Typical Project Phases


In this instructional video, project management expert Devin Deen discusses the major phases that a project moves through along its lifecycle.

In Review: The Typical Phases in Project Management

Devin explored the four basic parts to every project, Initiation, Planning, Execution and Closing.  Here are some notes to take away on what a project manager is responsible for at each phase:

Initiation Phase

  • Meet with Future Stakeholders (gather data for documents)
  • Creating core documents (business case (or project charter), feasibility studies, rough budget and resources plan)
  • Meet with Leadership (present business case, advocate for funding, gain approval)

While not every project manager will be responsible for developing the business case/project charter (often those are done at a more senior level), gathering vital project data like budget numbers and developing documentation to support the project charter is typically expected.

Planning Phase

  • Create schedule
  • Assign resources
  • Create breakdown of tasks
  • Set up project in planning tool


  • Monitor project daily
  • Manage risk
  • Manage communications
  • Report on progress


  • Close out contracts
  • Hand off deliverables
  • Archive documents

The length of each phase is dependent on the overall scope of the project, of course. And you will want to account for each phase when planning the project at the start. To learn more about the phases in project planning, check out this free ebook by Jason Westland, Step by Step Project Planning

Thanks for watching!


Hi, thank you for joining us for today’s whiteboard session. Today’s topic is around planning of typical project phases. Now, there are four basic phases in every project, and every phase of every project. Those are: initiation, planning, execution and closing. I’d like to go over these in a little bit of detail, show you their relationship, and maybe give you a sense of the level of activity that we can expect in each of these phases of the project, or the sub-phases of each of the projects.

First off is initiation. When you’re starting a project off, even before you’ve assembled the team, you’ve go to get the business case together and the feasibility study. You’re talking to the board or the stakeholders to try and convince them that this actual project is going to have sufficient return on investment to invest in the dollars, as well as the mindshare and the human capital to execute that project. You’re gathering the forces and getting the ideas together, and basically starting at the very early days around a project budget, the type of skills you need on the project, and once again, that return on investment of what the project is going to do for the business.

The next phase that we actually go into is the planning phase. Now, after the board or the stakeholders approve your business case and award your level of funding, you then go into a little bit more detailed planning. In the planning phase you’re doing things like your typical schedule, your resource plan, a more firm budget and a cash flow plan for that project, as well as looking at the type of skills that you’re going to need on that project team and starting to go and interview the people on that team.

Once you’ve got your project schedule, once you’ve got your statement of work, your terms of reference, and you’ve got your project team assembled, then you’re ready to start and you’re ready to execute on that project.

In the execution phase, you’re doing a lot of the activities of the project. As a project manager, you’re actually implementing quite a lot of the controlling processes. You’re doing risk management, issues management, change control management, communications management, additional planning and integration management with all the different stakeholders, and all the different systems of that project. This is really where the meat of the project and activities occur.

After you finish your executing phase, you then go into the closing phase, your next phase. In the closing phase, you’re then packing up those deliverables for that particular phase. You are starting to cancel your vendor’s subcontracts. You’re also trying to get acceptance of the deliverables of that particular phase.

I’d like to show a little bit more on the relationships that these phases have with one another. Here I’ve gone through and plotted a couple of different sub phases on a project, a design phase and an implementation phase. Now, each of these phases, you have these separate typical project phases within the sub phase. So, for the design phase, you have also initiating phase. In the initiation of a design, you might do things like give a high level specification, or high level design document.

In the planning stages you might talk about your architecture and how you’re going to get your systems together. In the execution of the design phase, you’re actually putting all those ideas and concepts together in a design document, perhaps a functional specification, or a detailed design spec.

Whilst you’re writing that documentation and getting the architects together, you’d be controlling the activities of that. So, making sure that you were delivering that documentation on time, monitoring the progress, and inspecting it as it’s being developed so that you’re insuring to get a quality product.

Lastly, at the end of that design phase, you’re then going through the activities to close it off. So, you’re getting the acceptance of the design, acceptance of the functional spec, and buy-in of the technical people and the project team, that they can actually execute on that design.

The next phase then, after you’ve agreed and signed off that design specification, is then into the implementation phase. Once again, in the implementation phase, you’ll go through these sub phases to complete the deliverables for that phase. So, you’ll go through the initiating activities. You might bring the project team together and have that kick off meeting. In the planning phases, after the kick off, you’re then going through the itemized task lists and getting them to buy in on each of the tasks, starting to own up in the accountability of the effort and the deliverables to achieve those tasks.

In the execution phase, the team is actually doing the work whilst you, as a project manager, controlling phase, are monitoring their progress and adjusting accordingly. Lastly, once the deliverables are achieved, acceptance testing has occurred, you’re packaging and handing over the project to the operations.

You might have another phase after this called change management, for example. If you’re delivering an ERP system, for example, you might have a change management phase where you’re going through the people and process change, as well.

What I’m trying to communicate is that in each of these phases of a project you also have these sub phases where you might go through a series of steps and processes to achieve that particular phase objective.

Now, just to shed a little more light on the activity you can expect in each of these phases, I’ve got a little graph here. Plotted time against the level of activity. Phase start on the left, phase end on the right. When you’re going through the initiating activities, you would typically expect to see a ramp up of your personal activity, as well as, perhaps, one or two other members of the project team. It will look something a little bit like this, with a bit of a peak, and then trail off over time during that initiation activity. That’s when you’re doing the feasibility study, putting the business case together, making the numbers and the ROIs speak for themselves and doing presentations on those particular artifacts to get the project started.

Shortly after initiation, perhaps a little bit in parallel, you’re also going through some planning activities. You’re perhaps getting the project scheduled together, getting your resources assigned, and seeing how that looks over time. There’s a bit of activity in that phase, as well. That sort of peters off, similar to the way the initiation phase peters off.

The next phase, and probably the biggest phase, where you’ve got the lion’s share of the work, is execution. That might start, once again, slightly in parallel to planning and initiation, perhaps just before you close out particular phases. You see a level of activity where you’re ramping up your project team, you’re doing all the tasks, you’re doing and completing your deliverables. Finally, you’re finishing off those tasks.

The last phase is in the closing. Well before those deliverables are finally signed off, you’ve got to agree on those acceptance criteria. You’ve got to get buy in from the users on what they expect to see. Showing them the artifacts all the way through the project and getting incremental sign off on each of the deliverables so that at the end of the project you’re not left with a stack of deliverables to sign off that cause that closing phase to actually push out and could potentially hurt your budget. Once again, that’s the last phase, the closing phase.

In today’s whiteboard session, I went over the typical project phases. Each of these phases could be a small component of individual phases of a larger project, for example, the design or implementation phase. I’ve also shown you the level of activity to expect during these phases so that you can better prepare for your time and the time of your project team’s.

For other how-to’s, tips and techniques, and all your other project management needs, please come join us at ProjectManager.com.

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