Any project has a natural progression, following a series of different stages from when it is first established to when it is finished and the benefits are seen. This is known as the project lifecycle. Depending on their complexity, some projects will need more stages than others.
Having said that, the same steps can generally be applied to any sort of objective:
• Evaluate ideas. This stage establishes the business need for the project; documents the initial idea(s); assesses the benefits; identifies risks which might threaten the success of the project; and outlines how it is going to be done, how long it will take, what it will cost, and whose authority will be needed to proceed.
• Define and design. Now you’re into the detail. How will you run the project? Who will be needed to do it? How will you divide up the responsibilities? What key measures and milestones will you use to monitor progress? To make sure things don’t get missed out, think in terms of what your business/team needs, what customers need, and what your competitors are up to. Do they have any new initiatives that you need to improve on, for example?
• Build and test. With all your plans and designs in place and agreed, you find and build all the new processes, places, and people involved in the project. At every stage, you test to make sure that everything works as it’s meant to.
• Implement, pilot, and launch. Here you pilot the project, evaluate how it’s gone so far, and refine as necessary.
Then you finalise the full-scale launch, prepare the processes and systems that will be required, and provide any necessary training. This is the last point at which your project sponsor(s) can make a final decision on whether or not to go ahead.
• Evaluate and monitor. Following the launch, you make sure that the project has delivered the expected benefits. You also record any learning points so that you can manage things more effectively next time—things are
bound to go wrong along the way but, if you learn from them, you’ll start your next project much better equipped.
Bear in mind that this Project Lifecycle process doesn’t necessarily flow through in one smooth sequence, as you will need to keep evaluating and monitoring plans, budgets, schedules, and so on throughout the life of the project. However it does act as a good ‘road map’, and none of the stages should be left out, even if your project is a small one.