A picture is worth a thousand words so I thought I would start with a diagram. I recently had the need to explain an overview of the Project Lifecycle within the context of software development so I thought it would be worth sharing here. This diagram is by no means original or even possibly unique. The initiating, planning, executing (implementation), monitor and control and closing match the PMBOK definition for project process and the sub-processes are generally agreed upon across the industry, but everyone enjoys a good picture and so here is mine for explaining how things work.
While some of the sub-processes may software specific (HLD, DLD, system testing to name a few) the overall process is applicable to any field of interest. Here I will talk about the main processes (Initiation, Planning, Implementation, Monitor and Control and Closing). In subsequent articles, I will cover the sub-processes in more detail.
Enough of the background, let’s get started. This framework is meant to be used as a guide for moving through a project in a controlled way. The benefit of using a controlled approach are numerous: ensure that you work on the the most valuable projects (as defined by the organization through prioritization, rate of return, or some other method), ensure that the project is completed to the requirements, ensure that the project is completed in the shortest time possible. You get the idea. The naysayer will say that this doesn’t allow for creativity, I disagree. There are creative elements in each of the phases – what this doesn’t allow is for a project to get started, funded and move forward based only on the creative to only fail once it is realized that there is some key element that was missed during Initiation or Planning. The creativity and generation of ideas is the backbone of the project but most of us need to be smart with how we use our resources (money and human capital) and that necessitates that we can’t tackle all the great ideas at the same time. More on this later, but let’s get back to the task at hand, an overview of the major project processes.
Initiation, which is some organizations is synonymous with project selection, is process for gathering and vetting project ideas with the ultimate goal of determining will project ideas will be authorized to move forward to the planning phase. This can be done informally or formally but generally includes a method to gather various ideas for future projects or features1. These can come from a variety of sources including customer requests, suggestions internal to the project team, legal requirements to name a few. If there are enough incoming project ideas these will be gathered into a managed list or database to track their status. The balance of the initiation phase focuses on vetting these ideas. There are various quantitative and qualitative ways to do this which I will cover in detail when I discuss the sub-process “Advocate.” Generally there is a decision making body (Steering Committee, Management Group, etc.) which has the responsibility for using the vetting data to render a decision as to whether this is a project or feature that should be taken on by the organization. This adds the project to the managed queue of projects waiting to be worked on. Depending on the particular organization the projects can be prioritized at this point to specify in what order projects will be tackled. Alternatively if a quantitative vetting process was conducted the prioritization will result as a by-project of that process. For some groups this queue can become a list of tens or even in excess of 100 project ideas that are considered viable. In other organizations it may be a handful or only one project idea in which case this process is limited to the agreement that it is the right project to be taking on. The project manager may participate in the initiation phase, but is not the phase owner. The project manager has overall ownership for the Planning, Implementation, Monitor & Control, and Closing phases.
Planning is the phase where the project manager takes the lead in clarifying and/or defining the objectives that the project was undertaken to address. Think of it this way, for every clarification action that takes place it is an opportunity for the Project Manager (PM) minimize risk and increase probability that the project will complete successfully. In this phase, the PM will develop several key documents including Project Charter, Project Scope, Initial Schedule Estimates, Initial Budget Estimates. In a controlled process, each of these documents will be reviewed by a designated Management Body. This could be the same steering committee from the intimation phase, or could be a project change control board specifically aligned for a particular project. Regardless, this body has decision making authority and responsibility for clarifying ambiguity at the project level so that the project team has a clear set of objectives to work against. Each of these documents should be reviewed in turn and signed-off on -literally signed off – to emphasize the commitment that is being made especially with regards to the Project Charter and Project Scope documents. This phase is largely executed by the PM but often leverages potential project team members for input into the project scope and schedule. It’s always good practice to make sure your teams are in alignment, and better yet, agreement as to what they are being signed up for. At the close of the Planning phase a project team should be gathered and ready to start on the Implementation. In reality, you might be gathering up resources, opening requisitions to fill resource gaps and in general seeing your resources trickle in as available. You may have even started some overlap of the phases, allowing some Implementation activities to start before you have completed all planning tasks. Doing this always enters a bit of risk into your project but the skilled project manager knows how to approach this prudently and minimize the risk and be aware of the reality that in real world projects we don’t always have the luxury of executing the ideal model.
Monitor & Control and Closing to follow shortly.
1In software development features are often sub-components of functionality that are grouped together in a larger project for the purpose of managing a cohesive project throughout the lifecycle. Management of your inputs to the Initiation Phase can either be large projects or smaller features or components based on what matches the need in the organization.
Jessica Popp is a practicing project manager in software engineering. She has more than 13 years experience in software development, project management and people leadership in both Fortune 500 and startup companies. She has a wealth of hands-on project experience from the smallest project to projects whose budgets exceeded $50M per year. Jessica holds a BBS in Information Systems, an MS in Decision Sciences and has a current PMP certification. Jessica runs Project Management 101, a blog dedicated to disccussing various topics about Project Management.