The 5 Phases of Project Management Explained (With Tips and Templates)

In this article, we explain the five phases of project management in plain language and offer helpful tips and best practices for success.

Projects come in all shapes and sizes — but no matter the objectives and obstacles, all projects can be made easier by breaking them down into clear stages and steps.

This is the reasoning behind the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) “Five Phases” of the project life cycle — Initiation,  Planning, Execution, Monitoring/Controlling, and Closure.

It’s a tried and tested, intuitive, and powerful framework for ensuring your projects proceed on time and within budget—even if it’s your very first time overseeing a project.

The Five Phases of Project Management: Overview

Here’s a quick overview of the 5 project management phases:

Phase 1 - InitiationPhase 2 - PlanningPhase 3 - ExecutionPhase 4 - Monitoring/ControllingPhase 5 - Closure

This project lifecycle phase involves defining the project idea and deliverable(s), creating a business case, listing stakeholders, and drafting the project charter.

In this next phase, you’d define the overall project scope with the project’s roadmap, create a detailed plan, estimate the budget, and define individual roles and responsibilities.

This project phase involves building the deliverable by allocating tasks, managing resources, and communicating frequently through collaboration tools, for example. (Concurrent with Monitoring/Controlling).

During this phase of a project life cycle, you’d monitor progress, track expenditure, ensure adherence to the plan, and manage disruptions. (Concurrent with Execution).

Project closure is the final phase and this involves reviewing and delivering your finished product, debriefing your project teams, finishing administrative tasks, and documenting what you learned.

The 5 Phases of Project Management Explained

As outlined by the Project Management Institute, here’s a closer look at the 5 key project life cycle phases involved in project management:

Phase 1: Project Initiation

Phase One: Project Initiation

A screenshot of Notion's project charter template
Notion offers a Project Charter template that’s free to use.

 

The initiation phase provides context and justification for your project. It must be well thought out, well-researched, and offer a compelling argument for the project’s funding.

Errors in this critical phase can result in catastrophic derailment downstream, leading to poor quality deliverables, exploding costs, and even loss of the initial investment.

To begin, you’ll need to create a business case—an important initial document that explains why the project is needed, what problem it will solve, and how it aligns with your company’s long-term goals.

Be sure to also include potential risks and how they’ll be managed. This must then be studied by relevant stakeholders who will determine the project’s feasibility.

If issues are identified, the project may need to be reimagined, delayed, or scrapped. Provided everybody agrees to move forward, you can proceed to create the “Project Charter”.

Also known as the “Project Initiation Document” (PID), these critical pieces of project documentation define the project’s scope, purpose, requirements, and project objectives, list its team members (who), and establish a timeframe (when).

Initiation Phase Tips & Best Practices

  • There are plenty of free templates available online for business cases, PIDs, and project charters, like those on offer with Notion.
  • Write using plain language, avoiding jargon or terminology that may differ between stakeholders and departments.
  • Don’t get too bogged down in details. You’ll have the opportunity to discuss technical requirements and workflows in Phase Two.
Phase 2: Planning

Phase Two: Planning

A screenshot of ClickUp's Gantt chart feature
ClickUp‘s Gantt chart feature makes it easy to set up a visual project timeline.

 

Unsurprisingly, the project planning stage is crucial to ensuring the project’s success. The overall goal during this project management phase is to develop a comprehensive and actionable project management plan.

Depending on your project management methodology, this initial phase may constitute a major part of the project’s timeline. This is the case for projects using a waterfall methodology, for example.

Conversely, with an agile approach, the main aim is to establish an initial set of tasks and goals, which will then be overtaken as the project evolves.

To successfully plan your project, you’ll need to:

Identify Technical RequirementsEstablish Communication ProtocolsPrepare Documentation and ResourcesDevelop a Detailed Project Schedule

What tools (e.g. software, production equipment), support resources (e.g. documentation), and knowledge (e.g. skills, methodologies) are required for success?

How will you communicate? Where will it take place (for example, in team collaboration software)? When will meetings happen (for both regular meetings and meetings around important milestones)?

This includes instructional guides, technical manuals, access to knowledge bases, software guides, safety guidelines (if necessary), compliance information, and templates and standards.

Develop a detailed project schedule with the main tasks and success criteria (project goals), which will dictate how the project proceeds and serve as a benchmark for staying on track.

This is arguably the most important and likely the lengthiest part of the project planning stage. You’ll need to discuss with key stakeholders and determine the objectives necessary to create your deliverable.

Each main objective can be further broken down into a detailed work breakdown structure (be careful of getting too granular here—leave room for your teams to operate independently according to their skills and experience).

Each of these goals should then be placed on a project timeline to track progress. Beyond determining the order of tasks, this will help dictate how, when, and where communication will take place.

This will also determine which technical requirements need to be met at different stages of the project. Plus, phase two includes an important aspect of risk management.

In principle, this stage offers the clearest picture you’ll have of the project’s intended progression. Carefully consider where issues may arise and how you’ll deal with them in time.

Planning Phase Tips and Best Practices

  • Use project management software to create your project timeline to establish and visualize the dependencies between goals and tasks. For example, ClickUp offers Gantt charts for this.
  • Allow for some flexibility in your schedule for unforeseen changes (even if you’re not working in an agile environment). This might involve having contingency plans in place.

Read More:

Phase 3: Project Execution

Phase Three: Project Execution

A screenshot of Monday.com's task progression
Monday.com offers a variety of ways to create, assign, and track the progress of tasks.

 

The third phase is where you and your project team execute your project plan or timeline. Project management phases three and four take place concurrently.

Your job as project manager is to ensure the project stays on schedule and within budget, which means developing efficient workflows and carefully monitoring progress.

For this, good task management software is indispensable. It’ll give you a clear view of who’s working on what, which tasks are overdue or at risk, and which tasks are causing roadblocks for others.

You must also ensure smooth collaboration between team members. This means putting into practice the communication plan or protocols you established in phase 2 to ensure they’re effective.

Other project management best practices include making it easy for your team to report back to you and fostering transparency and visibility across the project team.

Project Execution Phase Tips and Best Practices

  • Gather feedback regularly. Ask your project team what’s working, what they need help with, and what they’re worried about, and then work with them to find creative solutions.
  • Prioritize growth. The execution phase can be stressful, and people rarely do their best work when they’re scared of making mistakes. Encourage innovation, even when it doesn’t pay off as planned.
Phase 4: Project Monitoring/Controlling

Phase Four: Project Monitoring/Controlling

Phase four of the project management process happens concurrently with phase three. The goal here for a project manager is to use tools and project management methods to ensure as little deviation as possible from your project plan and timeline.

Here are some common tools for the project management monitoring phase:

Earned Value Analysis (EVA)PERTGantt Charts

Earned Value Analysis (EVA) — This allows a project manager to compare the current value of the project (work actually done) against the expected value at a given point in time.

It’s good practice to monitor common key performance indicators during this phase in the project lifecycle, too.

The difference is the earned value. If the earned value is lower than expected, the project is behind schedule or over budget. If it’s greater, the project is ahead of schedule or below budget, which is good.

Projected Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) can be used to calculate how much time a project and its tasks should take based on Optimistic (O), Pessimistic (P), and Most Likely (M) timeframes.

A simple formula combines these in a way that prioritizes the Most Likely scenario but still takes into account your best- and worst-case scenarios:

Estimated Time (ET) = (O + 4M + P) / 6

For example, if your Optimistic estimate is 400 hours, your Pessimistic estimate is 750 hours, and your Most Likely estimate is 550 hours, your Estimated Time would be:

ET = (400 + (4 x 550) + 750) / 6 = 558 hours and 20 minutes

By arranging concurrent (independent) and sequential (interdependent) tasks, you can also determine a Critical Path Method (CPM)—the most efficient way for the project to proceed.

In this way, PERT and CPM can also be useful for a project manager in the project planning phase.

Gantt charts are a solid method for visualizing timelines and dependencies between projects has become hugely popular among project managers.

As a result, project managers are spoilt for choice when it comes to good Gantt chart software (often found in full-featured project management tools).

As a project manager, you’ll also need to incorporate quality and change control into this phase: Quality control isn’t a method or tool per se, but it’s an essential part of monitoring and controlling.

You’ll need to establish protocols for evaluating the quality of each task’s deliverable(s) as the project progresses. Quality issues with one task can impact others and the final deliverable itself.

We mentioned change control or management in Phase 2; in Phase 3, you must put into action the protocols you created for identifying, signaling, discussing, and implementing/canceling possible changes.

Project management software can help with this, as it offers a central “place” for each task, where possible changes can be discussed and additional tasks made to accommodate them when necessary.

Monitoring/Controlling Best Practices

A screenshot of Wrike's Change Control template
Wrike offers a free Change Control template for users of this popular project management software.

 

  • Consistency is an essential aspect of this phase. Project managers should be diligent about tracking progress and comparing it to expectations. Small delays can build up over time or signal greater delays to come.
  • Be proactive. Don’t passively wait for issues to present themselves—hunt them out by speaking to stakeholders and thinking critically about where problems are likely to arise.
  • Be sure you can effectively respond to issues. This requires creative problem-solving skills from both you and your project team. Brainstorm with stakeholders and senior management and record everything you do for future reference.
Phase 5: Closure

Phase Five: Closure

The project management life cycle comes to a close once the final deliverable for the project has been handed over. During the project closing phase in project management, there are a few key steps that remain:

DebriefingAdministrative TasksFinal Reports

Now is the time to assemble all the project stakeholders and discuss successes and failures, lessons learned, and what can be done better next time.

Each project serves to further a company’s processes, workflows, and methodologies. These experiences and lessons must be recorded, codified, and shared with relevant stakeholders.

If contractors, advisors, and other outside talent have been brought in, their contracts must be terminated (or adjusted), with all the necessary paperwork that entails.

Likewise, as a project manager, you may need to end or reduce software subscriptions, return contracted equipment, and otherwise liquidate resources and technical requirements (identified in phase one) that are no longer needed.

Finally, create a detailed final project report that covers every aspect of the project’s proceedings, such as issues identified and handled in the monitoring/controlling process; how well the project stuck to the plan, timeline, and budget; quality assurance ratings of the final product; important lessons gleaned from the debrief; and outcomes of administrative tasks.

This will help you identify critical success factors and aid in the success of future projects.

Conclusion

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The 5 phases of project management take a project from conception to completion, traversing the stages of Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring/Controlling, and Closure.

Each project management life cycle phase plays a critical role in ensuring a successful project while adapting to challenges and learning from experiences.

If you’re looking to streamline your project management process and ensure a smoother execution, check out our comprehensive list of the best project management software.

You may also be interested in these guides:

FAQs

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Christian Rigg
Business Management Expert

Christian holds a BSc in Psychology with an emphasis on organizational management and is the current Head of Operations for Eleven Media, where he oversees day-to-day business operations, manages a team of project and account managers, and otherwise greases the sticky wheels of company-wide collaboration. Prior to this, he managed operations for a hotel chain in the South of France while completing a Masters in History. When not geeking out over automations and data analysis, he can usually be found cycling and hiking around the French Riviera.