s main goal and how each part of the project will influence it. Some areas you can think of include product development, design, testing, marketing, management, human resources, etc. Your budget can either be pre-set or determined as the project is being developed.

6. Create a resource plan. Decide upon the tools and the number of other resources that you’ll need to complete each task. Think about using project management software, Gantt Charts, graphs, Kanban boards, milestone charts, photo editing software, and tools to track HR duties such as salaries or vacation days.

There are many resources available right now, so even if your budget is limited, you’ll always be able to find a cheap or free version of a tool. However, you should also consider the quality that you want these tools and solutions to bring to your work. Think about using software to replace a role you’re missing in your team.

7. Develop a schedule to estimate the time needed to complete each activity and the entire project. Prepare your calendar so that all your ideas will be on track and adequately managed according to a defined plan. By doing this, no step will be skipped. This is particularly important since one task often depends on another, and delaying one task might postpone the entire project. Think realistically to meet your client’s requirements and maintain a healthy work environment with no unnecessary efforts or after-hours for your employees.

Use a Gantt Chart drawing software for planning timelines and daily hourly budgets against them or any other type of time tracking software that suits your project’s needs. Before stopping on a final schedule version, talk to your team to find out how much time each member will need to complete their tasks. It’s not limited just to projects. Needless to say, you need a time tracker—and invoicing software—if you’re paid hourly, e.g., lawyers, accountants, consultants, creatives, etc.

8. Client approval. Although sometimes client approval can happen before the planning phase, your project should get approved after you have presented a clear and detailed plan to the client. It’s up to you how you showcase your project’s plan, but remember to make it as easy to understand as possible. Detailed planning will keep you away from taking any risks. If you see that you’re lacking some mandatory parts for your project’s proper development, you can always ask for more resources, more time, or a higher budget that will help you meet your client’s exact needs.

Are you looking to plan a project digitally? Read our guide on using project planning software.

3. Project execution and monitoring phase

This is the main and most important stage of your entire project management life cycle. It is the actual start of the project. This step is a result of the planning stage because it’s dependent on what you have chosen to do during that part of the project’s development.

During the project execution phase, you and your team will work on the aspects you planned and assessed during the previous project management steps. During this stage, you need to focus most of your attention and avoid making mistakes for a proper project development cycle. It’s also called the project implementation stage because you begin to implement the decisions that you have taken previously.

Your primary goals for this phase will be to prepare deliverables, motivate your team to complete their assigned activities in time for the final project delivery, and to control each aspect of the project’s progress.

Some of the aspects that you should review during the execution and monitoring stage are:

  • Working on following the project’s plan to design and develop the client’s product
  • Monitoring and controlling tasks, risks, changes, updates, revisions, and adjustments
  • Managing timelines
  • Managing funds
  • Quality assurance
  • Testing intensively and reviewing the entire project development life cycle

Steps to take:

1. Product design and development. It’s always best to follow the project management plan accordingly; however, if this is not possible, you can choose to go with variations of your original plan as long as they fulfill the necessary objectives and goals.

Manage your communications attentively for a more transparent and more productive creative process. You can re-adapt your preferred communication method during the entire project management life cycle through feedback. Don’t be afraid to replace your existing methods with more efficient ones.

Every now and then, you can ask your client to approve the previous task so that your team will be able to move on to their other assignments. Don’t worry if you need to change or update certain points of your project or the features of your product. Change is acceptable as long as you reach your main goals. Don’t forget to consider the impact that any small change will have on the final product.

Make sure to consistently create and submit products based on this simple flow:

Project Management Flow


2. Monitor and control the entire process. Periodically send detailed status reports to your team and client using the communication method that you have agreed upon. Your tasks’ progress and results should be measured and controlled based on pre-set business policies and criteria.

You can name a specific person in the team to monitor the evolution of all processes. Still, it would be best if you had each member analyze and review their work before declaring it as the final version.

This step is sometimes regarded as a separate part of project management. Still, it is conducted parallel to execution, and thus it is an essential part of the project implementation stage.

Use objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) to grade and improve your workflow. Any adjustments will be made as you go and in time for the next task to start. Find and resolve any issues caused by the risks you have identified beforehand.

Good to know

As a project manager, you should focus mainly on monitoring and communication during the execution process. You can ensure that your project’s plan and guidelines are followed by using one of these best-rated tools in project management. Some of these tools are all in one and relatively affordable if you are looking for a low-cost one.

The benefits of using such a tool include:

  • Help in overseeing the project development life cycle
  • Saving time by having all the information in one place
  • Staying connected with was is going on with your project
  • Managing your team, clients, risks, resources, and budget
  • Sharing documents and files in a single place without fragmenting team communication

Find out how you can choose the best project management software available on the market.

3. Time management. Prioritize urgent tasks and postpone those that do not depend on another activity’s execution. See if all tasks are completed according to the original schedule and timeline.

Here’s a quick guide to help you prioritize tasks and better organize your work.

Time management issues are inevitable and knowing how you can get back on track is fundamental. You can even record the time that is being spent on each task. Analyzing such measurements can help you see what is working and where you are at a standstill. Through this, you will be able to make your team’s work more efficient in the future. Remember that any previous project is a lesson for your future business endeavors.

Gantt Charts can be used to maintain control of the entire project development timing. They can save you time when it comes to planning, scheduling, and monitoring.

4. Budget management. Make sure that costs have been distributed correctly from the beginning and that you can further develop your project without extra funds. They key is to have profitable projects. In project management, project estimates and costs work toward project profitability, which can make or break project success. Each expense must be approved before you buy anything—issue or request invoices for each financial activity involved. You can compare costs and investments to see the difference that brings you more value. Then, you may adapt the budget’s spending as you go. Quoting is easiest when you have the right estimate and invoice software to help you.

If you’re self-employed and need a quick invoice generator to input your hours and signature, opt for an invoice builder.

5. Quality assurance (QA). QA allows you to identify quality issues and where you can improve your project to match the quality requirements of your client. This step is just one additional part of your project to ensure that tasks will be executed according to a series of agreed policies. QA also lets you maintain complete control over each activity.

You can have separate members in charge of quality assurance for a faster workflow. It will be their duty to ensure that the final product has no bugs, errors, usage difficulties, missing items, etc.

6. Review. Project managers often must maintain control of the entire project creation process and fix eventual faults. They are in charge of leading the project in the right direction. Thus, it is a project manager’s attribution to conduct reviews of each task. They must supervise and step in whenever something is not working correctly. Note that if you are a beginner in project management, the main risks you may face are making wrong estimates and allowing changes to get out of hand.

For other types of projects, it’s best to break this step into two separate ones. Take marketing projects, for example. Creative teams spend considerable time and effort to bring a vision or campaign to life – the execution part. And even more to oversee how it performed and if it raised their client’s initial expectations – the monitoring part.

4. Project closure phase

Also known as the completion phase, this stage focuses on the end result. Your main efforts should be directed toward the goals of delivering a final product on time and within budget, within the qualitative requirements established with the client.

A project is completed only after the product has been delivered to the client and the latter has accepted it as the final version.

There are three main steps that you need to have in check before the project’s completion:

  • A retrospective meeting
  • The project’s general review
  • Ending all contracts

Steps to take:

1. Retrospective meeting. The project is only ready for closure when every single aspect of your plan has been dealt with and accepted by your client. Use communication to let everybody know about the successful end of the project and even to prepare them for future collaboration.

Good to know

During your last meeting with the team, you can discuss what went well, what failed repeatedly, and what can be improved for the following projects. Keep records of your past projects for future referrals by creating a closure document. Even though you might not see this document’s immediate advantages, it will be a handy tool for your future projects.

2. Project review. You can also prepare a checklist of all the project management steps you had to go through and ensure once again that you haven’t missed anything. Don’t rush this step, as hurried revision tasks frequently damage an entire product at the very end of the development life cycle.

3. End all contracts, including the ones you have with your resource suppliers. This will ensure you no longer receive unnecessary supplies after completing your project. Existing licenses can still be used for future operations.

In addition, you can wait for your client to start using that product or service and ask for sincere feedback.


There are also other standard procedures that you can use to manage your projects, such as the APM (Association for Project Management) method. Take a few minutes to find more tips on how you can use this alternative procedure:

Key Takeaways

It is up to you how you create your project management life cycle. Completing each step of this process is more important than just putting it on paper. At the same time, project planning is your first contact with the final product. In the beginning, how you define your goals will determine the outcome of the whole project management life cycle.

Dividing your workflow into these project management will help you maintain full control of all project development stages and meet all quality standards.

Handling work throughout all four phases is one of the many project manager responsibilities. To see more, check out our guide. If you need project management methodologies examples and a comparison, why not read this guide—I promise it won’t be too technical.

If you found this guide to the four phases of project management useful, share it with your friends and teammates.

If you’d like to learn more about project management, look at our lists of the best project management courses and training opportunities available right now, or check out these project management terms.

First published on November 22, 2017.

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