South East Training - The Project Management Toolkit

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Phases of a Project

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Projects naturally go through a life cycle or a series of phases that define specific types of activities. The diagram below shows a four-phase approach. 


Broadly, the ‘Define’ phase is concerned with confirming the objectives and scope of the project, and identifying who will be involved and in what capacity. The ‘Define’ phase provides the framework for a project.

The ‘Plan’ phase builds on the information provided by the ‘Define’ phase. It involves identifying precisely what products will be created, what tasks need to be done and by whom, what it will cost in terms of time and money, and how these tasks will be scheduled.

The ‘Implement’ phase is all about putting the overall plan into operation. It often involves more detailed planning as well as monitoring of milestones, budgets and quality, and responding to issues arising as the plans are implemented.

The final phase, ‘Evaluate and Close’, involves both checking to see that what you planned to deliver meets specification, but also looking back over the project to determine how well you have done.

The Four Phases in Detail


The Definition Phase is initiated by receipt of a Project Mandate.

Depending on the size and complexity of the project, the mandate may come from a higher level programme, authorised by the Programme Board, or it may simply come from a senior manager in response to an internal requirement or a customer request. The level of detail will vary accordingly. It could take the form of a detailed specification taken from a business case or could be as limited as a two line email from your line manager. The main point about the mandate is that it provides the authorisation to start work on the project.

During the definition phase, the need for the project is defined and justified. This stage of a project is critical in enabling everyone to understand the background, objectives and scope.

The following activities help in achieving this definition:

  • Understanding the rationale for the project including the key drivers 
  • Linking to the big picture, i.e. the strategic objectives
  • Deciding on how the project will be governed and managed
  • Defining project objectives
  • Setting the scope
  • Conducting a stakeholder analysis
  • Making an initial assessment of the risks.

The output from this phase is the Project Brief.


Detailed planning takes place to define how the project is to be delivered, how long it will take, how much it will cost and who will be delivering it. An initial assessment of any risks to the success of the project and how they can be managed is made.

Planning the project involves:

  • Breaking down the project into:
    • Project deliverables - identifying what will be produced during the project
    • Work activities - what task will be involved in producing the deliverables
    • Organisation - deciding who is going to be involved and how.
  • Producing estimates of time, money and other resources required
  • Determining project controls
  • Developing Gantt and dependency charts
  • Identifying risks
  • Deciding on the frequency and method of communication with stakeholders
  • Specifying how quality will be attained.

The output from the planning phase is the Project Initiation Document.


This phase concentrates on producing the required outputs. Management activities centre on allocating work and monitoring progress against the agreed plan.

These activities may include:

  • Monitoring progress of the project to ensure objectives are being met
  • Managing new risks and any issues arising during implementation
  • Adjusting the scope of the project in response to exceptions arising
  • Ensuring the quality of the deliverable prior to submission to the client
  • Sustaining commitment of yourself and others to the project.

Documents generated or updated during the delivery phase include Stage Plans for larger projects, Progress and Exception Reports, and the Risk and Issues Registers.

Evaluation and Closure

Here the outcome of the project is evaluated, ensuring that any lessons learned are shared with those who might benefit from them. Any resources used by the project are released.

The evaluation and closure phase involves:

  • Handing over products to the users
  • Assessing outcomes against objectives
  • Determining the efficiency and effectiveness of the process
  • Considering the ongoing requirements for the project
  • Ensuring lessons learned are available to future project teams
  • Producing a final report.

The production and acceptance of the Project Implementation or Closure Report marks the end of the project.

Benefits of Phasing

There are two clear benefits in defining a project in discrete phases:

  1. It helps the project team establish a proper sequence in preparing for and implementing a project, reducing the likelihood that key steps will be missed.
  2. Phasing provides natural breaks in the sequence where the adequacy of future arrangements and the continued viability of the project can be assessed.

The Role of the Business Case

The business case is the principal control document. The document sets out the rationale for the project and lists the benefits that should result from its successful completion. As the project reaches the end of each phase and each stage of implementation, a review against the business case should be conducted to ensure the benefits are still desirable and attainable. The same should happen whenever exceptions occur that necessitate a change in scope. For example, the publication of new research, the emergence of new technology or the announcement of a change to government policy might cause the Project Board to question whether or not the project remains viable.

The business case is a dynamic document in the sense that it evolves during the early phases of a project. For large projects, a preliminary business case is created prior to the project starting. This is developed into an outline business case during the definition phase and a full business case by the end of the planning phase.