Deconstructing the Project Management Process

The 5 phases every project manager needs to know

Illustration showing five project management processes

Project management is a term that is used in different ways in different contexts. In our certificate program, we use a very specific set of terms as defined by the Project Management Institute in its Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)®.

What is a project? “A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.”

What is project management? “The application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to meet project requirements.”

What is a project manager? “Someone who is assigned by the performing organization to lead a team that is responsible for achieving the project’s objectives.”

Project managers create plans to manage schedules, costs and project scope. They also create plans to manage risks to the project. Project managers are also accountable for communications and quality management.

As a whole, project management involves an end-to-end set of tools, techniques and methodologies to help make sure that the results meet customer expectations.

In order to do so, project managers focus on five process groups, or phases:

1. Initiation: when a business or organization decides whether to go forward with a project and what the project must deliver

2. Planning: the project manager works with stakeholders and subject matter experts to make plans on how to deliver the project

3. Execution: the subject matter experts and individual contributors create the project deliverables

4. Monitor and control: project managers and team leads make sure things proceed according to plan and take corrective action as necessary

5. Closing: the process of signing off on completed projects and turning deliverables over to the customer

These stages do not proceed linearly. They overlap quite a bit.

Graphic showing full project management process and all phases

This is because there is a constant feedback loop between these processes to make sure that all efforts are integrated and aligned.

Part of the project manager’s job is to maintain that alignment and make sure everyone understands any changes to plans.

So let’s take a deep dive into each of these five phases.

1. Initiation

Graphic highlighting initiation phase of project management process

This is the most business-oriented phase.

Business leaders and analysts and project managers assess how a potential project can support an organization’s strategies and goals.

There’s a bit of negotiation about what the high-level requirements must be, along with rough estimates of how much time and money are needed to do the work.

Before committing to a project, the initiating team will also perform some quick return on investment (ROI) calculation, create feasibility studies or develop prototypes to determine whether the project makes sense from a business perspective.

This work will also include creating a business case.

After all of this due-diligence work and when stakeholders agree, a project sponsor will issue a project charter, which authorizes the project and marks the transition into project planning.

Related Course: Project Initiation and Planning

2. Planning

Graphic highlighting planning phase of project management process

As project managers transition from initiating to planning, their focus shifts from what the project must deliver to how to deliver it.

Accordingly, plans are created to account for all of the things a project must do.

Most importantly, project managers lead efforts to manage scope, schedule and costs.

But they also concern themselves with:

  • Who will work on the project?
  • Do they have the necessary skills?
  • How do they impact the budget?
  • Are they even available?
  • What are the potential setbacks a project might face?
  • If these risk events occur, what will be their impact?
  • What can we proactively do to mitigate risks?
  • How much money should we set aside to handle risk events when they happen?
  • How will the project manager, team and stakeholders communicate?
  • What kinds of reports are needed for different audiences?
  • How will we manage project documentation?
  • How will the project manager know if stakeholder requirements are met?
  • What processes and standards are necessary to measure compliance to requirements?
  • How will defects be detected, fixed and communicated?
  • What are acceptable number and degrees of defects?

As projects move forward and as knowledge about the work to be done deepens, requirements change and risk events occur.

The project manager, stakeholders and individual contributors continually adjust their plans.

Related Courses: Project Initiation and Planning | Project Scope and Quality Management | Project Schedule and Risk Management | Project Cost and Procurement Management

3. Execution

Graphic highlighting executing phase of project management process

Project execution refers to the work team members perform to create project deliverables. Individual contributors and teams rely on the project manager to direct their work, monitor whether their work is done according to plan, resolve issues and coordinate efforts with everyone else on the project.

Related Course: Project Execution and Control

4. Monitoring and Control

Graphic showing monitor and control phase of project management process

During project execution, the project manager is constantly communicating with people, reporting status, managing expectations, resolving issues and keeping things on track.

As part of monitoring and controlling, project managers ask:

  • Is the project on schedule?
  • Is the project on budget?
  • Are deliverables conforming with quality expectations?
  • What risk events have occurred? How are they being resolved?
  • How can we get better at what we do?

Sometimes requirements change. In this situation, there are formal change-control processes to make sure that the changes are managed and implemented in an orderly fashion.

Above all, project managers are constantly engaging with stakeholders, individual contributors and subject matter experts. They help keep everyone aligned, gather information that may impact the project, and make sure that requirements are met and the project’s intended value is being delivered to the organization.

Related Courses: Project Execution and Control | Project Schedule and Risk Management

5. Closing

Graphic showing closing phase of project management process

This final process group brings the project to an end.

Most importantly, the project manager leads a process to make sure that all deliverables meet requirements and are accepted by stakeholders. If there are any open issues, they need to be satisfactorily resolved.

The other main activity is preserving knowledge about the project to assist in planning future projects.

  • Teams should engage in a lessons-learned activity.
  • All project documentation should be preserved.
  • An analysis should be done comparing the original project baseline with the actual results.

Related Course: Project Execution and Control

Once all of the work is done, team members should be released to do other work for their organizations.

The Certificate Program in Project Management helps you master the content for each of these phases. You will not only gain deep skills in these concepts, but also apply them to the projects of your choice.

Are You Ready for a Career in Project Management or Add These Skills to Your Current Position?

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UC Berkeley Extension is the continuing education branch of the University of California, Berkeley. We empower learners to meet educational and career goals.

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UC Berkeley Extension is the continuing education branch of the University of California, Berkeley. We empower learners to meet educational and career goals.

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