For a long time, project planners have established that project management is pivotal in helping project managers to undertake complex tasks (Priority Management International 1; The University of Akron 1). Without an effective project management plan, it would be difficult to realize positive project outcomes or complete a successful project.
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However, proper project management requires advanced technical skills on the part of the project manager because project deliverables are often complex to maneuver (Priority Management International 1). Managing the project lifecycle is one way of simplifying the project management process. This paper explains the importance of managing the project lifecycle for purposes of achieving positive project outputs. However, before delving into the details surrounding this topic, it is essential to understand the project lifecycle.
What is the Project Lifecycle?
According to The University of Akron, “Lifecycle planning involves setting goals, defining targets, establishing schedules, and estimating budgets” (2). The project life cycle consists of four steps – planning, execution, controlling and closure. The planning stage is the first among the four phases described here. It outlines the structure of the project and may include different deliverables, including the financial plan, resource plan, quality plan, risk plan, and acceptance plan (Hillson 65).
The second phase (initiation) involves defining the purpose and scope of the project plan. This stage also involves recruiting the project team and evaluating how they would help to achieve the key deliverables of the entire project plan (Priority Management International 1).
The planning phase involves the development of key documents that would guide the project team to complete different tasks. The execution phase involves the physical construction of key deliverables. After completion of this task, the project manager seeks the client’s acceptance. If there are no objections, the project is ready for closure. The diagram below summarizes the project lifecycle
Figure 1: Project Lifecycle (Source The University of Akron 3)
The following sections explain the importance of managing different aspects of the project management lifecycle.
Importance of Managing Project Lifecycle Stages
Project lifecycles are naturally chaotic. By organizing and planning their tenets, the management process organizes this chaos. This is why Haugan (18) says it is difficult for project managers to manage complex business processes without careful planning and organization. According to Lewis (159), the initial objective of life cycle planning process was to control project costs.
This is why many projects incorporated technology in their project plans because they believed it would prevent the escalation of project costs. In the absence of planning, all the different aspects of the project lifecycle would be meaningless. Haugan (18) says in the absence of a project plan, project managers are bound to “cut corners,” which is a mistake that could jeopardize the rest of the stages that characterize a project.
It is important to develop an elaborate project plan because it would outline the foundations of the entire project. An elaborate plan should consider different aspects of a project, including a stakeholder engagement plan, benefits mapping plan, and a risk management plan (among other tenets of a project) (Hillson 65).
It is essential for project managers to handle the planning process effectively because without it, there could be a complete project failure. Some key reasons highlighted as reasons for project failure include the lack of stakeholder engagement, poor communication within the project team, and the lack of clear roles and responsibilities among project members (Haugan 18). Having an elaborate project plan could help to overcome some of these challenges.
By managing the planning process in the project lifecycle, it is easy for the project manager to find direction during the execution of project deliverables. One desirable outcome of this process is helping all employees to support the project manager and work towards achieving the same objective. In this way, managing the planning process of the project lifecycle plays an important role of attaining the objectives of the project.
For example, suppose the planning process outlines the completion of key construction targets, all departments of the project would work towards achieving this goal. Furthermore, the process of designing their objectives would be in lieu of attaining the construction targets. In this regard, managing the project lifecycle prevents managers from making costly mistakes during later stages of the project lifecycle.
By doing so, managers have a better chance of completing their projects on time and within their budgets. The main reason why experts recommend proper planning is to avoid making hasty decisions that would be too costly to implement (Hillson 65). In such cases, the client could abandon the entire project
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A project scope outlines what a project plan entails. Team members are able to understand what to expect and what clients expect of them, through this representation. According to Westland (132), a project scope outlines different attributes of a project plan, including the team name, start and end dates of the project, objectives, deliverables and other attributes of a project plan that are material to its implementation.
Through an effective definition of a project’s scope, it is easy to allocate tasks and provide direction to team members regarding what the project manager expects of them, in lieu of the project plan (Hillson 65).
Without a project scope, it would be difficult for project managers to define a project timeline or understand the client’s expectation regarding executing other project tasks (Lutchman 15). By defining the project scope, project managers would easily understand the project objectives and make appropriate schedules that would meet them.
Proper Resource Allocation
Most project managers are supposed to complete project tasks with limited resources. The best way for them to meet their targets (with the limited resources) is through effective resource allocation (Westland 132). The goal of resource allocation is to get the best results out of the available resources.
This way, project managers would avoid the possibility of over allocating project resources to one phase of the project plan, at the expense of another. Such a strategy would also ensure that the entire project management plan is efficient and effective in meeting its goals (Westland 132). Through a proper resource allocation strategy, project managers could easily know which methodology to use when aligning project phases with appropriate resources.
This step would help them in improving their decision-making processes because they would know when and how to use different strategies for correcting resource allocation problems (Westland 132). For example, they would know when to delay a task to optimize resource efficiency. Similarly, they would know when to substitute resources across different project phases to make sure they allocate available resources to phases that have appropriate skill demands.
Doing so would decrease cases of work interruptions and decrease the duration taken to complete project tasks. This analysis shows that proper resource allocation would help project managers to complete their projects on time. Similarly, it would help them to manage their resources efficiently (Project Insight 1).
Proper Project Scheduling
The project scheduling process depends on an efficient management of the project plan because it is a tool that specifies the types of projects that should be undertaken in a project, the resources applicable and the time that the project team should take to complete them (Project Insight 1).
Project scheduling is a key part of the project lifecycle because it helps project team members to know what duties they need to undertake and when to do them. Through the proper management of the project-scheduling plan, the project manager is able to understand all the work that should go into delivering the project on time (Priority Management International 1; The University of Akron 1). The process also helps the project manager to communicate all the resources that go into completing the project.
Some project managers often use computer software to manage their project schedules. Such tools help them to track different aspects of the project schedules, more effectively than doing it manually. Nonetheless, it is important to manage project schedules as part of the evaluative stage of the project lifecycle phase because it helps project managers to know the overall status of the project.
Dye (155) says it is important to manage the project lifecycle during the controlling stage because this is the only way that project managers can control a project’s resources. For example, this is the only way that the project manager would control the financial costs of the organization (Priority Management International 1). Others have pointed out that this method also helps to reduce project risks and improve the odds of success. Cost and quality control are key parts of the control phase.
The quality control process is among the last processes undertaken in a project lifecycle. During the planning stage, the project manager outlines a set of standards (requirements) to guide project phases. Quality control strives to make sure that the processes underlying a project plan meet the standards stipulated in the project requirements section (Schwalbe 303).
Therefore, nothing that does not conform to the project requirements falls within the criterion of acceptable quality standards. Quality control is subject to the standards outlined in the quality management plan. This plan states the quality control manager, outlines his/her duties and outlines the metrics that they should use to evaluate their duties.
According to Hill (141), a key function of the quality control process is making sure that the quality of outputs and inputs used in every project phase meets the stipulated standards. People use quality control and quality management terms interchangeably because of the perception that the control process stems from the overall quality planning process (Dye 155).
It is essential for project managers to ensure that the quality control process is functional because it has a strong bearing on the client’s level of satisfaction and the reputation of the firm/person that is undertaking the project. For example, in the absence of a sound quality control process, different project phases may produce outputs that deviate from the project requirements, thereby leading to customer dissatisfaction (Hill 141).
In such cases, there could be damage to the reputation of the contractor. In some cases, this outcome may lead to firm deregistration. In fact, according to Schwalbe (303), quality control is essential in building successful businesses.
By meeting or exceeding customer expectations, they are likely to enjoy repeat business, or increased customer loyalty, which are some of the building blocks of successful businesses. Therefore, it is important to manage quality aspects of a project as a prerequisite for the successful completion of acceptable project outcomes.
CLARIZEN (1) says that a critical part of a successful project management process is not only managing customer expectations, but also ensuring the proper calibration of different aspects of the project management plan. Although time and resources are important aspects of project management, the successful completion of project management plans depends on how well a project team would optimize project outputs using effective cost management.
Based on this understanding, the Project Insight (1) emphasizes the importance of undertaking effective cost management as a subset of effective project planning. Here, it encourages companies to manage different aspects of cost control, including budget costs, actual costs, committed costs, current costs and other expenses associated with the project plan (Project Insight 1). This way, project managers can develop team-based and task-based cost sheets.
In the same way, they could optimize, evaluate, and control different aspects of their cost management plan. According to Kliem (98), this is the best way that project managers can ensure the proper alignment of project costs with the forecasted project budget. Without it, there could be runaway costs that would affect other aspects of the project plan.
Project managers could also easily track actual productivity of project outcomes for purposes of billing or ensuring that the project deliverables meet the desired project outcomes. In this regard, the bottom-line is that project managers cannot afford to overlook cost control because it is a critical part of their resource plan (Project Insight 1).
Poor cost control also has the power to affect other aspects of the project management plan. Therefore, poor cost control could lead to undesirable outcomes in all other aspects of the project management plan.
Closure is the last stage of the project lifecycle. Managing it is crucial in reflecting through the overall project plan. The importance of managing this last stage is to come up with lessons learned throughout the project execution and management process. This step is important in improving the performance of future projects because the project manager will know what to do in future project management processes (SQA 1).
In this regard, the project managers would take advantage of the existing room for improvement because no project is perfect. The process of noting the lessons learned should not only include management because other members of the project team should also give their input regarding what lessons they have learned. The project manager could collect their views using questionnaires or any other data collection tool and analyze them to come up with general findings for improving future projects (SQA 1).
Managing the last stage of the project lifecycle is also important in maintaining good relations between the client and the project manager. This step is useful in developing the final project report (required by many clients). Effective management of the closure stage should enable the project manager to prepare an effective and holistic project management report (SQA 1).
Through such documents, clients and sponsors learn important information about the project. For example, they could learn about changes made to the project and their effects on the overall project plan. The final report may also include information omitted in the project plan (Westland 132).
Clients and sponsors could also learn about the recommendations made by the project manager for purposes of improving future projects. While sponsors are divided regarding the format of the final report (written material or PowerPoint presentation), managing the last stage of the project lifecycle would help the project manager to develop a good report.
This paper has shown the importance of managing the project lifecycle for purposes of achieving positive project outcomes. This analysis emerges within the different tenets of the project lifecycle – planning, execution, control, and closure. The importance of managing the project lifecycle during the planning stage manifests through the need for the project manager to have direction when executing the project.
Managing the planning stage of the project lifecycle helps them know this direction. Through this analysis, this paper has shown the importance of developing an elaborate project plan because it outlines the foundations of the entire project. By failing to plan, it is difficult to control all other aspects of the project. This paper has also shown that managing the planning stage helps the project manager to develop clear communication plans and define clear roles for team members.
These factors are important in the proper management of the entire project. For the execution phase, this paper has shown that managing the project lifecycle is critical in scope definition, resource allocation, and project scheduling. Managing the project lifecycle is also important during the control stage because it helps project managers to undertake effective control processes.
People can underestimate its importance during the last stage of the project lifecycle (closure) because managing the project lifecycle during this phase is critical in identifying new lessons for improving future projects and improving the relationship between the project manager and the sponsors. Collectively, the insights highlighted in this paper show the importance of managing the project lifecycle for purposes of achieving successful project outcomes.
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