What is the Project Management Life Cycle

The term “Project Management Life Cycle” is not mentioned in either A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)2000 or the PMBOK PMBOK® Guide-3rd Edition. In the PMBOK® Guide-4th Edition, the term is used only once. On page 3 it states, “The PMBOK® Guide provides guidelines for managing individual projects. It defines project management and related concepts and describes the project management life cycle and the related process.” However, the PMBOK® Guide does not define what the term “Project Management Life Cycle” means.

What is mentioned in all three PMBOK® Guides referenced here is “Project Management Process Groups.”  The PMBOK® Guide 2000  mentions 5 Process Groups:

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Controlling
  • Closing.

Note it does not mention Monitoring. The PMBOK® Guide-3rd Edition, on page 38, lists the Project Management Process Groups as:

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Monitoring
  • Controlling
  • Closing

The PMBOK® Guide-4th Edition lists the same Process Groups (page 6).

So where did the term “Project Management Life Cycle” come from? I really don’t have a good answer for that. I have heard and read about the term for more than 10 years now, and I have always assumed it would fall into the category of “Best Practices.”  Best Practices seems to be a good term to use when you don’t have a good justification for a term.  🙂

I did a Google search for “Project Management Life Cycle” and found a few entries I thought were interesting. There is a Project Management software company out of New Zealand that is big on the term. However, contrary to the PMBOK® Guide, the software company states that there are only 4 phases: Initiation, Planning, Execution and Closure. The State of New York has a different view of Project Management Life Cycle, which includes Origination, Initiation, Planning, Execution, and Closure.  This is consistent with the PMBOK® Government extension.

Many Global Knowledge courses teach the Project Management Life Cycle.  The courses teach that the Project Management Life Cycle is the same as the Process Groups. In the PMP Exam Prep Boot Camp when it was based on 3rd Edition PMBOK® Guide, as well as other Project Management courses, they used the acronym IPECC. That seems to work pretty well for teaching the concept. Now that the PMP Exam Prep Boot Camp is based on thePMBOK® Guide-4th Edition, they use a different acronym of IPECaC.  This is a new acronym to me, but I understand it has been around for a while. I kind of like IPECC, because I am accustomed to it.  I mean, if you want to get really accurate on the acronym why not name it IPEM/CaC? But that seems a little silly.

The Project Management Life Cycle is very important and should be taught. I think the Project Management Institute should be more specific and define exactly what it represents, eliminating the confusion in the industry. Trying to absorb all of the knowledge in the PMBOK® Guide is difficult enough without adding to the confusion.

From Darrell Stiffler


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  1. Dr. Paul D. Giammalvo Reply

    Your comments are not at all unusual. Many people confuse the 5 process groupings with the project life cycle. (Actually, given a project is a finite event, it probably would be more correct to refer to it as the life SPAN and not life CYCLE, which implies something repetetive, such as the carbon cycle or the Oxygen cycle) But I digress…..

    Because a project has a beginning and an end, it has a life span that we can break down into logical PHASES. If we look at the human life span, depending on when you believe life starts, those phases may be 1) gestation, 2) infant, 3) formative years, 4) productive working years, 5) retirement and death.

    However, different sectors use either fewer or more phases. I do a lot of work in the oil and gas sector, and we commonly use a 7 Phase life span for each ASSET: 1) Identify, 2) Assess, 3) Select, 4) Define, 5) Execute, 6) Operate, 7) Decommission or Dispose. From within the asset class, the 1st 5 apply to projects, (1) Identify, 2) Assess, 3) Select, 4) Define, 5) Execute,)

    If you can dig up an old 1996 version of the PMBoK Guide, you will find that version did a much better (but far from perfect) job of explaining the difference between the PROCESS GROUPINGS and the project life span.

    Hope this helps explain things a little bit?

    If you want to see a much more robust model, I would urge you to take the time to download AACE’s Total Cost Management Framework- Integrated Portfolio, Program and Project Management Methodology. http://www.aacei.org/tcm/ Not only does it do a much better job of explaining how portfolios of assets, operations (programs) and portfolios of projects are related, but unlike PMI, AACE offers this at no cost.

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta

  2. Darrell Stiffler Reply

    Dr. Jakarta,

    Thanks for the information. I’ll check into it.

  3. Reggie Reply

    I agree with your post completely. I found the “life cycle” concept very confusing when I was studying project management.

    I managed to find some great resources, though, that helped clarify the concept for me. There are many books and websites that helped me understand different aspects of project management. I’ve also found that many blogs have great information on this topic.

    I highly recommend the Project Management Program at the University of Texas at Dallas to anyone wishing to learn more about project management – http://som.utdallas.edu/graduate/execed/projectMgmtProg/. I loved the program and I can keep up with former classmates using their alumni page.

  4. Darrell Stiffler Reply

    Thanks for the response. As a fellow Dallas citizen I’ll check this out.