Project Phase Understanding its Nuances

Project Phases
Project Phase

The Project Management Body of Knowledge, sixth edition defines project phase as; a collection of logically related project activities that culminates in the completion of one or more deliverables. However, there exists confusion on correct usage of the terms project phase and project management process groups. Therefore, this blog post describes the differences between the two terms. However, before we jump into this explanation its is also essential to understand the fundamental concepts.

What is a Project Phase?

A project phase breaks down a larger project objective into manageable and achievable objective. Moreover, a predetermined sequence govern commencement and end of the phase. Generally, completion fo project phases occur in a sequence, but can also overlap in some project situations.

As a matter of fact, it is a good practice to divide the project into phases if the project team performs work that is unique to a part of the project.

A project phase directly links to the development of a specific major deliverable. Hence, this logical splitting of goal helps division of a project into phases.

Certainly, specific needs of the project decide the number and sequence of project phases. It is important to realize that different phases typically have a different duration or effort. Moreover, the nature of work performed in a phase generally forms the basis for naming that project phase.

Why have a project phase?

 A phase structure segments the project into logical subsets for chiefly the following reasons;

  • it provides a basic frame work for managing the project
  • ease of management to review project performance.
  • enhanced planning of project activities
  • better monitoring and control of project work

Another key point, is that the number of phases, the need for phases, and the degree of control applied depend on the size, complexity and potential impact of the project.

Project Phase Characteristics

A project phase has the following characteristics.

  • The work has a distinct focus that differs from any other phase. This often involves different organizations, locations and skill set.
  • Achieving the primary deliverable or objective of the phase requires controls or processes unique to the phase or its activities.
  • The closure of a phase ends with some form of transfer or hand-off of the work product produced as the phase deliverable.

How Project Phase Links With Project Life cycle?

Meredith & Mantel in their book Project Management A Managerial Approach describe that project life cycle serves as a readily available way of breaking a project up into component parts. Therefore, the high level nature of project phases makes them an element of the project life cycle.

PMBOK 6th, edition further defines project life cycle as the series of phases that a project passes through from its start and its completion. According to PMBOK a generic project life cycle consist of the following generic phases

  • Starting the project (Initiating)
  • Organizing and preparing (Planning)
  • Carrying out the work (Executing)
  • Ending the project (Closing)

How are Project Phases Related?

In a project life cycle there are one or more phases. A project life cycle can be either predictive, iterative or adaptive. However, project phases in a project life cycle may have sequential, or overlapping relationship.

Sequential Relationship

  • In this type of relationship a phase starts only when the previous phase is complete. The Step by step nature of the approach reduces uncertainty, but may eliminate options for reducing the overall schedule.

Overlapping Relationship

  • According to this relationship a phase starts prior to completion of previous one. For example schedule compression technique called fast tracking represents overlapping relationship. Overlapping phases may require additional resources to allow work to be done in parallel. They may also increase risk, and can result in rework. This happens especially if a subsequent phase progresses before accurate information is available from the previous phase.

What is a Phase Gate?

The phase end represents a natural point to reassess the activities underway and to change or terminate the project if necessary. This point is referred to as stage gate, milestone, phase review, phase gate or kill point. In many cases, a governing body approves closure of a project phase. Project performance is compared to an approved project documents.

Project Management Process

Execution  of a series of project management activities known as project management processes results in management of project life cycle. These processes ensure effective flow of project throughout its life cycle.

Every project management process produces one or more outputs from one or more inputs by using appropriate project management tools and techniques. Output of a process can act as an input to other process or is deliverable of a process or a project phase.

The following is the PMBOK sixth edition definition of project management process.

A systematic series of activities directed toward causing an end result where one or more inputs will be acted upon to create one or more outputs.

PMBOK 6th edition also specifies 49 different project management processes. These processes are grouped under five process groups.

Project Management Process Groups

Project Management Process groups are logical grouping of project management processes. Process groups helps to achieve a specific project objective. PMBOK specifies the following five categories for Project Management Processes.

  1. Initiating Process Group
  2. Planning Process Group
  3. Executing Process Group
  4. Monitoring and Controlling Process Group
  5. Closing Process Group

Project Phase Vs Project Management Process Groups

Generally, Project Managers use the project lifecycle mentioned above to communicate project progress. It is especially used with those who are less familiar with the details of the project.

As a matter of fact, phases in the life cycle should never be confused with the process groups. That’s because, processes in a process group consist of activities that may be performed and recur with in each phase of a project or as well as project as a whole. In fact, it is possible that all process groups could be conducted within a phase.

Another key point to note is that process groups are independent of project phases. Basically, a project phase emphasizes processes from a particular project management process group. Although, it is likely that most or all processes will be executed in some form in each phase.

Also, as projects are separated into distinct phases or sub-components, all of the process groups would normally be repeated for each phase or sub-component.


To sum up,  a project phase is a logical subset of a project objective. However logically grouped project management processes form the five process groups.

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