Project managers must have an immaculate understanding of the project life cycle. This understanding can help project managers properly structure projects and get exceptional results. In this guide, we’ll dissect the project life cycle and cement the understanding of it via clear templates.
What Is a Project Life Cycle?
A project life cycle is a process that makes up every single project.
There are lots of processes and frameworks out there. Each framework attempts to logically divide the project into key phases that will give project managers more control, expedite their work, and improve their results.
The size and shape of those life cycles will vary according to things like:
- The project
- The goals
- The team
- The client
- The industry
Understanding a project life cycle is important because a clear, predictable framework can help project managers effectively spin up new projects, guide the team, and exercise control over any project.
Expert project managers might explore a range of frameworks for project life cycles. To find the most appropriate, effective framework, they can call on their vast knowledge (of both the project and the client).
But over the years, researchers have identified the most common, effective life cycle for a project. This cycle has four distinct phases and is used by project managers around the world.
4 Project Life Cycle Phases for Agencies & Marketing Teams
Let’s explore each phase of a standard project life cycle in more depth.
Like any good story, a new project needs a beginning that makes sense and provides all of the necessary background information and exposition. To succeed during the initiation phase, project managers must accomplish the following steps:
Every organization and team has a finite amount of resources – project managers within internal marketing teams must be able to write a compelling and informative argument to use those resources.
This argument should be written out as a business case. This document provides important project information to help the decision makers within your business make an informed and accountable decision.
Project managers within agencies often find that clients have created business cases. But it’s still important to access these documents.
Create more effective business cases with our free business case template.
SMART Project Goals
A compelling business case is one thing. But to find your way forward, you also need to create SMART objectives.
The concept of SMART goals was originally introduced in 1981 by George T. Doran. In his article for Management Review magazine, he explored how SMART goals can help project managers define and set practical goals.
All marketing project managers should properly understand the concept of SMART goals.
Plot your path to success in project management by using our free SMART goals template.
All too often, project managers fail to lay the appropriate groundwork and create a solid project charter, even if they feel prepared.
A project charter is essential for helping you and your team explore key factors that affect your project. A good project charter will clearly outline the project’s objective while you define team roles, responsibilities, budgetary constraints, and more.
Project managers will find that a project charter can untangle complex knots by offering clarity. In fact, it can save a project
Prepare yourself for project success with our free project charter template.
It’s important for you to clearly define your project scope, in order to understand the tasks and responsibilities that fall under the scope of your project.
A project scope statement can help you eradicate the threat of scope creep (i.e., situations when the goalposts change, and your team is scrambling to keep up). To effectively complete this statement, it should be understood and signed by all stakeholders.
Project managers within marketing teams and agencies should use project scope statements to set accurate expectations and boost their chances of satisfying their clients.
Avoid scope creep in all your future projects by using our robust project scope statement template.
Now that you have a complete understanding of your project and know how to move it forward, it’s time to secure stakeholder approval with an attractive project proposal.
This proposal should present all of the necessary technical information in an engaging, visual way. This tactic will help every stakeholder develop a common understanding of your project, so they can offer their approval.
Project managers from both marketing teams and agencies should learn how to create these compelling, information-rich project proposals.
With our free project proposal template, you can create show-stopping project proposals and get the approval you need.
Key Questions to Answer during the Initiation Phase:
- Does my project make sense from a business perspective?
- Do I understand exactly how to achieve our project objectives?
- Is my team organized and prepared for the project that lies ahead?
- Do I have a clear understanding of the scope of this project?
- Am I able to present the project to stakeholders in a persuasive, attractive manner?
After you’ve secured approval, it’s time to flesh out your project and kick things up a notch. First, you should use your project management abilities to create a robust plan that guides your team and delights your stakeholders. This strategy involves the following:
You should create a project plan to outline critical project factors, such as timing, budgets, management, quality control, and more.
A great project plan empowers project managers to organize the project on a conceptual level, in order to keep their team on target during the upcoming execution phase. So the best project plans are clear and offer practical guidance.
All kinds of marketing project managers should become adept at crafting great project plans.
You can paint a clear picture of your project by using this project plan template. It’s the only one you’ll ever need.
Generally, project plans should include the following materials:
Project Task List
Every project is made up of a series of smaller tasks. Some of these tasks have subtasks, and this fragmented task list continues throughout the project. So it’s critical for project managers to zoom into their projects and predict exactly which tasks need to be completed on each level.
To guide your team and allocate the right resources, use our free project task list template.
Whatever your undertaking, it’s essential to track your progress and measure your success rate. So project managers should be able to create accurate, regular, useful project milestones that will assess how a project is moving forward.
Learn more about how to use project milestones.
No project can last forever. So you must create a realistic, viable timeline for your project that plots the chronological order of events. This endeavor will keep your team on track. This timeline plots out your various project tasks, reveals dependencies, and eliminates blockers.
With our free project timeline template, you can create an effective project timeline.
As a project manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure the profitability of your projects and boost its value to your agency or business. So you must create detailed, thorough project budgets that will satisfy your stakeholders and prevent your costs from spiraling out of control.
Particularly within agencies, project managers must understand client requirements that will produce the desired final product.
A creative brief is a useful tool that creates specific, clear ideas about a client’s requirements. The best briefs are as detailed as possible, and they help project managers understand the client, their business, their customers, and their goals.
Creative briefs provide a solid foundation, which is why they should be used by project managers in both marketing teams and agencies.
Build the strongest foundations for your project with our free creative brief template.
Key Questions to Answer during the Planning Phase
- Do you know which tasks need to be completed in order to move the project forward?
- Do you have the appropriate milestones for checking our progress?
- Does your project timeline clearly outline what my goals are and when they need to be completed?
- Is your project viable from a budgeting perspective? Will it drive value?
- Do you understand exactly what your client wants to achieve?
In the execution phase, the magic happens. During the planning and initiation phase, your hard work will come to fruition, and your team will seamlessly perform their tasks with minimal questions and disruptions. Your work isn’t over, though.
You must do the following:
Review and Approve Deliverables
To make sure your review and approval phase is accurate and efficient, you should use the right methodologies and tools.
Countless projects fall apart during the review and approval phase. So your hard work and plans are often buried beneath an ever-expanding mountain of emails and confusion. So it’s critical for you to use the right methodologies and tools.
Project managers in both marketing teams and full agencies must do their best to eliminate confusion, acquire clear feedback from all stakeholders, and act on that feedback.
To eliminate stress and boost the quality of your projects, read our complete guide to the review and approval process.
If you’re coordinating a particularly large or complex project, you should provide regular updates that will keep your client informed and satisfied.
A quality project status report shows that you’re making progress for your client. It also helps you build close ties with valuable clients. The best reports offer an engaging, high-level overview that can be understood at a glance.
But project status reports aren’t just reserved for agencies, though. Internal marketing teams might have to produce these reports to offer updates to internal stakeholders.
After reading our guide on how to create a project status report, you’ll never find yourself empty-handed when a client knocks on your door again.
To share key information and drive transparency, project managers have to coordinate communication between stakeholders.
But this goal is easier said than done. If you have a critical update, you can’t afford for it to be lost in a recipient’s inbox. You should work hard to create a communication plan that all stakeholders (internal and external) will closely follow.
To keep everyone in the loop, project managers from both marketing teams and agencies must use the right communication channels and techniques.
Key Questions to Answer during the Planning Phase
- Do you have a framework for review and approve collaterals?
- Are you able to generate project status reports?
- Have you developed a system to communicate with your various stakeholders?
Your deliverables have been created, but you’re not out of the woods yet. You must wrap up your projects and tie up any loose ends. Once you’ve comprehensively completed a project, you’ll be able to rest easy and celebrate! But first, you must do the following:
Final Sign-off and Presentation
Once your team has created your project deliverables, you must present your work and secure final approval from your stakeholders.
To really understand the work that’s gone into each piece of collateral, you should hone your presentation skills and interact with your team members. You should also develop an accurate, comprehensive final sign-off process.
Project managers from both marketing teams and agencies should work on securing approval from key stakeholders and getting a formal sign-off.
With our ultimate guide to project sign-off sheets, get the approval you need to wrap up your project.
Project Completion Checklist
Even after securing your final sign-off, your work isn’t completed. So you should work through a comprehensive project completion checklist to complete the project.
After securing your approval, there are still a surprising number of tasks you should complete to properly wrap up your project. For example, you should make sure that all of the appropriate costs have been charged to the project and that your files are organized.
This step is critical for all kinds of marketing project managers. It adds the finishing touch to each project, and it could reduce potential headaches in the future.
Put the icing on your project by using our free project-completion templates.
Project Life Cycle vs Product Life Cycle
When it comes to differentiating between the project life cycle and the product life cycle, there’s often some confusion. We already have a pretty in-depth understanding of the project life cycle. So to fully see the difference, let’s take a closer look at the product life cycle.
Essentially, the product life cycle refers to everything that falls between the inception of an idea and the retirement of the idea. For example, you might find that a business’ website could be viewed in terms of a product life cycle.
A product life cycle is composed of project life cycles. These smaller cycles occur in a sequence that moves the product life cycle along its stages. Generally, they include:
Marketing project managers of all kinds frequently interact with the project life cycle. But there may be instances when they have to understand the product life cycle, in order to effectively market certain products and services.
A keen understanding of the product life cycle can help marketing project managers boost their results and forge deeper connections with their clients.
Examples of Project Life Cycles
The best way to learn is by examining to real-world examples. Here’s a closer look at some key examples, including the ways they differ according to the stages of their life cycles.
First, we’ll take a look at how project life cycles differ according to the desired project deliverable.
Video Project Life Cycle
As project managers and their teams become increasingly comfortable with producing videos, they are becoming more and more common. But these projects are unique, and they require particular adjustments to each phase of the project life cycle.
Since videos can be incredibly expensive to produce, it’s very important for project managers to put together a solid, convincing business case that will motivate stakeholders to buy-in. Likewise, the scope of video projects can often expand. Therefore, project managers must be very cautious and offer a concise project scope statement.
It’s never easy to produce quality videos. But a project manager can boost his or her chances of success by creating a very detailed project taskline and timeline. In particular, budgeting is difficult, but it needs to be performed well to prevent project costs from escalating.
For video work, the review and approval phase can be particularly challenging— due to large file sizes and a general lack of technical knowledge among stakeholders. So project managers should carefully select the right review and approval tool.
Over the course of a video project, team members create a lot of large files, which should be carefully categorized and stored in a library. So the footage could be useful in the future, and it could be reused.
Design Project Life Cycle
Today, more design tools are at the disposal of project managers than ever before. These tools can help designers achieve fantastic results. However, project managers must be cautious throughout the project life cycle.
When it comes to design projects, it’s very important for project managers to accurately define the project scope. For example, if a project manager has been tasked with creating a new website, what does it entail? Are all of the pieces of collateral ready, including the logos and brand guidelines?
By producing a comprehensive creative brief during the planning phase, project managers can guide their designers and help them hit the bullseye the first time. Without a creative brief, designers might find that the needs of clients shift.
During the review and approval phase, accuracy and precision are very important. Every stakeholder should carefully assess the pieces of collateral that have been created and leave actionable feedback, both of which require the right tools.
Over the course of a project, designs could change a great deal. Therefore, it’s critical for project managers to present the latest version of their collateral and secure final approval from the appropriate parties.
Marketing Campaign Project Life Cycle
Marketing campaigns of all shapes and sizes can help your business grow and expand its reach. If you’re going to achieve the best possible results, you’ll need to think about how to shape the project’s life cycle.
If you decide to launch a marketing campaign, you have to be prepared. So you should use the initiation phase to precisely define the goals of your campaign.
The seeds of success are planted during the planning phase of any marketing campaign. To create a deliberate and effective campaign, you should create detailed timelines and budget projections. During this stage, it’s particularly important to track milestones, given that it will guide the process.
It’s critical to report and communicate while you’re planning. On one hand, project managers will want to find the right tools for producing detailed, clear reports. On the other hand, these project managers will want to find an effective way to communicate their results with stakeholders.
The closure phase of the project life cycle gives project managers the opportunity to consolidate the lessons they’ve learned and results in one place. So the project manager should assess the performance of the project, and tidily stow away any associated collaterals.
Project Management Methodology
Now let’s take a look at the ways the project life cycle might differ according to the project management methodology users adopt.
Life Cycle of a Waterfall Project
Waterfall methodologies often break projects into distinct, sequential phases that logically move the project along. This compartmentalization will result in a clear, distinct project life cycle that every team member can follow.
The four-step project life cycle outlined above naturally lends itself well to projects that utilize a waterfall methodology. So project managers use this type of methodology to plan an entire project.
Life Cycle of an Agile Project
Methodologies for agile project management are particularly popular among development teams. Compared to waterfall methodologies, they’re less deliberate and detailed. These agile methodologies focus on using scope flexibility and continuous improvement to adjust projects over time.
Often, agile project life cycles are more complex and imaginative. Since there are a range of templates for agile project life cycles out there, many teams will call on key principles to develop their own.
We hope this closer look at the project life cycle has been useful to you! If you want to excel as a project manager, it’s critical for you to learn how to mold the project life cycle to the project at hand.
Max is a SaaS enthusiast and loves actionable content that provides direct value.