Project Management vs. Project Life Cycle

Friday, March 15, 2013


Projects are the way that most new work gets delivered. All projects have certain characteristics in common.

  • They all have a beginning and an end.
  • All projects are unique. They may be similar to prior projects but they are unique in terms of time frames, resources, business environment, etc.
  • Projects result in the creation of one or more deliverable.
  • Projects have assigned resources - either full-time, part-time or both.

All organizations have projects. Projects can be managed using a common set of project management processes. In fact, a similar set of project management processes can be utilized regardless of the type of project. For instance, all projects should be defined and planned and all projects should have processes to manage scope, risk, quality, status, etc.
Some people are confused on the difference between project management and the project lifecycle. It takes both types of work to complete a project successfully. The general difference is that project management is used to define, plan, control, monitor and close the project. The work associated with actually building the project deliverables is accomplished through work that is referred to as the “lifecycle”. Project management is used to build the schedule, but the vast majority of the work in the schedule is the lifecycle work associated with building the project deliverables.     
Projects can be managed using a common set of project management processes. In fact, a similar set of project management processes can be utilized regardless of the type of project. All projects should be defined and planned and all projects should manage scope, risk, quality, status, etc. One of the valuable things about having a common project management methodology in your organization is that the same processes can be used on all projects. 
The thing that makes a project unique is the deliverables that each project builds. For example, building a bridge is a different type of project that building an IT solution, or building a new consumer product. The lifecycle describes the activities used to build the deliverables and is generally unique for each project.
Even though all projects are unique, there are still common lifecycle models that can be used to build deliverables in similar ways. An example of a lifecycle models is the generic “waterfall”. In a waterfall project you start off understanding the requirement of the solution, designing a solution, building and testing a solution and then implementing the solution. Each of these major areas of focus is called a phase (Analysis Phase, Design Phase, Construct Phase, etc.) The classic waterfall approach is the lifecycle model you would probably end up with if you knew nothing about methodology and just had to build a project schedule from scratch.
What could be easier? Even if you have a small project you still go through these basic steps, although some of them may be a mental exercise. If you have a forty-hour enhancement project, for instance, it may seem that you can jump right in with construction. But are you really? It is more likely that you are receiving some type of service request that describes the work required (analysis and requirements), which you take and mentally map into the work to be performed (design). You then make the enhancement changes required, test them and implement them (construct, test, implement).
There are other life cycle models other than classic waterfall. Although the waterfall model can be applied to all projects, other life cycle models might be more efficient and effective based on the characteristics of the project. For instance, if you are installing a software package, you can utilize a specific life cycle model for package implementation that is light on the design and construct phases. Likewise, if you are conducting a research and development (R&D) project, you can use a specific R&D life cycle model that takes into account that the work might be thrown away when you are done. Other important life cycle models can be used to accelerate projects with certain characteristics. IT online development projects, for instance, may be able to utilize iterative development and Agile techniques.
The important point is that a common, scalable project management process can be used effectively on all your projects. The specific, detailed work to build your deliverables is referred to as the “life cycle”.

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