What is the project life cycle?
The project life cycle is a core concept for any team leader. The series of phases that a project passes through its initiation to its closure.
It defines the phases that connect the beginning of a project to its end. These phases provide better management control, with appropriate links to the ongoing operations of the organization.
The project life cycle determines many things, ranging from the technical work that must be completed in each phase to the methods for controlling and approving each phase. From a team leadership perspective, the project life cycle is important because it identifies who is involved in each phase. In addition, cost and staffing levels are usually low at the start of a project, peak during the intermediate phases, and then decrease rapidly as the project comes to an end.
We can also apply Tuckman’s Model to the project life cycle. Note how the chart below illustrates which stage generally applies to a particular portion of the project life cycle, as well as how staffing levels map to the project life cycle.
Project life cycle phases
Project Initiation (Forming)
In the early stages of a team’s development, the forming of the group takes place. From a work perspective, the group meets, learns about the project, agrees on goals, and then begins working on tasks. From a behavioral perspective, the team members tend to act independently and are on their best behavior. This stage is important because the group gets to know one another and grows more friendly.
Because team members are just getting adjusted to new project tasks and new coworkers, the team leader needs to be directive during the Forming stage.
Project Planning (Storming)
After leaving the Forming stage, teams enter the Storming stage. In this stage, different ideas and/or approaches compete for consideration by the group. The team members feel more open with one another and confront different ideas and perspectives. During Storming, team members deal with questions that include how the team will function independently and collectively, as well as what leadership model will be adopted. The length of the Storming stage varies by team. The maturity of the group members typically determines when the team moves out of this stage.
During the Storming stage, the team leader should focus on two areas:
- Emphasizing tolerance of team members and their differences
- Continuing to be directive in guiding decision making
Project Execution (Norming)
After the Storming stage concludes, teams enter the Norming stage. After weathering the conflict of Storming, team members modify their behavior as they develop team-oriented work habits. This results in more natural teamwork. The group begins to build internal trust, and motivation increases as the team becomes more comfortable with the project.
The team leader plays a more participative role than in the earlier stages. With the group members working more cooperatively and effectively, they can be expected to take more responsibility for decision making.
Project Monitoring and Control (Performing)
High-performing teams reach what is called the Performing stage, when a team finds ways to accomplish its work effectively without inappropriate conflict or the need for external supervision. Team members become interdependent. Conflict is handled through means that are acceptable to the team.
The team leader plays a participative role during the Performing stage, since the team makes most of the necessary decisions.
Project Closure (Adjourning)
As the project comes to a close, teams enter an Adjourning stage that offers a sense of closure for the current project and acts as a stepping-off point for future projects. This completion stage gives team members a chance to recognize their achievements and say goodbye to each other before they move on to new roles and activities. This can be a difficult time for some team members because the relationships that have developed during the project are coming to an end, and practitioners may be beginning new assignments that are not well-defined.
In the Adjourning stage, team leaders may need to rely on their “soft skills” to alleviate concerns and enable team members to appropriately shift their focus to their new activities. Leaders may be called upon to provide guidance to group members and to assist in these transitions, to reduce uncertainty and ensure a smooth progression to subsequent work.