Hello my friend,

Today I’ll talk a little bit about distribution of efforts and cost from the beginning of the project till its closure which is actually basics of project management. The reason for that is my desire to add a couple of words to explanation in PMBOK.  PMBOK tells good and right things, so I just want to add one aspect, which isn’t mentioned.

What does project’s life cycle consist of?

First of all let’s take a look at the definition of the project’s life cycle that is provided in PMBOK point 2.4:

A project life cycle is the series of phases that a project passes through from its initiation to its closure.

So all activities we are doing in the project can be grouped into certain phases. So we need to understand what phase means according to PMBOK (it’s stated in the point 2.4.2):

A project phase is a collection of logically related project activities that culminates in the completion of one or more deliverables. Project phases are used when the nature of the work to be performed is unique to a portion of the project, and are typically linked to the development of a specific major deliverable. A phase may emphasize processes from a particular Project Management Process Group, but it is likely that most or all processes will be executed in some form in each phase. Project phases typically are completed sequentially, but can overlap in some project situations.

Let’s make it a little bit easy. Each phase:

  • has certain objectives and distinct work to do;
  • has completed and meaningful deliverables at the end;
  • has defined start and end date;
  • is usually followed by another phase (done sequentially) ;
  • contains usually all Project Management Process Groups (Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, Closing);
  • has some kind of assessment and approval at the end (so called stage gate, phase gate or phase review).

So each phase can be considered as a small (or not very small) sub project. Such consideration is probably very rough, but it provide valuable insight how it’s possible to split the project into phases. Basically such division is natural and you don’t need to invent something.

It isn’t necessary to split the project into phases, so it can also be treated as a single phase.

How efforts are distributed across the project?

Now we understand the terminology and can go further the generic project’s life cycle is shown in PMBOK in point 2.4.1:


As you can see the generic’s life cycle has four stages:

  • Starting the project
  • Organizing and preparing
  • Carrying out the work
  • Closing the project

If we have a big project or if it’s just suitable for us, we can map each this project’s stage to a distinct phase. Such division follows the spirit of the phase as each stage has specific work, certain deliverables and time frame. Moreover they follow each other sequentially. But it isn’t obligatory to have such one to one mapping, and you can have several different phases that cover just one project life cycle’s stage.

For example in case of project dealing with new product development, you can two phases at the starting the project stage: market research and creation of project charter. Market research has all attributes of phase, because it:

  • has clear goal to answer the question if it makes sense to develop the new product;
  • has a certain time frame;
  • has a concrete deliverable, which is business case justification and prediction of profitability;
  • must be approved before processing further to the creation of project chapter;
  • should have its own project plan, team, defined quality and so on.

If the deliverables of this phase is approved (the business case shows good reason to develop new product), the project moves further to the next stage, which the creation of the project chapter.

The key take away here is that relation between projects life cycle’s stages and phases can be “many-to-one” (single phase project), “one-to-one”, and “one-to-many”. It fully depends on the project, its complexity and nature of work to be done.

The next interesting thing is the curve that shows cost and staffing level across the time. It’s obvious that during the actual work is being done (i.E. roll out of new network equipment, construction of new building, etc) usually the biggest number of employees and other resources is needed. But what do you think, how the efforts of project manger itself are distributed? Do they follow this rule as well?


My answer to the question above will be “no”. Take a look at the graph above, it’s my development, not the PMBOK’s one. Though PMBOK tells us that the Project Charter is usually (or it should be) developed by project sponsor, the reality show another case. Very often the project sponsor is someone from the top management, who has no time to do such things. That’s why the project manager develops the project charter himself, whereas the project sponsor just provides overall guidelines and insights for this process. Then the biggest amount of work of the project manager is done during development of the project management plan. Upon it’s done the level of project manager’s efforts decreases significantly, because his role mainly shift to the monitoring and controlling activities. For sure he/she performs planning and executive activities as well, but so much as it was previously. Usually in the end of the carrying out the work stage project manager has to do more work as not everything goes smoothly. And the last project life cycle’s phase is typically done mainly by project manager and core team.

It depends on project, organization and project manager’s working style, how the efforts will be distributed. But what shows my own experience and experience of the project managers, whom I know, is that usually this red curve is more or less followed.

Lessons learned

Very often the project manager tends to go into details in the field where he has the stronger background upon carrying out the work, as he/she has enough free time. Sometimes it might be good, but as a rule the project manager shouldn’t cross the border of the responsibility of core team members. Such situations mainly lead to misunderstanding, loss of credibility and therefore performance. Though you can be super strong in technical field, you should trust your technical coordinator and his team, if you have approved it.


Distribution of the efforts and money spending across project is always unique to each project.  For example, some projects can have very big planning stage and relatively fast implementation. But it’s rather exception that a rule. As a rule projects follow the provided here examples, because usually the implementation or, let’s say, producing of the deliverables and their acceptance is much longer comparing to the development of the project plan.

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Anton Karneliuk