What is Project Life Cycle and its Main Characteristics?

What is Project Life Cycle and its Main Characteristics?

A project life cycle is the sequence of phases that a project goes through from its initiation to its closure. The number and sequence of the cycle are determined by the management and various other factors like needs of the organization involved in the project, the nature of the project, and its area of application. The phases have a definite start, end, and control point and are constrained by time. The project lifecycle can be defined and modified as per the needs and aspects of the organization. Even though every project has a definite start and end, the particular objectives, deliverables, and activities vary widely. The lifecycle provides the basic foundation of the actions that has to be performed in the project, irrespective of the specific work involved.

Project life cycles can range from predictive or plan-driven approaches to adaptive or change-driven approaches. In a predictive life cycle, the specifics are defined at the start of the project, and any alterations to scope are carefully addressed. In an adaptive life cycle, the product is developed over multiple iterations, and detailed scope is defined for iteration only as the iteration begins.

Characteristics of the Project Life Cycle

Although projects are unique and highly unpredictable, their standard framework consists of same generic lifecycle structure, consisting of following phases:

  1. The Initiation Phase: Starting of the project

  2. The Planning Phase: Organizing and Preparing

  3. The Execution Phase: Carrying out the project

  4. The Termination Phase: Closing the project

Characteristics of the Project Life Cycle

  1. The Initiation Phase: The initiation phase aims to define and authorize the project. The project manager takes the given information and creates a Project Charter. The Project Charter authorizes the project and documents the primary requirements for the project. It includes information such as:

    • Project’s purpose, vision, and mission

    • Measurable objectives and success criteria

    • Elaborated project description, conditions, and risks

    • Name and authority of the project sponsor

    • Concerned stakeholders

  2. The Planning Phase: The purpose of this phase is to lay down a detailed strategy of how the project has to be performed and how to make it a success.

    Project Planning consists of two parts:

    • Strategic Planning

    • Implementation Planning

    In strategic planning, the overall approach to the project is developed. In implementation planning, the ways to apply those decisions are sought.

  3. The Execution Phase: In this phase, the decisions and activities defined during the planning phase are implemented. During this phase, the project manager has to supervise the project and prevent any errors from taking place. This process is also termed as monitoring and controlling. After satisfaction from the customer, sponsor, and stakeholder’s end, he takes the process to the next step.

  4. The Termination Phase: This is the last phase of any project, and it marks the official closure of the project.

This general lifecycle structure is used when dealing with upper management or other people less familiar with the project. Some people might confuse it with the project management process groups, but the latter contains activities specific to the project. The project lifecycle, on the other hand, is independent of the life cycle of the particular outcome of the project. However, it is beneficial to take the current life-cycle phase of the product into account. It can provide a common frame of reference for comparing different projects

The generic life cycle structure commonly exhibits the following characteristics:

  • At the start, cost and staffing levels are low and reach a peak when the work is in progress. It again starts to drop rapidly as the project begins to halt.

  • The typical cost and staffing curve does not apply to all projects. Considerable expenses are required to secure essential resources early in its life cycle.

  • Risk and uncertainty are at their peak at the beginning of the project. These factors drop over the lifecycle of the project as decisions are reached, and deliverables are accepted.

  • The ability to affect the final product of the project without impacting the cost drastically is highest at the start of the project and decreases as the project advances towards completion. It is clear from the figure 2 that the cost of making new changes and rectifying errors increases as the project approaches completion.

Generic Life Cycle Structure of a Project

Generic Life Cycle Structure of a Project-2

These features are present almost in all kinds of project lifecycles but in different ways or to different degrees. Adaptive life cycles are developed particularly with the intent of keeping stakeholder influences higher and the costs of changes lower all through the life cycle than in predictive life cycles.


Let’s take a look at how knowledge on project lifecycle benefits an organization:

  • It helps professional services teams to be more proficient and profitable.

  • It helps the organization.

  • It makes the flow of communication easier.

  • It emphasizes on reporting and examining previous projects.


Know more about project management best practices through Invensis Learning’s Project Management certification training on PMP, CAPM, PRINCE2, Project Management Fundamentals, P3O, and MSP. We are a trusted training partner for Fortune 500 companies and Government institutions globally. For on-site group training, please e-mail us at corporate@invensislearning.com.

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