paper planes flying, forming a whirlpoolThe life cycle of a project comprises the set of phases into which a project is organized from start to finish. A phase is a set of inter-related project activities that generally concludes with delivery of a partial or complete product. Some simple projects only require one phase while other, more complicated projects require a significant number of phases and sub-phases.

ITM Platform allows you to reuse and adapt the most appropriate life cycles with project templates, try it now for free.

The life cycle of each project is defined by the phase model used in each case and this is usually determined by the organization, industry or even technology required for the project. It would be impossible to provide a generic description of the phases for all types of project. However, reference is sometimes made to a generic life cycle structure that consists of the following phases:

• Project Start

• Organization and Preparation

• Completion of Work

• Project Close

This generic life cycle structure should not be confused with the Project Management Process Groups defined in PMBOK. The generic structure of the project life cycle is a generic model relating to the organization of project phases and not the organization of processes established by the PMI. Neither should it be confused with the product life cycle on which the project is based. This is a generic life cycle model that can be used as a benchmark, especially when wishing to communicate project progress to people who are less accustomed to this type of management.

In practice, there is no one perfect way to organize phases for all types of project. Although some standard models exist in certain industries, projects can vary significantly between one another. Some projects will only have one single phase, while others may consist of two, three, four or even more.

Regardless of the number of phases within a project, they all possess similar characteristics:

• Each phase is focused on a specific task.

• Phases are usually aimed at producing a deliverable that must be available at the end of the phase

• The end of a phase closes with a review of the deliverable and sometimes with approval of that deliverable

Organizations and the various methodologies and industries have gradually defined more or less standard project life cycle models. This standardization is accompanied by the necessary adaptation by each team to each project. The life cycle greatly depends on the nature of the specific project and the style adopted by the project team or organization. To correctly manage the established standards and necessary adaptation to the specific needs of each project, organizations use such tools as ITM Platform to allow them to reuse and adapt the most suitable life cycles by using templates or base projects with specific project phase structures as a benchmark.

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post-it in columns on a dashboardAs we have seen, the project life cycle comprises the set of phases into which a project is organized. Depending on the organization in question and any overlapping between phases, various types of project life cycle can be defined: predictive or classic life cycles define the product and deliverables at the start of the project; iterative or incremental life cycles adopt an approach that gradually increases or expands the product in steps; and adaptive or flexible life cycles develop the product through numerous iterations, with the scope for each iteration only defined at the start thereof.

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Predictive, classic or planning-focused life cycles

Predictive life cycles (also known as classic or planning-focused life cycles) are those in which the scope, deadline and cost are determined as soon as possible in the project life cycle and efforts are focused on meeting the commitments established for each one of these factors.
These projects are normally organized into a series of sequential or consecutive phases, where each one is focused on a specific sub-product or activity. Normally, the work undertaken in one phase is very different to all the rest and so the project team will vary according to the phase under way at any given time.
From the start, project management focuses on defining the scope and drawing up a detailed plan of the necessary activities. From there, work is focused on following the plan. Any project scope change must be managed explicitly and usually leads to a review of the plan and formal acceptance of the new plan.
Predictive life cycles are chosen when the product to be delivered is well-defined and relatively extensive knowledge exists on how to build the product. This has traditionally been the most common work model but does not necessarily suit the circumstances of all projects and organisations.

Iterative or incremental life cycles

Iterative or incremental life cycles are those in which the activities of the project are repeated in phases or iterations and understanding of the product by the project team increases in each one. The iterations develop the product through a series of repeated cycles that successively add functionality to the product.
At the end of each iteration, a deliverable or set of deliverables will have been produced. Future iterations may improve said deliverables or create new ones. The final product will be the accumulation of functionalities built up during the various iterations.
Iterative or incremental life cycles are chosen when it is necessary to manage vague objectives or considerable complexity, or when the partial delivery of the product is key to success. This type of life cycle enables the project team to incorporate feedback and gradually increase the experience of the team during the course of the project.

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Adaptive or flexible life cycles

Adaptive life cycles, also known as change-focused methods or flexible methods, respond to high levels of change and to ongoing participation by the interested parties.
There are two basic models for this type of life cycle, those focused on the flow (for example, Kanban) and others focused on iterative and incremental cycles (for example, Scrum). Very clear limitations are set on the concurrence of activities (Work in Progress) for the former and on very rapid iterations (between 1 and 4 weeks) in which the work is done for the latter (Sprint).
In flexible models, the overall scope of the project will usually be broken down into a set of requirements or projects to be undertaken (sometimes called Product Backlog). At the start of an iteration, the team defines the functionalities to be tackled in that cycle. At the end of each iteration, the product should be ready for review by the client. This type of life cycle requires teams to be highly involved and the sponsor or client to provide constant feedback.
Generally-speaking, flexible methods are chosen in environments that change swiftly, when the scope is unclear or when the value contribution is highly variable and with highly involved teams.

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