The Phases and Processes of Project Management Explained

Our site is reader-supported – by clicking our links, we can match you with a potential supplier, and we may earn a small commission for this referral.

Projects come in all shapes and sizes. One constant that is behind every successful project manager is a tried and tested project management process. Often when starting out, working out how to get from your bright idea to your desired results can leave you in a headspin. This is where those tried and tested processes come in handy. Now more than ever – with an increasingly hybridized workforce working both in office and virtually – it’s crucial to stay on top of your team and progress with intelligent and intentional project management.

Simply put, project management refers to the process of planning, executing, and completing a project. The process can be broken down into five vital phases: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closing. While it might sound like a hustle, they’re straightforward to set up, and can be developed using a methodology that suits your needs.

There are plenty of software platforms out there that simplify the process of project management. Our favorite is ClickUp because of its wealth of features and its intuitive, slick interface, as well as its impressive average customer score of 4.5/5. However, if you want to shop around, you can use our free comparison tool to find a provider that works for you.

The 5 Phases of Project Management

The five phases of project management are:

  • Initiation: understanding the project’s scope and feasibility
  • Planning: creating a blueprint to carry the project from ideation to completion
  • Execution: allocating and managing project resources according to the plan
  • Monitoring: tracking project progress and preventing disruptions
  • Closing: reviewing project deliverables and documenting learnings

First Phase: The Initiation

Right after you’ve had your lightbulb moment and your project idea is born, the first step in your project management cycle is initiation. At this phase, the main things on your to-do list should include defining the scope, budget, risks, roles, goal, and feasibility of your project. Enter: the project charter. With all of the above details in one easily accessible place, the project charter acts as a central guide for the whole team to refer to the vital details.

Once these things are pinned down, you need to identify key project stakeholders, and create a register with the roles, designation, communication, requirements, and influence. Most importantly, this is the stage where you should shout ‘abandon ship’ if you realize that the costs and risks of the project will outweigh the benefits in the long run.

If all of this sounds slightly dizzying to you, we recommend making use of a handy MoSCoW chart to gather your thoughts. The name stands for: must have, should have, could have, and won’t have. It’s a great tool for visualizing the feasibility of the project.

Second Phase: The Planning

Now that you’ve ticked the feasibility box of your project management checklist, the next phase is to draw the blueprint that will guide your project from ideation to completion. At this stage you’re trying to figure out the following:

  • Project schedule: define a timeline for the completion of tasks and resource allocation
  • Project budget: estimate the sum of all project costs
  • Work Breakdown Structure (WBS): this is a project planning tool that allows you to visualize all the tasks, milestones, and deliverables in their project scope, and prioritize them
  • Scope management plan: explain how you’ll make sure you don’t ‘scope creep’ (basically go above or beyond the project scope)
  • Risk management plan: how are you going to prepare for possible project management fires?
  • Resource management plan: understand how you will obtain, allocate, and manage your resources throughout the project’s lifecycle
  • Stakeholder management plan: identify all the project stakeholders, prioritize them, and explain the communication channels and conflict resolution strategies you’ll use

We’d recommend using these three tips to ensure this stage is headache-free:

  • Firstly, feel free to extrapolate data from previous projects to understand potential trends and identify potential blockers from the get-go.
  • Secondly, make avid use of Gantt charts! These help you map out the stages of each sub-task of your project and avoid a deadline crash.
  • Lastly, use a goal-setting method such as the popular S.M.A.R.T and C.L.E.A.R acronyms. Where SMART ensures Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-boxed goals for clearly defined results, CLEAR takes into account the dynamic nature of the contemporary workplace and helps to set goals that are Collaborative, Limited, Emotional, Appreciable and Refinable. Both with their own merit, but perhaps one is more suitable for your needs than the other.

While this stage of the process necessitates a detailed project plan to break the process into smaller tasks and assign responsibilities, it’s also useful to create a project roadmap. Similarly named but with different intended uses, a project plan gets down to the nitty gritty while a project roadmap is more overarching. Often taking the form of a timeline, it should be a key document to outline to stakeholders the importance of variables on the completion of the project.

Unsure of which project management software to use? One of our favorites is ClickUp because of its intuitive interface and generous offer of features – including Gantt charts. However, if you’re not a fan, you can fill out our free comparison tool, and we’ll connect you with suppliers that can fit your project management needs.

ClickUp Gantt Chart

Third Phase: The Execution

This is the part where you actually get down to business and work towards the milestones you set out in the planning phase. Regardless of which project management methodology you go for, your role now is to optimize workflows, carefully manage the progress of the project, and maintain effective collaboration between all stakeholders. The most important parts of this phase are to ensure you’re sticking to your deadlines and staying within your budget.

While it might be easy to fall into the trap of performance anxiety, a great preventative antidote against this is project management software that is agile and intuitive. You can choose to manage tasks on your board and share with stakeholders, or you might want to use ClickUp’s messaging board function to make sure everything is running smoothly. If you want to shop around for other platforms and features, fill out our free comparison tool and you’ll be connected with the suppliers that will help you carry out your project.

Fourth Phase: The Monitoring

Although this is fourth on the list, monitoring actually takes place alongside execution. At this stage, you’ll be measuring the project’s progress and ensuring that each part is unfolding as planned. As a project manager, it’s helpful to establish Critical Success Factors (CSF) and Key Performance Indicators (KPI) to keep your team on track. The way to earn a 10/10 for project management skills here is to collect lots of data and verbal and written feedback for project quality assurance, and understand where you need to make adjustments to meet your goals. You can then use this data to create reports to share with stakeholders, keeping everyone in the loop.

The easiest way to make monitoring feel like a breeze is to use a project management tool that gives you access to data and reporting integrations, as well as data visualization tools. Based on our in-depth research, your best bet is Smartsheet because it allows you to leverage Power BI, Qlik, and Data Tracker as data and reporting integrations, and lets you use all data visualization tools across all subscriptions.

Fifth Phase: The Closing

After going through the motions of executing and monitoring your project, you can now finally bask in the glory of completing it. At this stage, your project deliverables will have been produced and you’ll close contracts with suppliers, external vendors, and other third-party providers. There are a couple things left to do during the post-project phase. You’ll also need to produce a final report to share data with your stakeholders, and for the archive.. This is also an opportune time to host reflection meetings with your team to understand the successes and failures of the project so you can polish your project management modus operandi.

The Project Management Methodologies

Although the gist of project management stays the same, regardless of the project you’re working on and the industry, there are various methods that you can use to best fit the complexity and size of your work. Here’s some of the best known ones:

  • Traditional, sequential methodologies: otherwise known as the Waterfall Project Management method, this is a linear management approach in which you first gather stakeholder requirements at the starting line of the project. You then create a sequential plan based on the information you’ve gathered. Your next natural question might be, why is it called Waterfall? This is because each phase of the project ‘cascades’ onto the next one. One of the best tools to use for this method are Gantt charts but there are many alternatives.
  • Agile methodologies: this method doesn’t follow a rigid project plan, but short sprints of work called agile sprints. You can consider it a hands-on approach that prioritizes experiences and interactions with the individual over a set-in-stone plan. This entails frequent communication, which prevents delays and last-minute changes. Frameworks like Scrum and Kanban are great for this.
  • Change management focus methodologies: with the likes of Event Chain Methodology (ECM) and Extreme Project Management residing under this category, this method factors in the possibility of massive change. This means it has lots of risk management ingrained into its method, and uses resource management as the primary way of handling the project.
  • Process-based approach: oriented towards manufacturing industries, this process focuses on efficiency and cutting waste. For this method to be a smashing success, you need to focus on continuous improvement at every stage of the project because what you’re trying to achieve is delivering as much value as possible with as little waste as possible.

Which Tools are Used in Project Management?

While project management can be done with something as simple as a whiteboard and some sticky notes, the best way to take full advantage of the project management process is with project management software. Excel spreadsheets aren’t as versatile or secure and, with how affordable PM software is, there’s no reason you shouldn’t try it out.

There are some tools that are only available through project management software, all of which can greatly improve efficiency, and help your project come in on time and possibly under budget.

What is the Role of a Project Manager?

While there are dozens of roles included in the project management process, the project manager obviously gets top billing. They are responsible for managing the overall project, but their role can be broken down into five elements:

  • Initiating: Getting the ball rolling! Establishing what the project goal is, what needs to be done to get there, and establish budgets and timeframes.
  • Planning: Possibly the most crucial step of all. While the execution of the project is definitiely important, it can crumble within days if it isn’t planned out.
  • Executing: The longest step, but the least involved for the project manager. They’re obviously still in control of the process and in charge of leading meetings, but this is when the team does the heavy lifting.
  • Monitoring and Controlling: This happens alongside the execution step, and is mainly made up of checking in with the team, dealing with any speed bumps, and doing everything in their power to ensure a speedy and smooth process.
    Closing: Presenting the project to the individual or organization that requested it. Hopefully this is the easiest step, and will end with the popping of a champagne cork!
Did you know?

Currently less than 1 in 4 organizations use project management software, missing out on the opportunity to track KPIs.

Which Businesses Need Project Management?

The principles and systems of project management can be used for almost any project. Project management is now being used by software developers, finance firms, legal teams, construction businesses, and even in the arts, in fields like visual effects and graphic design.

While few businesses categorically need project management, it’s a benefit to almost all of them. This benefit is enhanced by project management software. If a business is trying to use project management techniques, but is struggling to keep on top of it all, project management software can help teams and businesses maintain an efficient workflow.

Some of the most helpful capabilities of project management software include:

  • Building a work pipeline
  • Taking notes on the various steps of the process
  • Create a to-do list, and assign different tasks to different users

As far as the best project management software on the market, our researchers favor ClickUp, which is a great pick for anyone unfamiliar with project management. In our research, comparing 11 platforms, ClickUp came out on top with a very healthy score of 4.6/5. It has a free tier, which can allow you to dip your toes into the water without committing to anything, and it also receives our best usability score (4.0/5).

Next Steps

Educating yourself about project management is the easiest bit – the learning curve is sticking to your plan to make sure you’re set up for success.

The easiest way to guarantee that? Investing in a robust project management software that fits your needs. The good news is that you’re spoilt for choice. The not-so-good news is that it can be tough to make the right choice. Using our free comparison tool can fast-forward your search by finding your next project management software investment – it only takes a few minutes!


What are the 5 major project management processes?
The five stages you want to follow as you develop a project are: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closing. Ensuring you complete all of these stages will keep your project on track and will save you time and money.
What is risk in Project Management?
Any good project management process requires a thorough assessment of risk. What can go wrong during the project, and what can your team do to mitigate the possibility of that happening? Or, if it does happen, how can your team solve it as quickly as possible? No project management process is complete without nailing down the risks beforehand!

As an example of potential risks from the process itself, project management requires a lot of meetings, no matter what method you’re using. While these meetings are extremely helpful when it comes to checking in on progress, too many meetings can clog up schedules and slow down the work process.

What is a stakeholder in Project Management?
Anyone who is slightly involved in the project’s process or product is a stakeholder. The team working on it, any investors in the project, the customer who requested it, and even the customers at the very end who aren’t even aware of the entire process. All of these people are stakeholders, and their needs and desires will need to be addressed at every point in the process.
Written by:
Fernanda is a Mexican-born Expert Market writer, specialising in providing in-depth insights about business software to help businesses of all shapes and sizes thrive. From VoIP systems to project management software, she’s passionate about helping businesses find the tools and methods that will help give them an edge over their competitors. Fernanda has ample journalistic experience, having written for a multitude of online magazines about topics ranging from Latin American politics to cryptocurrency.