Understanding the 5 phases of project management

Written by 
Bryan Kitch
May 30, 2024
An image showing a person smiling while working at a computer and taking notes on a desk
Understanding the 5 phases of project management
Written by 
Bryan Kitch
May 30, 2024

It’s always daunting at the outset of a new project (unless you’re like the Spiderman of project management or something, in which case, good for you — but I’m speaking for the rest of us, Peter Parker). Anyway, the point is, don’t worry so much — with the right tools and processes, you’ll nail this one just like you did the last one (maybe better!). 

To help you gain clarity and control over your project, let’s break down the five phases of project management in a way that’s as easy to follow as your favorite superhero movie. From dreaming up your project (phase one) to crossing the finish line (phase five), let’s see how a project lifecycle works.

What is project management lifecycle?

Project management lifecycle is a framework that outlines the stages or phases through which your project progresses from initiation to completion. Each stage has its unique set of tasks, goals, and objectives.

Now, why is this important? Think, if you would, about building a house. You wouldn’t start by randomly laying bricks, would you? First, you’d design a blueprint to make sure that every room serves its purpose, from the kitchen to the bedroom. The project lifecycle works the same way. It structures your project into manageable stages, ensuring you plan, execute, and review every task with precision.

Related: 4 best practices for collaborative project management

Five phases of project management lifecycle

The five project management phases help you meet the requirements of a project, which includes defining what needs to be done, who needs to do it, and how to keep everything on track.

Let’s take a closer look at each phase.

Phase 1: Project initiation

This phase marks the starting point of your project journey. It’s where you define the project’s objectives, scope, and stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities.

Key activities of the first phase include:

  1. Project charter: It’s akin to your project’s mission statement, outlining the goals, scope, budget, and timeline. Think of the charter as your north star, guiding the team toward a common destination.
  2. Stakeholder identification: These are the folks who’ll be directly impacted by your project or have a say in its outcome — whether they’re team members, clients, or sponsors. Getting them on board early on sets the stage for collaboration and support throughout your journey.
  3. Initial scope of the project: This step clarifies what’s in and what’s out of your project. If you’re building a website, defining the scope involves specifying what features the website will have (like a homepage, contact page, and product listings) and what it won’t have (like a forum or chatroom).

Use visual collaboration software like Mural to make sure your whole project team is on the same page about the expectations. 

Phase 2: Project planning

The planning phase is all about taking the big-picture vision and breaking it down into actionable steps. It involves laying out all the steps and strategies you’ll need for a successful project.

Key activities of the second phase include:

  1. Resource allocation: Determine what resources — whether it’s people, equipment, or materials — you’ll need to bring your project to life. 
  2. Scheduling: Create a timeline for your project and map out key milestones, deadlines, and dependencies to make sure everything stays on track.
  3. Risk identification: List potential risks, assess their likelihood and impact, and develop strategies to address or mitigate them.
  4. Budget planning: Estimate costs, allocate funds, and establish mechanisms for tracking and managing expenses throughout the project lifecycle.

When it comes to the planning phase of project development, you need effective collaboration for decision-making. That’s where Mural truly shines. 

  • Pro-tip: Our project planning template provides a digital workspace to brainstorm ideas and share insights. With features like voting, commenting, and annotations, you can evaluate alternatives, identify trade-offs, and make informed decisions that align with project objectives.

Phase 3: Project execution

The execution phase is where you put your plans into action and make things happen. Think of it like building a LEGO set — you’ve got all the pieces laid out, and now it’s time to start assembling them.

In this phase, you and your team dive into the work, tackling tasks, solving problems, and progressing towards your project goals. 

Key activities of the third phase include:

  1. Task implementation: Begin executing the tasks outlined in the project plan. This step involves activities such as design, development, testing, and production, depending on the nature of the project.
  2. Quality assurance: Make sure deliverables meet the standards set out in your project plan. Conduct thorough testing, review work against predefined criteria, and promptly address any discrepancies or defects.
  3. Change management: Despite your best efforts to plan ahead, changes to project scope, schedule, or resources may occur during execution. You must implement the approved changes while minimizing disruption to the project’s progress.
  4. Documentation: Use agile documentation to capture information in a lightweight and flexible manner. It includes maintaining user stories, sprint backlogs, and task boards, as well as documenting decisions, agreements, and lessons learned in real time. 

In the execution phase of project management, you can use Mural’s free templates, like a Kanban board or process flowchart, to visualize workflows. By tracking who's doing what and when you easily identify potential bottlenecks in the project.

Phase 4: Project monitoring and controlling

This phase involves tracking, reviewing, and regulating your project to ensure it stays on course and achieves its objectives. Keep a close eye on the project’s progress, including tasks completed, milestones achieved, and resources used.

Key activities of the fourth phase include:

  1. Scope verification and control: Verify that each deliverable meets the specified requirements and standards. If there are any changes or deviations from the plan, carefully evaluate them to make sure they won’t throw you off track.
  2. Schedule control: Continuously review the project schedule to ensure tasks get completed on time. If there are delays or schedule changes, you need to reallocate resources or adjust task dependencies to keep things under control.
  3. Cost control: Money matters! Keep a close eye on your project budget, making sure you're not spending more than you should. If costs start to creep up, figure out ways to rein them in — whether it’s renegotiating contracts, finding cheaper alternatives, or reallocating resources.

Phase 5: Project closing

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the finish line! The closing phase of project management is the point where you formally complete all project activities and tasks.

Key activities of the fifth phase include:

  • Handover: If the project involves handing off deliverables to another team or department, provide necessary training or documentation to ensure the new owners can easily take over responsibility for the project.
  • Stakeholder feedback: Reach out to your project stakeholders — clients, team members, sponsors — and ask for their honest feedback. What worked well? What could’ve been better? It’s like conducting a post-mortem on your project, learning from your mistakes, and celebrating your successes.
  • Resource release: It’s time to say goodbye to your project resources and return them to the organization. This step involves returning equipment, releasing team members to their respective departments, or closing out any contracts or agreements related to project resources. 
  • Project review: Finally, use Mural’s retrospective template to conduct a comprehensive review of the project’s performance, outcomes, and lessons learned. This review includes a formal post-project evaluation, where you assess the project against its initial objectives and identify areas for improvement.

Optimize and visualize the phases of project management with Mural

From initiation to closing, Mural empowers you to collaborate and succeed — all in one virtual workspace. With Mural’s free templates, you optimize and visualize all five phases of the project management journey seamlessly. 

From creating interactive team charters in project initiation to mapping out product roadmaps in project planning, Mural serves as your virtual command center. During the project execution phase, Mural helps you visualize workflows for quick decision-making. With customizable dashboards and metrics tracking, you get effective project monitoring and control. And in the project closing phase, you're able to analyze project metrics, document lessons learned, and more. 

Sign up for free today to experience the power of visual collaboration firsthand.

About the authors

About the authors

Bryan Kitch

Bryan Kitch

Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.