Project lifecycle or process group, what’s the diff?

I came across this issue a number of times in my career. Many people seem to confuse the project lifecycle with the PMI’s project process groups. The process groups in the Project Management Body of Knowledge are listed as:

–          Initiating

–          Planning

–          Executing

–          Monitoring

–          Closing

The PMBok mentions project lifecycles in many areas of the document. The PMBok also explains in a number of sections what the process groups are. However there isn’t a clear distinction between the project life cycle and the process groups. I am guessing that is likely the source of some of the confusion that I have come across in dealing with a number of people talking about project management. What we need is a clear abstraction of what a project lifecycle is.

A project lifecycle is the actual step by step flow of activities that a project follows from inception until it is completed. To make it completely abstract it is as follows:

  1. Starting
  2. Organizing and preparing
  3. Carrying out the work
  4. Closing

Now if you want to map these out to the PMI’s process groups then roughly:

  1. Starting: Initiation
  2. Organizing and preparing: Planning
  3. Carrying out the work: Execution and Monitoring. This is an iterative activity, it keeps looping
  4. Closing – also Closing

I say “roughly” because as I indicated earlier, the process groups are just that, process groups. They are not a workflow or a lifecycle. We can plan in the “Carrying out work” phase of a project’s lifecycle for instance. This would happen where we may have a change request and have to go back to the drawing board and re-plan something. We would still have to follow the PMI’s process group guidelines but we are actually in the carrying out phase of the project’s lifecycle.

In reality of course, there is a lot more detail in the project lifecycle depending on the domain. For example we may see the following as a typical software development lifecycle:

  1. Inception: This is when someone thinks of an idea and thinks it should be explored. Usually this may start as a project request, decision request or just “project proposal” to explore things further. It could have been triggered by an internal or market need.
  2. Feasibility. Here the project explores whether the project is doable and if the company has the resources to do it.
  3. Requirements: if the project is feasible we move on to gathering requirements by consulting stakeholders and subject matter experts
  4. Design: Once requirements are completed, we move on to designing the solution
  5. Development: Here the construction of the software is completed as dictated by the design
  6. Quality assurance: Internal testing by the development team to ensure what was designed is what was built
  7. User acceptance testing: In this phase users are invited to test to confirm that what was required is actually what was built
  8. Deployment: the solution is deployed to production,
  9. Closure: A post production test is completed to ensure everything is working properly and is satisfactory to the end users. Then the project is closed down and resources are released.


Hope this helped illustrate what a typical project life cycle is. Let me know if this was useful to you. Please drop me a note by adding a comment.

Thanks for reading.


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