A project phase is a collection of logically related project activities that concludes when one or all objectives of the project are achieved. A project could be divided into any number of phases. Project phases are required when the work to be performed is unique to a piece of the project and are typically linked to the development of a particular major deliverable.
A phase may stress processes from a specific Project Management Process Group, but each phase will execute most or all processes in one or the other form. The flow of project phases is usually sequential, but they can overlap too in some conditions. Different phases typically have a different effort or duration. They are considered elements of the project life cycle due to their high-level nature. Their numbers, needs, and the degree of control applied depend on the complexity, size, and potential impact of the project.
All phases have similar characteristics, irrespective of their number comprising a project:
To achieve the primary objective or deliverable of the phase, one requires unique processes to the phase or its activities. The repetition of processes across all five Process Groups offers an additional degree of control and defines the boundaries of the phase.
In the end, some form of transfer or hand-off of the work product is expected to be produced as the phase deliverable. This phase end gives time to re-evaluate the activities underway and to modify or dismiss the project, whatever is the situation. This stage is also called as a stage gate, milestone, phase gate, phase review, or kill point. The closure of a phase has to be approved in any form before it can officially be considered closed.
There is no single standard structure for all projects. Even the projects in the same industry or same organization may have significant variation in the number and nature of their phases. Some will have only one phase; others may have two or more phases.
As discussed in the previous articles, the four phases of the project management lifecycle are:
In cases where projects have two or more phases, the phases are considered part of a sequential process. However, in some situations, the project might benefit from overlapping or concurrent phases.
The phase-to-phase relationships can be of two types:
Sequential relationship: In a sequential relationship, a new phase starts only when the preceding phase is complete. In the figure given below, you can see an example of a project with three entirely sequential phases. The step by- step nature of this approach decreases uncertainty, but may also remove options for reducing the overall schedule.
Overlapping relationship: In an overlapping relationship, as the name suggests, next phase starts before the completion of the previous one. Overlapping phases sometimes need additional resources because work has to be done in parallel. It may increase risk or could lead to rework if a succeeding phase progresses before correct information is gathered from the previous phase.
In predictive life cycles, also known as fully plan-driven the three major constraints of the project, the scope, time and cost, are determined early in the project lifecycle. As it can be seen in the figure given below, these projects progress through a series of sequential or overlapping phases. Now the planning can be done for the entire project at a detailed level from the beginning of the project. Different work is usually performed in each phase. Therefore, the composition and skills required of the project team may vary from phase to phase.
Adaptive life cycles, also known as change-driven or agile methods, are used in cases of high levels of change or applications areas such as IT. Adaptive methods are also iterative and incremental, but the difference is that iterations are very rapid (typically with duration of 2 to 4 weeks) and are fixed in time and cost. Sometimes the processes within the iterations can be going on in parallel.
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