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Last modified date

Jan 27, 2022

4 Essential Project Management Phases – The Complete Guide

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Alexandra Cote

Blog average read time

12 min

Last modified date

January 27, 2022

Last updated: December 2021

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 right sequence and at the right time. If the idea of project management seems rather abstract to you, bear in mind that there are a series of logical phases that you must go through to complete a project according to a series of guidelines and quality standards.

Here are 4 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 successfully 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. Make sure that you find out what is important for them and what they want to achieve in the end. In this way, you ensure the success of your project from the very beginning. No project manager wants to find out that they will have to change something after it’s done just because they haven’t understood the exact needs and goals of their clients.

Clear communication should be established between you and your clients even before the actual start of the project. Get all the details that you need and feel free to suggest improvements for their ideas. Analyze whether the decisions they made are right for the development of the project based on your past experience since you might have dealt with similar projects before. The issues and risks that arise are often similar. However, this time, you will certainly 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 also 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 that involve more people, you can also create a standard document that will include the details of the project. By doing this, you make 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 implementing any decision since they are the direct beneficiaries of the project.

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 need to be well-written so that your team will have no difficulty in completing their duties. Any error and confusion regarding the main strategy can slow down the project’s development.

A project management plan is essentially a manual that can guide the team towards 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 actually put everything on paper and make definite decisions.

A typical project management plan will outline all of the activities and tasks that 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 to 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 to 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 main 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 he/she can play well within a team since it is important for your members to be able to communicate effectively and to balance their skills. Alternatively, you can also train existing members to perform the tasks that are required for a certain project.

3. Decide on a communications plan. Choose one or more predefined methods through which your team will communicate with each other as well as with 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 research, you can discuss with your team how you can 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 out ways to prevent risks and to 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 that you set at the beginning will be used during the project development life cycle as a whole. All of the funds that 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. It is mandatory that you 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 of the areas you can think of include product development, design, testing, marketing, management, human resources, etc. Your budget can be either a pre-set one or determined as the project is being developed.

6. Create a resources 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 even 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 that 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 properly 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 one and delaying one task might postpone the entire project. Think realistically to meet the requirements of your client and to 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 version of a schedule, talk to your team to find out how much time each member will need to complete their tasks.

8. Client approval. Although sometimes client approval can happen before the planning phase, it’s best that your project gets 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 risk and, 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 the exact needs of your client.

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 real start of the project. You can look at this step as a result of the planning stage because it’s dependant 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 all of the aspects that you have planned and assessed during the previous project management steps. It is during this stage that 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 main goals for this phase will be to prepare deliverables, to 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 by no means 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 clearer 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 always 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 their 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, but it is best that you have each member analyze and review their own work before declaring it as being the final version.

This step is sometimes regarded as a separate part of project management, but it is in fact conducted in 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 that you have identified beforehand.

Good to know

As a project manager, during the execution process, you should focus mostly on monitoring and on communication. You can make sure that your project’s plan and guidelines are being followed by using one of these best-rated tools used in project management. Some of these tools are all in one, and rather 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 the tasks that are urgent and postpone those that do not depend on another activity’s execution. See if all tasks are being 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 are able to further develop your project with no need for extra funds. Each expense must be approved before you buy anything. Issue or request invoices for each financial activity that you’re involved in. You can compare costs and investments to see the difference between that which 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.

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 full control over each activity.

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

6. Review. It’s often the project manager’s duty to maintain control of the entire project creation process and to fix eventual faults. He/she is in charge of leading the project in the right direction. Thus, it is a project manager’s attribution to conduct reviews of each task. He/she has to both supervise and step in whenever something is not working correctly. Note that if you are a beginner in the field of project management, the main risks that 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 a considerable amount of 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 up to their client’s initial expectations – the monitoring part.

4. Project closure phase

Also known as the completion phase, this stage’s focus is on the end result. Your main efforts should be directed toward the goals of delivering a final product on time and on 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 being the final version.

There are 3 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 next projects. Keep records of your past projects for future referrals by creating a closure document. Even though you might not see the immediate advantages of this document, it will prove to be a very useful tool for your future projects.

2. Project review. You can also prepare a checklist of all the project management steps that you had to go through and make sure 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 that you no longer receive unnecessary supplies after the completion of 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. Being able to successfully complete 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. How you define your goals, in the beginning, 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 4 phases is just one of the many project manager responsibilities. To see more, check out our guide.

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 even more about project management, have a look at our lists of the best project management courses and training opportunities available right now or check out these project management terms.

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