Project life cycle phases are quite different across the Waterfall and Agile methodologies especially given Agile projects rarely stop when the product or deliverable is released. However what is common in both methodologies is that each phase informs the processes a Project Manager might need to manage and ultimately how the project data model will come together.

Definition: What is Project Life Cycle?
Definition of Project Life Cycle

Waterfall project lifecycle phases

In Waterfall there are four high level phases to a lifecycle:

  • initiation,
  • planning,
  • execution,
  • closing.

A fifth phase is often added depending on the project type called monitoring and controlling which can be useful if the execution phase is quite long.

Agile project lifecycle phases

Agile has a different approach with a high level lifecycle:

  • concept,
  • inception,
  • construction,
  • release,
  • production,
  • retirement.

However it also has a sub-lifecycle to account for the iterative process (requirements, development, testing, delivery and feedback). Certain Agile project types will have variations on this and may have shorter cycles with less phases to make things simpler.

Defining the phases of the project lifecycle

Given the project lifecycle can drive Project Management processes and team activities, it is important to map these out for your project at a high level and overlay on top of your project plan. Given the lifecycle phases use everyday words with clear meaning, it can also help to use them when describing project status or progress to stakeholders.

It is best to think of the project lifecycle as a guide for the Project Manager to use for the team to follow and mark progress. Where waterfall lifecycle management will be quite strict, the Agile lifecycle should ideally be based on the team’s way of working and allow for team decision making to advance through stages.

The Waterfall Lifecycle

Initiation

  • There may be pre-project phases, which are part of Portfolio Demand Management where the project is submitted as ‘idea’ to get stakeholder buy-in or allow ‘seed-funding’ to complete this phase.
  • The processes run in this phase are to define the project’s objective and measurable success criteria as well as assign key roles such as a Project Sponsor.
  • The Project Manager may use a Project Charter artefact as a record of all this information.

Planning

  • As the word infers, this phase is used to define ‘how’ the project will achieve the objective that was agreed in the initiation phase.
  • The Project Manager will develop the project plan, which should include a detailed schedule, risk assessments, resource plan, financial forecasts and other details that will be for the project baseline.
  • In many governance models, this is where a business case is developed to provide as accurate an estimate as possible to draw down on investment to fund the next phases and complete the project.

Execution

  • This is where the tasks in the project plan are completed and where you will likely find the go live or release milestones.
  • Monitoring and Controlling is an additional phase that establishes additional processes for the Project Manager to oversee project quality and outcomes.

Closure

  • The project has completed (or failed) and will complete a number of activities to finalise and close.
  • Example activities can be the closure of vendor contracts and the management of resources (off-board contracts or reallocate to resource pools).

The Agile Lifecycle or Process Flow

Concept

  • Not too dissimilar to Initiation for Waterfall Projects where the Project is conceptualised however there is a greater focus on demand management or prioritisation in this phase than you might see in Waterfall.
  • Strategic alignment is also critical within this phase and the Project construct defined depending on the delivery framework of the organisation.

Inception

  • The project starts to come together with resources assigned as team members, defining and agreeing the required investment. High-level requirements are understood (potentially high level Epics defined) as well as technical enablers such as the development environments finalised.

Construction

  • Sometimes also called the iteration phase.
  • The project team continually completed development iterations and feedback loops.

The iteration can have the below sub-phases within construction:

  • Requirements – continually reviewing feedback and requirements and developing user stories for prioritisation in product and sprint backlogs.
  • Development – design and development tasks.
  • Testing – Quality Assurance or QA to test the developed product, complete relevant system reference information and may also include business or user readiness activities such as training.
  • Delivery – releasing the iteration into production.
  • Feedback – monitoring feedback in order to loop back into Requirements phase and start a new iteration.

Release

  • This includes the pre-release activities that can broadly be captured under Quality Assurance but includes testing (and defect management), development or system documentation (the online versions such as confluence libraries or code repositories).
  • It can also include readiness activities for operational and end users.
  • The Phase of course includes the release to production and any relevant compliance tasks or immediate post go live support required.

Production

  • The ongoing support of the developed product in production, which will likely include multiple iterative releases and improvements over time.

Retirement

  • Likely to be sometime in the future and it is likely many Project teams will never see such a phase however as part of the development lifecycle includes end-of-life application management or migration of users to a replacement or new service.

For any project manager these phases can act as a guide to inform how a Project can be run in accordance with best practice. Any Project Manager can come up with their unique version of this and may create a hybrid of the Waterfall and Agile approach. As long as the end-to-end processes to achieve Project outcomes are managed it is entirely up to you and your team as to what will work for you.

Project life cycle FAQ

If you're looking for a quick answers to your questions...

What is the project life cycle?

Project lifecycle simplifies the management processes and activities in between. Projects are broken down into the series of phases which together form a lifecycle.

What are project life cycle stages?

In Waterfall there are four high-level phases to a lifecycle:

  1. initiation,
  2. planning,
  3. execution,
  4. closure.


Agile has a different approach with a high-level lifecycle:

  1. concept,
  2. inception,
  3. construction,
  4. release,
  5. production,
  6. retirement.

What is the initiation phase in project management?

The project initiation phase is the first one of 4 project life cycle phases.
The processes run in the initiation phase are to define the project’s objective and measurable success criteria as well as assign project key roles.

What happens in the planning phase of a project?

The planning phase is one of 4 project life cycle phases.
The planning phase is used to define ‘how’ the project will achieve the objective that was agreed in the initiation phase.
In this phase project manager develops a project plan, that includes a detailed schedule, risk assessments, resource plan, financial forecasts and other details that will be for the project baseline.

What is the execution phase of a project?

The execution phase is one of 4 project life cycle phases.
The execution phase is where the tasks in the project plan are completed and where you will likely find the go-live or release milestones.

What is project closure?

The project closure is the last phase in the project life cycle. The project closure defines the number of activities to finalise and close the project.
Example activities can be the closure of vendor contracts and the management of resources (off-board contracts or reallocate to resource pools).