Project Phases

Phases in a projectRecall the definition of project from the first post in this series of lessons – “A Project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result“.

Although the definition states the project to be ‘temporary in nature’, it can span from days, to weeks, to months, to years, to decades, to even centuries and more.

Only the duration of project is temporary, the result can last centuries.

For instance, the Colosseum – an elliptical amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome – took 10 years to build, the pyramid of Giza, built almost 4500 years ago took about 20 years to build, York Mister Cathedral of England took 252 years, Petra in Jordan took 450 years to build, and the Great Wall of China took 2,000 years!

Let us see what constitutes a project.

A project can be looked at as a bunch of processes (47 of them) and as you know they are grouped into 5 Process Groups

Project process groups explained

Figure 1: Process groups, and how they are connected

Process groups in Project or Phase

Figure 2: Anatomy of a project

As you can see, Initiating processes start upfront in a project, and Closing process are conducted in the end of a phase or project. Planning processes and Executing processes pretty much run iteratively. Monitoring and Controlling processes encompass the whole cycle in order to keep everything on track.

This may represent a single phase of a project. This does not mean that a phase must have all these process groups.

Do all projects have single sequence of these process groups?

Not really. Very few projects have single phase, many of the smaller projects may. Usually projects have several phases, and they can be overlapping or sequential, depending on the nature of the project.

Overlapping phases of a project

The example below shows how phases of a project can overlap.

Imagine that you are building your dream house (a second one if you already have one :). Your first ‘phase’ of work would be to get the blueprint done, identifying vendors for the building materials, choosing a builder, selecting colors for walls, deciding on the type of flooring and so on. However, as soon as you have figured out the blueprint and builder you can move on to the next phase of laying foundation of your house, and need not wait until every detail of the house is finalized. While interiors of the house are underway, you can start on the landscaping around the house.

Overlapping phases of a project

Figure 3: Most of the projects will have overlapping phases

Sequential phases of a project

Projects sequence phases only when there are hard dependencies between them.

In the above example, you would not start painting the walls until plastering work is all complete. You would not set up furniture and lighting until all painting work is complete. In such cases, you sequence the phases.

Sequential project phases

Figure 4: A project can have sequential phases

There are other project life cycles, couple of them is as below.

Iterative and incremental life cycles of a project

In this type of project life cycle, activities are performed in a repetitive fashion in a series of repeated cycles, called Iterations. Product is built in an incremental fashion and delivered at the end of each iteration.

These deliverables are fully tested and ready to be pushed to production. Subsequent iterations may either enhance these deliverables or build something new.

These iterations may run within phases, and these phases can be sequential or parallel. Also, the iterations may run in parallel or sequential manner. The decision to run them in parallel depends on what is being produced in these iterations and the amount risk appetite project wants to have.

This approach is used for projects that are large or complex, where risks are high, scope is not completely known upfront and is discovered as project progresses. Research based projects typically follow this approach.

Adaptive life cycle of a project

This a bit advanced version of iterative and incremental life cycle where scope unknowns are high. The main difference is that the duration of iterations is very small.

Consider Agile software development practice. The product is released to production over few release cycles. Each release consists of few smaller (2-4 weeks, typically) iterations. Each release of the product comes out in a span of couple of months, and then the next release of the product begins. Pretty much same set of activities are performed in each of these iterations – design, development (construction), testing, and release of deliverables.

The team dynamics here are very different from earlier types of project life cycles. Typical team size is 7 plus or minus 2 (that is 5-9 members). Team is completely responsible for committing to the scope of iteration and delivering it at the end of the iteration. Project manager here dons the role of a facilitator, protector and enabler for the team to do their work in most efficient manner.

Team maintains a prioritized list of broken down features called Product Backlog. Certain number of top features are taken for an iteration from this list and broken down further into smaller tasks. Team members are allowed to pick the tasks they are most comfortable with.

At the end of iteration customer can see the completely tested features in working condition. This however does not mean that customer can accept deliverables; it only indicates that product should not contain unfinished or unusable features.

There is no reward if the team over-achieves the scope of the iteration, and no penalty if it under-delivered. Eventually the team finds its ‘velocity’ to deliver maximum amount of features per iteration by working in a collaborative way and achieving optimized productivity.

These are the various ways in which project phases can be planned and executed. How many different types of such projects you have worked with?

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