Conquer the 5 Project Management Life Cycle Phases

Updated on 31 May 2020

The Project Management stages listed in the typical schedule of works template are: Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring & Control and Closure. While there are a few different schools of thought regarding the phases of project management, this classification developed by the PMI is largely considered to be the authority and the most complete approach.

The 5 phases of the Project Management life Cycle


In order to be successful in their practice, project managers who are just starting out, but also those who have been in the trenches for years, need to become proficient across all project life cycle phases. To help new project managers understand this cycle, we will take a high level tour of the 5 phases of project management as defined by the PMI.

1. Initiation

A solid initiation will set a project up for success and lay the foundation for all the other stages in its life cycle. During this phase, PMs first measure the feasibility and value of a project in order to determine whether or not it is worth pursuing.

Project Management life cycle phase 1: Initation

Once a project is given the green light, team members will be briefed on the project’s objective and assigned goals during the initiation phase. PMs should be working closely with their clients and execs to properly prepare for the strategic planning process. It is also during this phase that PMs should be rallying the team together and building project support. One way to do this is by pulling the team tighter together and presenting its significance and value to them. It will be important to have everyone on board.

A word of caution here: a common problem that can seriously affect subsequent project stages is the insufficient alignment of interests between all parties involved. The inability to properly identify competing interests and concerns during the initiation phase, or the failure to be transparent can doom the project right from the start. Experienced PMs handle this early on by creating a set of ground rules regarding transparency in communication.

2. Planning

The project planning phase focuses on building a blueprint for achieving the goals, on time and within budget. This roadmap will be used to guide the team through the execution of the project. It is in this phase that the scope is defined and a solid project management plan is developed. The plan involves identifying costs, available resources, potential financing options and risks, as well as setting a realistic timeframe. Moreover, it should also include the types of key performance indicators or baselines to measure progress and determine if the project is on track.

Project Management life cycle phase 2: Planning

During the planning stage, project managers define roles, responsibilities and tasks, so that all team members are aware of what they’re accountable for. Here are a few essential artefacts that PMs typically create to ensure everyone knows what needs to be done, and the project progresses properly:

  • Scope statement – a document that precisely outlines the project’s benefits, objectives, key milestones and deliverables
  • Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) – a diagram that breaks down the project’s scope into manageable sections; there is usually a reusable Work Breakdown Structure template employed to simplify the process
  • Gantt chart – a project management visual, used to illustrate the project timeline and plan out the tasks identified in the WBS diagram. Several apps in the Microsoft Office suite allow making a Gantt chart but generally require a lot of painstaking design work because they lack templates. Most project management professionals prefer to use a quick and easy Gantt chart maker with embedded templates in order to save time. Check out our other blog post about the best apps for this purpose to find out more.
  • Risk management plan – a document that identifies all foreseeable risks (including secondary risks generated by the primary ones) and highlights possible risk mitigation strategies
  • Communication plan – an essential plan, particularly if the project involves both internal and external stakeholders. It should include communication objectives, frequency and methods, as well as key content to be shared with the parties involved in the project. With the project communication plan, the best PMs ensure that their message gets across by adapting their approach to fit each particular audience. For instance, an effective way to share key data is to use a simple, familiar PowerPoint roadmap when reporting to stakeholders who may not understand PM jargon.

3. Execution

The execution phase of project management is what most people typically associate with the actual job description of PMs. These professionals should always expect to be stretched quite thin at this point. From managing the efficient allocation of resources and building deliverables, to creating development updates, status reviews and performance reports, there are many threads to untangle.

Project Managers are advised to arrange a kick-off meeting in order to officially mark the onset of the execution phase, get the team started on the right track, and ensure everything is properly prepared for team members to begin executing their assignments.

Project Management life cycle phase 3: Execution

The execution phase is active, and PMs will be required to leverage both their resource AND their people management skills in order to keep the project team motivated, performing and on track. PMs may need to:

  • Eliminate distractions and unnecessary activities;
  • Get underperformers back on track;
  • Manage morale to prevent occupational burnout;
  • Find needed capital resources to overcome stalls;
  • Implement conflict management and mediation.

4. Monitoring and Control

Although it is sequenced as the 4th stage in the project management life cycle, the monitoring phase is in fact implemented most often DURING the execution stage, not afterwards.

Project Management life cycle phase 4: Monitor & Control

While the team executes the plan, PMs begin to monitor and control project work, to ensure progression is on track with the schedule. To achieve this, PMs will be:

  • Monitoring the tasks that are on the critical path;
  • Verifying and managing project scope creep and taking measures to counter it;
  • Updating stakeholders with a status review, according to the pre-established strategic communications plan;
  • Comparing planned costs versus actual costs;
  • Seeking ways to optimize performance.

Check out this post to find out more about the steps you can take when plans change and how to stay in control.

5. Closure

The final stage of the project management life cycle is the closure phase, which requires a series of essential tasks and activities, such as delivering the finished project to the client, communicating its completion to stakeholders, releasing resources, ending collaboration with third parties hired specifically for the project based on the contractor termination agreement.

Project Management life cycle phase 5: Closure

During the project closure phase, PMs also hold a post-mortem meeting to evaluate what went wrong, highlight successes, and learn what improvements can be made for future projects. Using this meeting to recognize and appreciate valuable team members is a best practice that can help build a PM’s credibility and brand.

A final word

Managing a project, regardless of its magnitude or complexity, can become overwhelming at times. To come to your aid, we have created this Gantt chart example using the Office Timeline add-in to showcase the 5 phases of project management, and you can download it free of charge. To keep things as clear and simple as possible, we have opted for a swimlane template, which is just one of the many features included in our PowerPoint add-in. Try out the free version or discover the Pro Edition here for more complex, no-holds-barred applications.

Quickly turn project data into professional timelines

Build stunning timelines, roadmaps and Gantt charts that are easy to make and simple to communicate. Get the advanced features of Office Timeline Pro free for 14 days.


How to Make a Project Plan Presentation for Clients and Stakeholders

Updated on 14 June 2020

Project presentation is the cornerstone of every successful enterprise and a fundamental skill every project manager should master. Whether it’s part of a stakeholder engagement plan or you’re writing an executive summary to update management on your progress, success is highly dependent on effective communication. Our article aims to showcase a few project evaluation and review techniques that you can employ to break down the barriers of business communication.

Product Development Roadmap


Simplify your presentation with high-level project visuals

A presentation for project stakeholders should be a broad, high-level overview to pique their curiosity rather than complex and uninspiring sets of data that only make sense to the speaker. However tempting it might be to rehash and recycle the detailed project charter that you’ve worked so hard on, especially when you’re pressed for time, don’t! Presenting data visually as a project roadmap to clients and executives adds context to facilitate understanding and allows you to only go into specifics upon request.

Microsoft Project is most often the project management software of choice in the planning phase. Few other project management tools are this well optimized for navigating the complexity of enmeshed tasks, milestones and events, or for creating deep dives. On the other hand, when it comes to generating high-level project visuals, its graphical representations, like the Gantt chart example below, are not well suited for a meeting with the project stakeholders.

Microsoft Project Gantt chart

An exec-level project review should summarize the strategic planning process and showcase its progress in a visually appealing manner. Remember: the challenge consists of making the information easy to digest and ensuring that audiences understand the business implications.

Creating a graphical representation of data

The best option for outlining a project’s plan is to create a workflow diagram that correlates the tasks with the critical milestones, as shown in the Gantt chart example below:

PowerPoint Gantt chart template


Presenting the project roadmap in this manner helps your stakeholders quickly see the scheduled tasks, as well as their duration, sequences and other task dependencies, all of which define the critical path. Furthermore, connecting the project activities (tasks) with the project events (milestones) offers clients and execs more insight, which translates to better management decisions.

Timeline vs Gantt Chart

Two main techniques are often employed to chart the strategic planning process as a graphic: timelines and Gantt charts. At their core, project timelines typically encompass only the events (milestones) whereas Gantt charts tend to show just activities (tasks). However, as we’ve mentioned earlier, the ideal project presentation should feature a blend of both tasks and milestones. For clarity purposes, you can opt for a single unified graph like a swimlane diagram that splits up these tasks and milestone according to their specific project life cycle phase.

Swimlane diagram template


Next, let’s take a comparative look at two frequently used alternatives for visually rendering a project charter, Excel and PowerPoint. We will explain how to make a Gantt chart in Excel using a bar graph, and how to make an Excel timeline using a scatter graph. We will also show you how to quickly make a single, unified Gantt chart + Timeline presentation in .PPTX by using our add-in for PowerPoint, Office Timeline.

Organizing your project in Excel

Whether or not you’re going to create the Gantt chart in Excel, this application from the Microsoft suite is a great place to start drafting the project schedule. More exactly, you will need to create the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) by breaking down the project into smaller pieces of work – the tasks. Make an Excel project management template that you can reuse, then list each of the tasks on the data table in the correct sequence. The tasks will form the project Gantt chart and their order will determine the project schedule.

Another important piece of the puzzle to integrate in your Excel project management template is the milestone section. Project milestones consist of all major deadlines your plan must achieve, and they form your Excel timeline. We have included a Work Breakdown Structure example below, for clarity purposes.

Excel Project Plan schedule

Note: Keep in mind that this is a high-level presentation aimed at executives and stakeholders, so it should not be overly complex. Consider trimming it down if the project schedule contains more than 20 tasks and 20 milestones, in order to facilitate understanding and keep the audience engaged.

Option 1: Making the Excel graphs

It’s worth noting that Excel is nowhere near as graphics-oriented as PowerPoint. The direct result is that your Excel Gantt charts and timelines will tend to look more like stacked bar graphs and, respectively, scatter charts.

Another drawback is that Excel doesn’t allow you to combine a Gantt chart (tasks) with a timeline (milestones) into a unified project roadmap. Therefore, you will need to create two separate visuals and combine them on one slide or present them individually. In order to do that, you will first need to make a Gantt chart showing the tasks of your project plan and then a timeline with your project milestones. Here’s how:

  • Step 1: Create a Gantt chart in Excel with the stacked bar chart function

Once you have your project schedule in Excel you will add the task data into an Excel stacked bar graph and then follow approximately 20+ formatting steps to transform it from a stacked bar chart into an Excel Gantt chart, which will end up looking something like the chart below. For detailed instructions, please check out our guide on how to make a Gantt chart in Excel.

Excel Gantt chart example

  • Step 2: Create a timeline in Excel using the scatter chart function

To create a timeline in Excel you will need to use a scatter chart. Add your data to the scatter chart then follow approximately 25 steps to format it so it looks like a timeline presentation, as shown below. If that’s easier, check out our easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide and a how-to video tutorial.

Excel timeline example

Note: However familiar and accessible this Microsoft application may be, there are certain limitations that make it less than ideal for project presentations, including:

  • No method to combine an Excel Gantt chart with a timeline. Executives and stakeholders should be able to view the tasks and milestones in conjunction with each other for better visibility into the critical deadlines and activities.
  • Making a project roadmapproject roadmap featuring a timeline or Gantt chart in Excel requires advanced operating skills. Converting Excel’s stacked and scatter charts into Gantt charts and timelines depends on properly following a specific sequence of formatting steps.
  • The resulting diagrams are not as visually appealing as a PowerPoint slide and considerably more difficult to share with everyone involved.

Option 2: Create the project roadmap as a native PowerPoint slide

So far, we have shown you how to make a Gantt chart in Excel and mix it with a timeline, in order to provide your stakeholders with a 2-part overview of your project schedule. Next, let’s take a look at the alternative: using a PowerPoint timeline maker with embedded Gantt chart functions to generate a slide with both graphics combined.

PowerPoint is perceived as a superior tool for building project presentations. Since it is a graphical application, it is designed for creating and communicating charts in a visual way. Additionally, since it’s a common tool in enterprises, PowerPoint is familiar to audiences, and slides can be easily shared. There are two main ways to build project slides in PowerPoint using our Office Timeline add-in:

  1. Create the Work Breakdown Structure template in Excel and import the data

Earlier in the article we have included a Work Breakdown Structure example made in Excel. The first option relies on using the import feature from Office Timeline and bring in the data tables with tasks and milestones. To import the project schedule you created in Excel, use the Office Timeline Pro wizard which will link to your project spreadsheet (or .MPP file, if you prefer Microsoft Project). Here’s a quick demo:

Import from Excel

There’s another reason to import the data from an Excel spreadsheet and that’s the sync feature. In short, since the PowerPoint slide is linked to a worksheet, it can be synchronized and updated with the click of a button when the spreadsheet data changes. Check out a brief synopsis of how sync works:

Sync with Excel

Note: For better visibility, Office Timeline also allows you to import tasks and milestones directly into swimlane templates.

  1. Use a Gantt chart or timeline template (swimlanes are also supported)

There are definitely advantages to importing the data file from an external application like Excel or Microsoft project. However, that isn’t your only option. Office Timeline comes with an extensive collection of professional templates that can easily adapt to a wide variety of different project types. These timeline templates are embedded in the add-in and there is also a free gallery with new ones added regularly, for your convenience.

Create timeline from template

Simply replace the default data with your own tasks and milestones, and Office Timeline generates the graphic for you.

Note: Customizing a timeline or Gantt chart template with your own data can be done at any time from the user-friendly and highly intuitive interface. Update it easily whenever there are changes in your project schedule, restyle it and share it with your team, all from within PowerPoint. It’s very flexible!


Writing an executive summary or stakeholder engagement plan is all about clarity, and the best way to achieve it is to complement the data with professional, visually appealing graphs. As you’re adding tasks and milestones to your project roadmap, it also becomes easier to trim the fat and focus on the game changers. This way, you’ll obtain an actionable and compelling high-level overview, rather than get tangled in the specifics.

If you regularly find yourself liaising with the management or your stakeholders and dread the thought spending hours creating presentations with the traditional tools in the Microsoft Office suite, then check out Office Timeline. Available as a free version, this handy project roadmap creation app can save you time and ensure you drive your point home without the drawback of an intimidating learning curve. For the more complex timelines, we recommend giving the Pro Edition a try.

Quickly turn project data into professional timelines

Build stunning timelines, roadmaps and Gantt charts that are easy to make and simple to communicate. Get the advanced features of Office Timeline Pro free for 14 days.