2 Taking an overview
The planning process aims to demonstrate how the project outcomes will be achieved successfully within both the required timescale, the agreed budget and the required quality. As each project is different, there are a number of ways of taking an overview of a project. Two of these are:
the project life-cycle, which is a useful way of understanding the different phases of a project as it progresses, and
the classic six-stage project management model, which helps us to identify the key stages and to integrate them through the processes of the project.
Although all projects are different, any project can be considered to have a life-cycle consisting of five phases (see the communications matrix). The phases are usually referred to collectively as the life-cycle of a project because they provide an overview of the life of the project from its beginning to its end.
Each phase is marked by a completion which is often one of the deliverables of the project:
Phase 1 – project definition – is completed by the production of the agreed project brief.
Phase 2 – planning – is completed as a project plan, although this remains flexible in many ways and is revised during the progress of the project.
Phase 3 – implementation – leads to an achievement of the project outcomes and to
Phase 4 – closure – and
Phase 5 – evaluation.
These phases can also be used as evaluation points, so that as each phase is completed a review is held to determine whether the project is succeeding in its overall performance and whether key deliverables are being achieved. There are options at these review stages to revise the plans and improve performance or even to discontinue the project.
As each project is different, so each life-cycle varies also. Real life is more chaotic than the simple model shown in the communications matrix would suggest, but it can be used to provide a structure that helps to reduce the chaos by putting some boundaries around different stages of the project.
Although Figure 2 is linear, the phases of a project are often iterative in practice, with refining and modification taking place throughout the life of the project. Projects can often change as they progress. This is particularly so in service organisations such as health or educational services, where projects are usually defined by needs and problems rather than by tangible outputs such as factories or cars. Projects often take place in rapidly-changing contexts and the impact of the changing environment on the life-cycle of a project has to be managed. Flexibility is one of the keys to successful project management.