Every project lasts for a well-defined period. Regardless of its work methodology, it goes through various identifiable phases. What phases does the project life cycle consist of? Read on to find out!

Project life cycle – table of contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. What is the project life cycle?
  3. Phases of the project life cycle
  4. The course of the cycle
  5. Summary


It’s not easy to talk about the time dimension of projects. Not only because, according to PMI’s 2021 report, as many as 45% of them require extended lead times to achieve their goals. Also, because there is no universal scheme of consecutive phases or stages with which to describe each project.

Hence, today we will consider how such a project develops over time. We will answer the question of what the project life cycle is. We will also look at how the rhythm of the delivery of results, and the chosen methodology – agile or cascade also called predictive – relate to the project life cycle.

What is the project life cycle?

The lifecycle runs from the beginning to the end of a project and consists of stages leading ultimately to the delivery of business value to stakeholders. The PMBOK defines it as:

“The series of phases a project goes through from its inception to its completion.”

Projects adopting agile and lean methodologies usually do not use the concepts of the project life cycle and its phases or stages. Agile practitioners find them challenging to define and simply unwieldy. However, such phases still exist in projects adopting agile methods. We can spot the phases easily. For example, by reviewing the documentation of a completed project or the analytics available through project management software, one can see when tasks tagged as “execution” and “testing” began to dominate the project. Based on the duration or cost of these phases, you can draw interesting conclusions for the future.

However, the project life cycle plays a much greater role in the cascade model. Then it comes in handy for ongoing work as it enables more accurate long-term planning. Distinguishing the phases of a project’s life cycle can also significantly facilitate the creation of a schedule and, consequently, the effective and timely implementation of the project.

Phases of the project life cycle

The stages of the project life cycle can follow one another in different sequences. According to PMBOK, the key ones are:

  • Initiation phase – here, the most crucial thing is to check the feasibility of the project and its approval by key stakeholders.
  • Planning phase – primarily focuses on gathering data, tools, and the project team.
  • Implementation phase – during which the product or service that is the goal of the project is created.
  • Testing phase – in which the result of the project is analyzed for the quality of execution and subjected to a final check by the team and the customer
  • Deployment phase – the product or service gets tested in the target environment and, depending on the type of project, marketed or eventually installed at the customer’s site
  • Project closure – team draws conclusions from the implementation of the project and future applications of the knowledge gained, and project documentation is archived.

Each phase may have specific exit criteria. The project has to meet these conditions to move on to the next phase. Still, in the project life cycle, phases do not always follow one another only once.

project life cycle

The course of the cycle

The course of the cycle can be linear. Then successive phases follow one after the other. However, in many cases, the initiation phase is repeatedly followed by planning, execution and testing, and even initial implementation. This is because the cyclicality of project life stages depends on:

  • the nature of the project’s results – depending on the standards of the industry, for example, on how many times and by whom the product is tested before final implementation, which is easy to imagine using the example of the launch of cosmetics, drugs or software,
  • the methodology – cascading or agile, where the factor influencing the repeatability of the steps will be how innovative the result is and how the collaboration with stakeholders is,
  • the rhythm of delivering results

The rhythm of delivering results can be limited to a one-time delivery when the goal of the project concerns creating a specific product or performing a unique service. It can also be cyclical, as in the case of improved and updated software or service performed at regular intervals. Delivery can also consist of several not-so-closely related components. For example, when the goal of a project is to revitalize a park, that may consist of tasks as diverse as:

  • analysis of the existing vegetation
  • recognition of the needs of the local community
  • tree plantings
  • delineation of paths
  • installation of lighting

In this case, for each of these phases, it will be necessary to go through almost the entire cycle – from planning to implementation.


The project life cycle is a series of consecutive stages that can take place once or form loops that repeat several times. They ultimately lead to the delivery of business value, i.e., the realization of the project’s goal, and they always begin with project initiation.

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Project life cycle | #13 Getting started with project management caroline becker avatar 1background

Author: Caroline Becker

As a Project Manager, Caroline is an expert in finding new methods to design the best workflows and optimize processes. Her organizational skills and ability to work under time pressure make her the best person to turn complicated projects into reality.

The most important questions

  1. Does every project include a testing phase?

    Yes, the result of a project is always checked before considered complete. Even if the project does not have a separate testing phase, the team has to check whether or to what extent the goal has been achieved.

  2. Who decides on the closure of the project?

    Project closure is most often unanimously decided by stakeholders. However, in case of doubt, the provisions of the project contract determine the completion. Therefore, it is worthwhile for all parties to clearly define and understand the performance criteria.

Getting started with project management:

  1. What is a project?
  2. What is project management?
  3. How to manage projects?
  4. Project management methods
  5. Types of projects
  6. 4 examples of projects
  7. Prioritization of projects
  8. Areas of project activity
  9. Definition of success in project management
  10. Why use project management software?
  11. How to choose the best project management software?
  12. Overview of project management software
  13. Project life cycle
  14. What is the project vision for?
  15. Project goal. What is it and how to define it well?
  16. Project initiation phase - what to pay attention to?
  17. The domain of planning in project management
  18. What is a project schedule and what is it for?
  19. How to use milestones in a project?
  20. Project execution
  21. How to prepare a successful project contingency plan?
  22. Importance of project closure
  23. Project failure. 5 reasons why projects fail
  24. 4Ps of management: project, product, program and portfolio
  25. Most important tasks and responsibilities of the Project Manager
  26. Most useful project manager skills
  27. How to become a project manager?
  28. 5 books every project manager should read
  29. How to set up a project team?
  30. Work breakdown structure - how to delegate work in a project?
  31. How to lead a team during hybrid work?
  32. Challenges project managers face when working with a team
  33. Types of project meetings
  34. Project monitoring. What parameters to watch?
  35. How to write a compelling
  36. How to define the scope of a project and avoid scope creep?
  37. Feasibility study – can we implement this project?
  38. Risk analysis in projects and tools to facilitate it
  39. How to create a project charter?
  40. What is a stakeholder register?
  41. Gantt chart in project management planning
  42. How to create a project budget?
  43. Time management in project
  44. How to create a project risk register?
  45. Project risk management strategies
  46. Project marketing
  47. Sources and areas of change in the project
  48. Project management change models
  49. What's after Agile? Methods in project management