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Themes and theories for working in virtual project teams
Themes and theories for working in virtual project teams

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3.1 Project life cycle

The basic project life cycle consists of a sequence of phases, as shown in Figure 5, and fits many projects.

The basic and extended project life cycles
(The Open University, 2008)
Figure 5 The basic and extended project life cycles

The generic sequence of phases in the basic life cycle has been explained by the Association of Project Managers (APM, 2006). The description used here is a summary of the description in the Open University course Project management (M865). The phases are as follows:


The need, problem or opportunity is established for the proposed project. Plans are made that are sufficient to assess the feasibility of the proposed project, for example by including a risk assessment, to enable a ‘go/no-go’ decision to be made, often in the form of a business case. The decision defines the end of the stage.


Plans and costs are refined to create a project plan that can be used by the project manager. As the requirements are elaborated in greater detail the project’s scope, time, cost and quality objectives can be affected. Milestones may be identified to break the project into smaller parts. More detailed risk assessment can be undertaken.


This phase may also be known as execution. The project management plan is put into action. The design of the project deliverables, which will satisfy the project goal, is finalised so that each deliverable can be built. Typically deliverables are handed over at project milestones but there may be several deliverables for a milestone. The deliverables may be ones which are to be handed over to a client external to the team, or may be ones that are needed within the project to complete an activity and enable the project to move on to the next activity. Deliverables are not necessarily physical artefacts that will be built, they could be definitions of processes or services. The tasks which need to be undertaken to produce the deliverables are also defined. The important activities at this stage are: communication with stakeholders; monitoring costs; controlling quality; and identifying and managing change. Typically this is the busiest phase of the basic life cycle.

Handover and closeout

The final project deliverables are handed over. Once the deliverables have been formally accepted, the responsibility and ownership of the deliverable shifts from the project team to the sponsor and/or users. At this point, the project can be reviewed in order that lessons may be learnt from the team’s experiences to improve future practice.

Extended life cycle

Also known as a product life cycle, shown in Figure 5, it involves supporting and maintaining the deliverables in order to realise the project’s intended benefits. The extended life cycle adds two more phases to the sequence (APM, 2006):


The period during which the completed deliverables are used and maintained in service for their intended purpose.


The disposal of the project deliverables at the end of their life. Projects related to special events, such as an annual conference or a sporting event, have the extended life cycle. The termination phases can include a whole life cycle review where managers and team members reflect on the whole project to learn from both positive and negative experiences.

This representation of the basic and the extended life cycles is useful for understanding the phases in the life cycle of projects. In practice the phases may be iterative. Project phases may also overlap, so that one phase starts before the previous one is complete. This is known as fast tracking (PMI, 2004) and enables a project to be completed in less time.

A further important point to make about projects is that they have stakeholders. Stakeholders are all the people or organisations who:

  • have an interest in a project
  • are affected by the project
  • can influence the project.

Stakeholders determine the requirements for the project. They can have different views and hence different and possibly conflicting requirements. Therefore, all the requirements need to be identified and conflicts in those requirements should be resolved. Understanding and appreciating the perspectives of all the stakeholders will enable a project team leader to recognise and deal with the possible conflicts that are presented to the project.


  • a.Briefly explain what is needed to enable the business case for a project to be developed into the project plan.
  • b.What implications does fast tracking have for the project plan?


  • a.After the business case the project requirements will be specified in more detail so that the proposal can be developed further. The scope, cost and time can be identified more accurately. Risks are identified and objectives are set. These are all used to develop a plan that can be used by the project manager in later phases of the project.
  • b.If there is to be fast tracking the project plan must be at a sufficient level of detail that the project manager knows which parts of a phase will need to be completed before a subsequent phase can be started.