3.1 Project Phases and Organization

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  1. Identify the phases of a project.
  2. Describe the types of activities in each phase of a project.

Projects, by definition, have a beginning and an end. They also have defined phases between the project kickoff and project closeout. A phase represents a grouping of similar activities that has a very loosely defined beginning and end. Phases are typically sequential, where the prior phase is essentially complete before the beginning of the next phase; however, phases do not have clear-cut end dates and some activities in an early phase of the project will continue into the later phases. This is in contrast to project beginning and ending dates and milestone dates, which do have clearly defined dates with the expectation that these dates will be met.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) identifies four major phases of a project as characteristics of the project life cycle.1 These four life-cycle phases are initiation, planning, execution, and project closeout. The knowledge, skills, and experience needed on the project can vary in each phase. During the early phases of a project, the project leadership needs good conceptual skills, the ability to build a team, and the experience to build a project roadmap. During project closeout, the project leadership provides a high degree of motivation and attention to detail. On a large project, lasting two or more years, it is common to see the project management team change leadership to provide skills that are appropriate to the final phases of the project.


The , which PMI labels “starting the project,” includes all the activities necessary to begin planning the project. The typically begins with the assignment of the project manager and ends when the project team has sufficient information to begin developing a detailed schedule and budget. Activities during the include project kickoff meetings, identifying the project team, developing the needed to develop the project plan, and identifying and acquiring the project management infrastructure (space, computers). On projects where the scope of work for the project is not well defined, the project team will invest time and in developing a clearer scope of work. On projects where the major project are not aligned, the project team will expend and time creating stakeholder alignment.

Unlike project , some activities associated with project initiation may be delayed without delaying the end of the project. For example, it is advantageous for the project to have the major project aligned from the beginning, but sometimes it is difficult to get the commitment from to invest the time and to engage in an . Sometimes it is only after stakeholders begin observing progress on a project that the project manager can facilitate the alignment processes.


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The , which PMI labels “organizing and preparing,” includes the development of more detailed schedules and a budget. The planning also includes developing detailed staffing, procurement, and project controls plans. The emphasis of the is to develop an understanding of how the project will be executed and a plan for acquiring the needed to execute it. Although much of the planning activity takes place during the , the project plan will continue to be adjusted to respond to new challenges and opportunities. Planning activities occur during the entire life of the project.


The , labelled by PMI as “carrying out the work,” includes the major activities needed to accomplish the work of the project. On a construction project, this would include the design and construction activities. On an information technology (IT) project, this would include the development of the software code. On a training project, this would include the development and delivery of the training.


The —or using PMI’s nomenclature, “closing of the project”—represents the final stage of a project. Project staff is transferred off the project, project documents are archived, and the final few items or is completed. The project client takes control of the product of the project, and the project office is closed down.

The amount of and the skills needed to implement each phase of the project depends on the project profile. Typically, a project with a higher-complexity profile requires more skills and during the . Projects with a profile that indicates problems with alignment among key or political and legal issues will require specialized to develop plans that address these issues early in the project. A project with a lower complexity level will invest more in the to complete the project as effectively and efficiently as possible.


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Project Phases on a Large Multinational Project

A United States instructional design company won a contract to design and build the first distance-learning-based college campus in northern Argentina. There was no existing infrastructure for either the educational or large internet-based projects in this part of South America. During the of the project, the project manager focused on defining and finding a project leadership team with the knowledge, skills, and experience to manage a large complex project in a remote area of the globe. The project team set up three offices. One was in Chile, where a large distance education project infrastructure existed. The other two were in Argentina. One was in Buenos Aries to establish relationships and Argentinean expertise, and the second was in Catamarca—the largest town close to the campus site. With offices in place, the project start-up team began developing procedures for getting work done, acquiring the appropriate permits, and developing relationships with Chilean and Argentine partners.

During the , the project team developed an integrated project schedule that coordinated the activities of the design, procurement, and design teams. The project controls team also developed a detailed budget that enabled the project team to track project expenditures against the expected expenses. The project design team built on the conceptual design and developed detailed drawings for use by the procurement team. The procurement team used the drawings to begin ordering equipment and materials for the implementation team to develop labour projections, refine the construction schedule, and set up the campus site.

The represents the work done to meet the requirements of the scope of work and fulfill the charter. During the , the project team accomplished the work defined in the plan and made adjustments when the project factors changed. Equipment and materials were delivered to the worksite, labour was hired and trained, a learning center site was built, and all the development activities, from the arrival of the first computer to the installation of the final light switch, were accomplished.

The included turning over the newly constructed campus to the operations team of the client. A of a few remaining items was developed and those items completed. The office in Catamarca was closed, the office in Buenos Aires archived all the project documents, and the Chilean office was already working on the next project. The accounting books were reconciled and closed, final reports were written and distributed, and the project manager started on a new project.

  • The phases of a project are initiation, planning, execution, and closeout.
  • The , which PMI calls “starting the project,” includes activities such as holding alignment and kickoff meetings, identifying the project team, developing the needed to develop the project plan, and identifying and acquiring the project management infrastructure.
  • The , which PMI calls “organizing and preparing,” includes developing detailed staffing, procurement, and project controls plans.
  • The , which PMI calls “carrying out the work,” includes the major activities needed to accomplish the work of the project.
  • The , which PMI calls “closing of the project,” includes transferring staff, archiving documents, closing offices, completing tasks, and turning over the results of the project to the client.

[1] Project Management Institute, Inc., A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide), 4th ed. (Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute, Inc., 2008), 11–16.