Project management is much more than just task assignment. Projects are like stories, with a beginning, a development, and an end, and they should be dealt with in this manner, step by step. This is the idea behind the 5 phases of project management approach, which, as suggested by the Project Management Institute, are named Initiating, Planning, Executing, Controlling, and Closing.
But, is it really vital to follow pre-established phases instead of going straight to execution? How does it improve your results?
The simple answers to the questions above are “yes” and “a lot.” Each of these phases takes you one step closer to a successful project, and rushing things might have the opposite effect. Let’s discuss what exactly it means and how it can help you to achieve your goals.
Why the 5 phases of project management are relevant to all businesses
If you are a business owner, you might feel tempted to ignore these phases. You are likely not to have anyone to convince, or might have done something similar before that went very well. The 5 Phases of Project Management does sound very theoretical and bureaucratic, however, here are some reasons why you ought to change your mind:
- This approach will allow you to manage your project without feeling overwhelmed.
- It will help you to monitor what your contractors and employees are doing, saving your time instead of wasting it.
- You will be able to adapt this approach to the style and goals of your business.
You should also know that you don’t need to wait for the end of one phase to start another. Most of the time a previous step continues to happen while the next has just begun. And it gives you the chance to adjust while you do it.
Phase 1: Initiating
Think about initiating as a pre-planning phase. It’s when you will brainstorm about your objectives, define who will do what, when, and how. It’s also when you will present your project to decision makers and investors.
During this phase, you will consider the crucial aspects of your project, such as:
- Scenario analysis: A deep understanding of your target audience, competitors, and industry.
- Task management: What needs to be done, when, and in which order.
- Roles and responsibilities: How many people you will need, their skill set, and what they will do.
- Communication tools and process: How you will keep yourself, team, and decision makers informed about your progress.
- Monitoring tools and process: How you will know if the project is on the right track.
- Budget management: An estimate of how much money you will need and for what purpose.
A project isn’t a goal in of itself, but a means to an end. It exists to support a business strategy by creating something that will boost sales, decrease costs, or grow brand awareness. Have the “why” very clear from phase one so that you can develop a project that will accomplish it.
You don’t have to come up with all the answers in one go. Be flexible and adapt your ideas and concepts throughout this phase and the next one. You may partially skip the initiating phase if you are managing a recurrent plan. In this scenario, sit down with your team, review the documents you already have, and make the necessary adjustments.
Pro tip: Keep written or voice notes of everything that you decide during this phase. It will make phase two much easier.
Phase 2: Planning
The primary goal of phase two is creating a written plan. It can be very detailed or a more straightforward document, but what matters is that all information required to run the project is there to be found in a way that is easy to understand and follow.
You should divide your project plan into sections, but the names given to the chapters aren’t as important as their content.
Here are some common topics:
- Introduction or presentation
- Executive summary
- Scope management/work breakdown structure
- Schedule/time management
- Budget management
- Quality management
- Human resources management
- Communication management
- Risk management
Be aware that it might not just be a matter of listing what was previously discussed. Many issues only come to light once you start writing them down. For instance, after you establish your project’s tasks, you might realize that the completion date isn’t realistic, or that you need more money. Or the opposite, that there was an overestimate of your challenges and you can complete things faster or with fewer resources.
The plan also functions as a record for future consultation. Therefore, you should continue updating it until the final phase of your project management. As you work on your tasks, you might find out that your plan isn’t covering some relevant points, or that it was done poorly, and you will need to fix it.
Pro tip: Make your plan visual. Add graphs, charts, tables, flowcharts, and anything else that can help your team to quickly understand what they are going to do next and why.
Phase 3: Executing
Action time. Phase three, executing, is one of the busiest, and this is a correct way to define it. It’s when you will put your plan into practice. As a project manager, you will create, distribute and verify tasks; keep team communication flowing at its best; and update decision makers on your progress.
To carry your duties out more efficiently, you should consider using a project management software to help you with task management and workflow analysis. It will prove to be useful in supporting the prediction of issues, and most of them come with communication tools, where you can chat and share files instantly.
Budgeting will also be one of your primary concerns in this phase, along with keeping one eye on contracts, legal procedures, and any mandatory regulations – in many industries, they can change frequently, and you might need to adapt while executing the project.
Pro tip: Avoid micromanagement. No matter how well you can justify it, the truth is that very little gets done when a team needs to run each step of their tasks by their manager. If you think that a collaborator isn’t good enough to work independently, hire someone else.
Phase 4: Controlling
Controlling is the longest phase of project management. As soon as you start planning, you should decide how you will ensure that the proposed activities are executed as agreed. If you choose to check on them only when your project is complete, you might receive some bad news when it’s too late.
During this phase, you will be carefully inspecting the following elements, among others:
- Progress: Are the activities flowing as planned?
- Quality: Are we proceeding within the expected standard or above it?
- Time: Will the deadline be met?
- Cost: Is the budget being correctly spent?
- Risk: Are we observing the external and internal scenarios?
There are many ways to monitor your project. You can schedule meetings, request reports, or make the most of a project management app. Data analysis tools can also offer useful information but remember that controlling isn’t about gathering numbers, but interpreting them and acting based on the findings.
As said by Harvard Business Review staff, you should “respond quickly to changes in data or information as they come in, and look for early signs of problems so you can initiate corrective action. Otherwise, all you are doing is monitoring, not exercising control.”
Pro tip: Many newbies will deal with project management in the same way they control their groceries: only caring about it when the fridge is empty. Avoid this approach at all costs because you never know when your supplier will be out of stock.
Phase 5: Closing
Here comes the final stage, but it isn’t time to relax yet. Actually, the closing phase must be taken very seriously because it’s when you validate your project. You will be getting your deliverables approved, and your project signed off by stakeholders or your board of directors, in case you aren’t the business owner.
During phase five, you will gather feedback from everyone involved in the process direct or indirectly, so be prepared for some criticism. You might also feel a bit frustrated hearing comments that you wish were told during other phases. Still, document everything and take it as a teachable moment so you can do better in the future.
Be aware that you might detect a significant issue that affects your entire project negatively only at this stage. If so, don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself or playing the blame game. Go back to square one, fix what can be fixed (or minimize the damage), and be glad you noticed it before your customers. Later, take your time to understand what took you so long to discover it, so it won’t happen again.
Pro Tip: If you are the sole decision maker, seek a second opinion. It can come from another project manager, a family member, a trusted friend, or a consultant. Even someone with little knowledge of your industry might be able to add value to your project.
Dealing with the 5 phases of project management seems like hard work, but rest assured that it’s only a first impression. And you will learn a few lessons from it, such as:
- You shouldn’t start executing before spending time considering and planning your project.
- Monitoring your activities ensures that you will accomplish what you want and provides you with a time window to make adjustments.
- You need to ensure that there are no loose ends before closing the job.
Now put these ideas into practice. If you already are running a project, it’s fine. See if you can stop it for a while so you can create at least a written plan (phase two) and implement monitoring tools (phase three). It might mean readjusting your deadline, but it’s best to do it than deliver a faulty project and compromise the health of your business.