Project Life Cycle

Understanding the Project Life Cycle for Effective Project Management

In today's dynamic business environment, effective project management is crucial for organizations to achieve their strategic goals and deliver successful outcomes. Understanding the project life cycle and embracing project portfolio management (PPM) are essential steps toward ensuring consistency, efficiency, and strategic alignment in project execution.

The project life cycle provides a structured framework that guides project managers and their teams from the initial idea to the final delivery. By dividing the project into distinct states organizations can effectively plan, allocate resources, and track progress at every stage. This systematic approach enables objective decision-making, ensures the alignment of projects with strategic objectives, and enhances communication and collaboration among stakeholders.

Project Portfolio Management

Project Portfolio Management (PPM) is a strategic approach that organizations use to prioritize, select, and manage a collection of projects and programs as a unified portfolio. It involves aligning projects and programs with the organization's strategic goals and objectives, optimizing resource allocation, and balancing the portfolio to maximize value and achieve desired outcomes.

PPM provides a structured framework that allows organizations to evaluate and prioritize potential projects based on their alignment with strategic objectives, resource availability, risks, and expected benefits. By assessing the potential value, risks, and resource requirements of each project, PPM helps organizations make informed decisions about which projects to undertake and how to allocate resources effectively across the portfolio.

A successful PPM program within an organization requires a consistent and structured approach for how projects are executed and evaluated. Inconsistency in project execution within an organization can lead to confusion, inefficiencies, delays, and potential failures. Adopting an organization-wide project life cycle becomes imperative to mitigate these risks and ensure consistent and effective project management.

The Project Life Cycle defines a series of states that a project progresses through from its initiation to its completion. It provides a framework for consistent project management, ensuring that projects are well-defined, properly planned, and effectively executed.

Benefits of Consistency

The Project Life Cycle represents a logical sequence of activities that collectively contribute to accomplishing a project's goals or objectives. By dividing a project into distinct states, it becomes easier for project managers and their teams to plan, allocate resources, and monitor progress effectively. Each state within the Project Life Cycle serves a specific purpose and allows for the evaluation of project success or failure at key milestones.

One of the primary advantages of adopting a common Project Life Cycle within an organization is the ability to analyze projects consistently. With a standardized approach, management can compare projects, identify patterns, and extract valuable insights. By establishing an agreed-upon organizational project lifecycle, management gains a a comprehensive view of the entire project portfolio. This holistic perspective enables informed decision-making, resource allocation, and risk management across projects.

A consistent Project Life Cycle facilitates the evaluation of project feasibility, alignment with strategic objectives, and resource availability. It ensures that projects are properly assessed and justified before significant investments of time, effort, and resources are made. By adhering to a structured approach, management can prioritize projects, allocate resources effectively, and reduce the risk of undertaking projects that lack proper justification or strategic fit.

A common Project Life Cycle enhances communication and collaboration among project stakeholders within the organization. By having a shared understanding of the project states and their respective expectations, project teams, sponsors, and other key stakeholders can align their efforts, contribute effectively, and track progress efficiently. This fosters a collaborative environment where everyone is working towards a common goal and ensures that projects move forward smoothly.

Implementing a consistent Project Life Cycle within an organization is crucial for successful project management and effective project portfolio management. By establishing a standardized approach, organizations can better manage their entire portfolio of projects, ensuring clear analysis, measurement of success or failure, and informed decision-making. A structured approach enables organizations to enhance project outcomes, optimize resource utilization, and drive overall business success. Consistency in the Project Life Cycle fosters improved project governance, risk management, and strategic alignment, leading to greater efficiency, reduced costs, and increased stakeholder satisfaction.

Project Life Cycle

The Project Mechanics Project Life Cycle

The Project Life Cycle defines a series of states that a project goes through from its inception to its completion. Project activities are grouped into states so that the project manager and the core team can efficiently plan and organize resources appropriately for each state. By planning activities by states the project manager can objectively measure achievement of goals and justify their decisions to move ahead, correct, or terminate.

It is important to note that not every project will be completed. For example, some projects will not have the proper business justification to make it out of the Project Definition state.

The Project Life Cycle provides a structured approach to managing projects, ensuring effective planning, execution, and delivery. By understanding each state, project managers can navigate through the various milestones, assess progress, and make informed decisions. From identifying opportunities to project completion or cancellation, following a well-defined project life cycle enhances the chances of achieving project objectives efficiently.

Project Sequence

Future / Opportunity

  • An opportunity has been identified
  • No team has been assigned.

In this state, an opportunity is identified, signaling the potential for a project. However, no specific team has been assigned to define the opportunity yet. At this point, the project might exist as an idea or be listed among potential projects. The key takeaway is that no work is being done so no resources need to be tracked.

Project Definition

  • Sponsor has agreed to fund the creation of a project definition.
  • A team has been assigned to define the project and create a proposal.

Once a sponsor agrees to fund the project definition, the Project Definition state begins. A dedicated team is assigned to define the project and create a proposal. During this phase, an accounting code is generated to track the time and resources. The deliverable at this state is a comprehensive proposal that outlines the project's goals, scope, timeline, and budget. The definition must define how much is it going to cost and what is the benefit to the company. This is how the return on investment is calculated. The question in this state is "Is it worth it?".

This state should not include any design, comps, or documentation other than what is required to propose the work. The cost of this state can be allocated to a pursuit budget or a specific project budget. If the cost of this state is not billed, it still should be tracked to allow for accurate project costing and profitability analysis.


  • A proposal has been presented for approval.
  • All work on the project has stopped.

After the project proposal is created, it is presented to the Project Sponsor for approval. The proposal should include an expiration date and specific metrics that determine when the project can commence, such as a two-week timeframe from approval. If resources are named, it is crucial to note that their availability depends on adhering to the defined time frame. There should be no active work on a project in this state. The question in this state is "Are we going to do it?".

The sponsor evaluates the proposal, considering factors such as feasibility, alignment with strategic objectives, and resource availability. Once approved, the project moves forward to the next state.


  • The Project Sponsor has approved the project proposal.
  • The process of defining the project team and schedule has begun.

In the Approved state, the Project Sponsor gives the green light to proceed with the project. The project team is officially formed, and the project's priority is established. A project kickoff meeting is scheduled to align all stakeholders and initiate the project.

In Progress

  • The project has been kicked off and the project charter established
  • A team is actively working on the project.
  • Weekly status reports are maintained.
  • A formal change control process is in place (scope, timeline, budget).

The In Progress state represents the core implementation phase of the project. The project team actively works on executing the defined tasks and activities. Regular status reports are maintained to monitor progress, and a formal change control process is implemented to document any modifications to the project's scope, timeline, or budget. Milestones are set to gauge the achievement of objectives and provide a tangible measure of progress.


  • The project has been delivered.
  • There is no one working on the project.

When all project deliverables have been successfully accepted, the project enters the Complete state. At this point, there are no ongoing project activities, and the project code is closed. The final invoice is issued, indicating the completion of contractual obligations. The project's outcomes have transitioned into production and are now under the control of the ongoing support team.

The project team is disbanded, and resources are reallocated to other projects or initiatives. The project manager conducts a post-implementation review to assess the project's performance and identify lessons learned. The project manager also prepares a final project report to document the project's outcomes and provide recommendations for future projects.


  • The project has been canceled.
  • There is no one working on the project.

At any point in the project life cycle, a project may face challenges or changes in circumstances that lead to its cancellation. This could occur due to factors such as budget constraints, shifting priorities, or technological limitations. If a project is canceled, it means that all work on it ceases, and resources are reallocated to other projects or initiatives.

The Project Life Cycle Sequence Diagram

Project success

By embracing a common project life cycle and implementing PPM practices, organizations can reap numerous benefits. Consistency in project management allows for the evaluation of project feasibility, alignment with strategic objectives, and resource availability. It ensures that projects are thoroughly assessed, justified, and prioritized before significant investments are made. Moreover, a structured approach fosters improved project governance, risk management, and stakeholder satisfaction, leading to greater efficiency, reduced costs, and enhanced overall project outcomes.

Understanding the project life cycle and adopting project portfolio management practices are vital for effective project management. From the initial idea to final delivery, the project life cycle provides a roadmap for success, ensuring that projects are well-defined, properly planned, and effectively executed. Combined with project portfolio management, organizations can optimize resource utilization, drive strategic alignment, and achieve their desired project outcomes. By embracing these concepts, organizations can navigate the complexities of project management with confidence, ultimately driving business success and staying ahead in today's competitive landscape.

Project Analysis

What needs to be done, and how will I know when it is done?

The analysis phase is an important part of the project management process in the field of information technology (IT). This phase involves the careful examination and evaluation of the project, its goals, and its requirements, in order to develop a detailed plan for its successful completion.

Analysis is a discovery process where you continuously collect and digest information with the purpose of achieving a true understanding of the requirements. Analysis activities are focused on rapid requirement validation and on generating functional specifications. The key outputs of the analysis is answers to the following questions:

  • What needs to be done?
  • Why does it need to be done?
  • What is the expected benefit when it is done?
  • How do we know we have done it?

The sources for the analysis can be a written requirements statement, a formal vision document, and interviews with stakeholders or other interested parties. The output of the analysis depends a great deal on the type of project that is being undertaken. Analysis activities include:

  • Following up on information requirements
  • Conducting clarification meetings and reviews
  • Facilitating functional specification sessions
  • Creating functional specifications
  • Developing a business case for the project

During the analysis phase, IT project managers and their teams typically conduct a number of activities, including the following:

  • Defining the project scope: This involves clearly stating the goals and objectives of the project, as well as identifying the specific tasks and activities that need to be completed in order to achieve those goals. This helps to ensure that the project stays on track and focused on its key objectives.

  • Identifying the project stakeholders: Stakeholders are individuals or groups who have a vested interest in the project, and who may be impacted by its outcome. Identifying stakeholders helps project managers to understand the different perspectives and needs of the people involved in the project, and to ensure that their concerns are taken into account.

  • Conducting a needs analysis: This involves identifying the specific needs and requirements of the project, such as the technology and resources that will be needed, the skills and expertise of the project team, and any external factors that may impact the project. This helps project managers to develop a realistic plan for completing the project.

  • Developing a project schedule: A project schedule is a detailed plan that outlines the tasks and activities that need to be completed in order to achieve the project's goals. This typically includes the timeline for each task, the resources that will be needed, and the dependencies between different tasks.

Overall, the analysis phase of successful IT project management is a crucial step in the project management process. By carefully examining and evaluating the project, its goals, and its requirements, IT project managers can develop a detailed and realistic plan for its successful completion.

Project Planning

What is it? When are we going to do it? Who is going to do it?

One of the early steps in the project management process is to create a plan of attack for accomplishing the objectives.

The purpose of the project planning process is to create a project plan for the project manager and individuals on the team to use and track the progress of the project.

Project planning is a critical part of project management, as it helps to ensure that the project is well-defined, well-structured, and feasible. One key aspect of project planning is determining when and how the project will be completed, and who will be involved in the project. Here are some best practices for planning when and with whom to complete a project:

  1. Identify the project timeline: The first step in project planning is to identify the overall timeline for the project. This should include the project's start and end dates, as well as any key milestones or deliverables that need to be completed along the way.

  2. Break the project into smaller tasks: Once the overall timeline has been established, the next step is to break the project down into smaller, more manageable tasks. This will make it easier to assign tasks to team members, and it will help to ensure that the project stays on track.

  3. Assign tasks to team members: Once the tasks have been identified, the next step is to assign them to team members. Consider each team member's skills, experience, and availability when making assignments, and make sure that everyone has a clear understanding of their responsibilities and deadlines.

  4. Identify dependencies and constraints: It's important to identify any dependencies and constraints that could affect the project's timeline or team members' ability to complete their tasks. This could include external factors such as availability of resources or approvals from stakeholders, or internal factors such as team members' schedules or workloads.
  5. Monitor and adjust the plan as needed: Project planning is not a one-time activity – it's an ongoing process. Monitor the project's progress regularly, and adjust the plan as needed to account for changes in the project's scope, timeline, or team.

Effective project planning involves determining the project's timeline, breaking the project down into smaller tasks, assigning those tasks to team members, identifying dependencies and constraints, and monitoring and adjusting the plan as needed. By following these best practices, project managers can ensure that the project is completed on time and with the right team in place.

Project Design

Specifically how are we going to do this?

During the design process , the design team translates the requirements and specifications into the solution definition and designs the necessary components.

Designing the project solution is an important part of project management, as it involves identifying and defining the specific steps and actions that will be taken to achieve the project's objectives. Here are some best practices for designing the project solution:

  1. Define the problem or opportunity: Before you can design a solution, it's important to clearly define the problem or opportunity that the project is addressing. This will help to ensure that the solution is focused and aligned with the project's goals.

  2. Identify the stakeholders: Stakeholders are individuals or groups who have a vested interest in the project, and it's important to identify them early in the process. This will help to ensure that the solution takes their needs and preferences into account, and it will help to build support for the project.

  3. Develop alternative solutions: Once the problem or opportunity has been defined, the next step is to develop alternative solutions. This could involve brainstorming sessions, research, or other techniques to generate ideas. Make sure to consider a range of possible solutions, and to evaluate each one based on its feasibility, cost, and potential impact.

  4. Select the best solution: Once you have developed a range of alternative solutions, it's time to select the best one. This should be based on a thorough evaluation of the pros and cons of each solution, and it should take into account the project's goals, constraints, and stakeholders.

  5. Define the solution in detail: Once the best solution has been selected, the next step is to define it in detail. This should include a clear description of the steps and actions that will be taken to implement the solution, as well as any resources, budgets, or timelines that are involved.

  6. Communicate the solution to stakeholders: The final step in designing the project solution is to communicate it to stakeholders. This should include a clear and concise explanation of the solution, and it should address any questions or concerns that stakeholders may have.

Designing the project solution involves defining the problem or opportunity, identifying stakeholders, developing alternative solutions, selecting the best solution, defining it in detail, and communicating it to stakeholders. By following these best practices, project managers can ensure that the project solution is well-defined and aligned with the project's goals.

Project Initiation

Let's Get This Party Started

One of the first steps in the project process is the project initiation. During the project initiation process validate that the project charter and proposal document clearly define a project that best fits the customer's goals and objectives.

It's important to have an approach for clearly identifying the measurable benefits that will result from completing the project.

Following the sign-off of the Project Proposal, the actual project ramp-up can begin. Here are some suggested activities for the initial steps to be followed on a well-managed project. Client requirements, the specific nature of the project, and other project variables will almost always necessitate project-specific implementation variations, but the tasks as outlined should form the basis for the eventual implementation approach.

Request Job Number Setup from Accounting

To ensure timely project invoicing, it is critical that a job number be assigned as early as possible.  Fill out the Job Number Request Form and send it to Accounting.  Accounting will provide you with the new job number.

Start Project Management File

This file should include the Job Arrangement Letter, the Professional Service Agreement, and any Requests for Proposal from the client, any relevant correspondences, and important background material.  The file will serve as a repository for all ongoing materials relating to the project including Status Reports, Meeting Minutes, Invoices, etc…  The Project Manager for every job should create a project file.  The Project Manager is also responsible for forwarding copies of all Invoices, project proposals, and PSAs to the Company Chief Financial Officer.

Review Project Checklist

Tools & Templates II provides a generic project checklist that should serve as a guide for the Project Initiation stage.  The list is divided into several sections including Work Area, Telephones, Network, and Office Supplies.  Certain aspects of this checklist may not be relevant to a specific project, and each project will likely bring additional items to be addressed, such as travel policy creation.  The list simply serves as a guide in the project initiation process, and should serve as a basis for a project specific checklist.

Create Orientation Binder

For larger, multi-phase projects, an orientation binder is often warranted.  This binder includes any material required to bring new team members “up to speed” on the project and outlines the specific procedures and guidelines of the project.  Tools & Templates II provides a generic outline of items that may be included in a new Project Orientation Binder.

Review/Confirm Project Vision

Ensure you have a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish.  Without a clearly articulated vision, team members will be confused as to what you want them to do ( Read: Role to choose/accept).  It is not possible to delegate and empower a team to achieve an ill-defined goal.  Therefore, the first step must be to review the vision formulated in the opportunity assessment effort and verify that this vision is still valid.

Identify Skills Required

Once the project vision has been established, create a list of roles that must be filled.  Review the project’s work breakdown structure and assess the skills required to create the project deliverables.  Do not confuse internal management roles/titles with project delivery skills.  For example, your best facilitator may have the worst technical skills.  If you need to facilitate technical requirements gathering, define a need for a technical architecture role and a facilitator role.  When contacting the staffing group, try to cross-reference the available staff with the required roles.  You may find that some roles require two people.

Obtaining the correct staff with the appropriate skills will reduce project anxiety.  It is important to not be afraid to augment staff with another team member possessing a specialized skill (facilitation) for an interim period of time.  The use of specialized staff will not only reduce project anxiety, but also serve to provide a learning experience for the staff.

Recognize Incentives

Project managers should try to identify the possible “wins” for each team member.  If team members are given proper incentive, and they are aware of their personal wins, it will be possible to achieve accelerated change.  It is important to get incentives aligned between clients, consultants, and contractors.

Allocate Resources

Resources are defined as all personnel and things required to achieve the stated project goal.  Failure to secure appropriate resources leads to high frustration levels.  Providing adequate workspace, equipment, and appropriately skilled staff is critical to project success.  Managers should identify any resource shortfalls and create a plan for filling the gaps.  In addition, be sure to communicate this plan to all affected/associated parties.

Establish Action Plans

“Develop a clear plan for action”.  This plan must ensure appropriate timing of resource acquisition in conjunction with the project goals.  A well-defined action plan is essential to communicating the project’s vision to the team members.  The failure to develop an action plan will result in multiple false starts and a loss of efficiency as dependant tasks may wait on preceding task completion.

Maintain Lines of Communication

A critical requirement for obtaining team member buy-in in alignment with client expectations is the clear and concise communication of the project’s vision, team member’s expectations, available resources, and the action plan.  The failure to communicate over the course of a project leads to a damaging divergence of expectations.

Select a Project “Coach”

For all projects at Company, a “Coach” should be identified that will serve as an outside resource providing guidance and direction as required by the Project Manager.  On smaller projects, this relationship will likely be very informal, and the Company Business Unit Leader (BUL) will likely fill the "Coach" role.  As Company grows and project sizes increase, this role will become more formal and experienced resources other than the BUL will likely be called upon.  It is ultimately, however, the responsibility of the Project Manager to identify the Coach for the project.

The Coach is intended to be a Company resource that can offer time as required by the Project Manager to discuss issues and aid in keeping the project on track.  The client should be aware of the Coach’s role, and understand that the Coach is part of Company’s process for ensuring project success.  Company does not bill for any time the Coach commits to the project, and Coaches will continue to place their highest priority on their own current project or organizational duties.

Project Kick-Off Meeting

Once an initial project team has been constructed, the Project Manager should hold a project kick-off meeting to discuss the future that lies before the project team and outline critical drivers, objectives, etc… that will be significant to all team members involved.  Below is a list of areas that should be addressed in this kick-off meeting:

  • Expectations of customer/user/sponsors – Deliverables & "The Journey”
  • Expectations of team members
  • Expectations of Project Manager
  • Project “rules”
  • Resources available
  • Project mechanics (e.g. control procedures, schedules, milestones, etc…)

Much like the other initiation tasks in this section, the formality of this meeting will greatly depend on the size and scope of the project.  In any case, it is a critical step in building the team, and empowering the team members.  By drawing the team into the “big picture” from the beginning, the Project Manager will increase buy-in and build the appropriate mechanisms for communication within the project team.

As new team members are brought into the project, an informal meeting should be held for the new member in order to minimize the ramp-up time of the team member.

Project execution

Doing the Work

During the development process,

the desired functionality is developed and a compelling proposition for each customer, consumer, and project constituent is produced.

Once a project has been planned and the team has been assembled, the next step is to do the work. This is often the most challenging part of project management, as it involves coordinating the efforts of multiple team members, managing resources, and dealing with any issues or challenges that arise. Here are some best practices for doing the work in a project management context:

  1. Communicate regularly: Effective communication is essential for the success of a project. Make sure to communicate regularly with team members and stakeholders, and provide clear and concise updates on the project's progress. This will help to keep everyone informed and on the same page, and it will help to prevent misunderstandings and miscommunications.

  2. Monitor and track progress: It's important to monitor and track the project's progress regularly, and to make sure that the project is staying on track. This could involve using project tracking software, conducting regular status meetings, or using other tools and techniques to track the project's progress.

  3. Manage risks and issues: No project is without risks and issues, and it's important to manage them effectively to keep the project on track. Identify potential risks and issues early, and develop contingency plans to address them. This will help to prevent small issues from becoming major problems.

  4. Manage resources: Effective resource management is critical for the success of a project. Make sure that the project has the necessary personnel, equipment, and materials to meet its deadlines, and monitor and manage those resources carefully to prevent any shortages or bottlenecks.

  5. Adapt to change: Projects are often dynamic and subject to change, and it's important to be flexible and adaptable in your approach to project management. Be prepared to adjust the project plan as needed to account for changes in the project's scope, timeline, or team.

Doing the work in a project management context involves effective communication, progress monitoring, risk and issue management, resource management, and adaptability to change. By following these best practices, project managers can ensure that the project is completed successfully and on time.

Project Testing

Did I do what I set out to do?

Effective project management planning involves setting clear, measurable, and achievable objectives that can be tracked and monitored throughout the project. By setting these objectives, project managers can ensure that the project stays on track, that the project's goals are being met, and that any issues or challenges are identified and addressed promptly. Here are some best practices for setting measurable objective goals in project management planning:

Identify the project's key objectives

These should be aligned with the project's overall goals and objectives, and they should be specific, measurable, and achievable.

Define specific and measurable goals

These should be quantifiable so that they can be tracked and monitored throughout the project. For example, instead of setting a goal to "improve customer satisfaction," set a goal to "increase customer satisfaction by 10%."

Set realistic and achievable goals

It's important to set goals that are realistic and achievable, given the project's constraints and resources. Avoid setting overly ambitious goals that are unlikely to be met, as this can lead to disappointment and frustration. Instead, set goals that are challenging but achievable, and that will provide a sense of accomplishment and progress.

Monitor progress towards the goals

Create a plan for tracking and monitoring progress. Once the goals have been set, the next step is to create a plan for tracking and monitoring progress. This could involve using project management software, conducting regular status meetings, or using other tools and techniques to track and monitor the project's progress.

Adjust the goals as needed

Regularly review and adjust the plan. Project management planning is not a one-time activity – it's an ongoing process. Regularly review and adjust the plan to account for changes in the project's scope, timeline, or team, and make sure that the goals remain relevant and achievable.

Testing Process

During the testing process , manage testing as a continuous activity and generate trusted results.

Testing is an activity necessary in all phases of a project. Responsibility for testing at different points in the project should be clearly assigned with adequate resources committed to the testing effort.

Project Tracking

What are we doing?

Project tracking software is a tool that helps project managers and team members to monitor and manage the progress of a project. This type of software typically includes features such as task and milestone tracking, resource management, collaboration tools, and reporting and analytics.

Using project tracking software can help project managers to stay organized and on top of the many tasks and details involved in a project. It can also help team members to stay focused and on track, and it can provide stakeholders with real-time visibility into the progress of the project.

Some key benefits of using project tracking software include:

  • Improved visibility and transparency: Project tracking software provides a central hub where all project information is stored and organized. This makes it easy for team members and stakeholders to access and view the latest project updates, ensuring that everyone has a clear understanding of the project's status.

  • Enhanced collaboration and communication: Many project tracking tools include collaboration and communication features, such as team chat, file sharing, and real-time updates. This can help to improve collaboration and communication among team members, and it can help to prevent misunderstandings and miscommunications.

  • More efficient task and milestone tracking: Project tracking software makes it easy to track tasks and milestones, and to see at a glance which tasks are on track, behind schedule, or complete. This can help project managers to identify potential bottlenecks or delays, and to take corrective action to keep the project on track.

  • Better resource management: Project tracking software can help project managers to track and manage the resources required for a project, such as personnel, equipment, and materials. This can help to ensure that the project has the necessary resources to meet its deadlines, and it can help to prevent resource-related delays or bottlenecks.

  • More accurate reporting and analytics: Project tracking software often includes reporting and analytics features that make it easy to generate detailed reports and visualizations of the project's progress. This can help project managers to identify trends and patterns, and to make data-driven decisions that can improve the project's performance.

Effective use of project tracking software can help project managers and teams to stay organized, on track, and on budget. However, there are a few key best practices that project managers should follow to ensure that they get the most out of their project tracking software.

  1. Choose the right tool: Not all project tracking tools are created equal, and it's important to choose a tool that meets the specific needs of your project. Consider factors such as the size of your team, the complexity of the project, and the type of information that you need to track.

  2. Ensure that all team members are trained and onboarded: For project tracking software to be effective, it's important that all team members know how to use the tool and are comfortable with its features. Invest in training and onboarding to ensure that everyone is up to speed and can use the tool effectively.

  3. Establish clear project goals and milestones: Before you start using project tracking software, it's important to establish clear goals and milestones for the project. This will provide a framework for tracking progress, and it will help to ensure that the project stays on track and aligned with its objectives.

  4. Regularly update and maintain the project tracking tool: Project tracking software is only as effective as the information that it contains. Make sure to regularly update the tool with the latest project information, and to keep it organized and accurate. This will help to ensure that the tool provides useful and accurate data.

  5. Use the tool to identify trends and patterns: Project tracking software can provide valuable insights and analytics that can help project managers to identify trends and patterns in the project. Use these insights to make data-driven decisions that can improve the project's performance.

Selecting the right project-tracking software requires careful planning, training, and maintenance. By following these best practices, project managers can ensure that they get the most out of their project tracking tool and can keep their projects on track and on budget.

The most popular project-tracking tools are:

  • Microsoft Project Plans
  • Excel Spreadsheets
  • Web Applications (SaaS)

No matter what method is used, the project tracking system should provide some key functionality that includes: practical estimating and efficient project organizing.

As a foundation for effective project controls, Project Managers should establish formats, repositories, and procedures for the following:

  • Reports
  • Meetings
  • Issues/Change
  • Standards
  • Invoices
  • Staff Development
  • Project Tracking

Project Estimating

What is this going to cost?

Accurately estimating a project's effort, duration, and cost is one of the most challenging tasks for the Project Manager. At the project start, the Project Manager usually develops macro-level estimates. As the project progresses, the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is refined. A macro-level estimate is used for preliminary planning, creating a global view, and determining project feasibility.

I’ve seen people use a flat overhead rate (anywhere between 10-25% depending on what the project sponsor will tolerate) or try to add PM tasks to the project plan to build in hours (meetings(client and team), status reports, issue management, and other activities).  My off-the-cuff answer is 20 percent of the total effort will be related to managing the project and not doing the work. This varies widely depending on the skills of the team, the definition of the work to be done, and the effective change management system

Project Estimating 'rules of thumb'

Minimum 25%

The minimum effort required for project management tasks is 25% (10 Hours per week).  That is the time required for a one-person software development effort.

7 requires 1

Current studies indicate that the maximum number of people that one manager can effectively lead is seven.  Therefore, if you are managing seven people, you should allocate 100% of your time to handling project management tasks.  Ignoring this requirement is one reason why so many software development efforts are so poorly managed.

Smaller Groups

If a project consists of more than seven people, consider breaking it up into smaller groups.  Assign a "lead" that has management responsibility and authority for the group.  Then, use your time to coordinate group efforts, build teams, work with the client, work with management, and plan ahead.

Some common Estimating Mistakes and how to avoid them:


Do not forget to include expenses in your estimates.  Use a successful project as a template to make sure that you list everything you will need.  Have someone audit your spreadsheets to ensure that all lines are totaled properly.  A good guide to ensure that you have included all relevant expenses is the Project Initiation Checklist.


Do not skimp on the contingency estimate.  If you estimate six months plus one month of contingency, quote seven months plus contingency.  The bottom line is nobody is perfect at estimating.  No matter how detailed the estimate, Mr. Murphy will come along to ensure that there are delays and things that were not considered.  The average contingency ranges from 10% on a small project to 30% on larger and riskier projects.

Management Hours/Staff Meetings

Management hours and staff meeting hours are often underestimated.  A weekly two-hour meeting by a five-person team constitutes 40 hours per month.  People tend to cut back on these hours because the estimates look high.  If you want a smaller number, break up the meetings into more discrete tasks performed in the meetings.  There is no way to avoid having the meeting if the project is to stay well-managed, so be sure to include the time.

Proficiency Assumptions

If you have a team of 15, you can assume that 5-7 of your consultants/associates will be inexperienced.  Estimate them to perform at a 50% proficiency level for the 1 st three months.

Administrative Time

Administrative time (i.e. preparing reports, attending meetings, conveying decisions, reviewing surveys, etc…) is often omitted from estimates, yet it is still required.  If a lump sum is inappropriate to show on the WBS, then show the time broken out into discrete tasks.

Supervision Requirements

The time required to supervise employees and monitor their development activities is often grossly underestimated.  This underestimation is particularly acute in the early stages of a project where new consultants/associates require a material amount of supervision to keep on track.

Managers Doing "Real Work"

As projects grow in size, the job of running a project soon takes nearly full-time management commitment to managerial tasks.  Do not assume that a Manager can be expected to complete deliverables (creating detailed design documents, programming modules, executing test cases, etc.) while managing the project.  Consider the size and scope of the project along with the corresponding management tasks to determine whether a Project Manager will be able to undertake these "real” tasks.  In any case, the assigning of non-management tasks to the Project Manager should be seen as a " red flag"

Resource Sharing

Assumptions of sharing do not allow for odd numbers of staff.  Remember to round up to whole numbers.  For example, if there are three resources on an out-of-town project, and one car is allocated for every two staff, two cars will be needed.

Network Access

A common area of misestimating is the assumption that the client has the appropriate network in place for development.  Often the client has unreasonable expectations as to how quickly LAN/network hardware and installation can occur.  If the client's staff is supposed to perform the installation work, be sure to develop a contingency plan to account for delays in this area.

Wrong Development Tool

Often, the wrong tool is used for the basis of estimation (e.g., the estimate was based upon Visual Basic, and Visual C++ is required).  This situation occurs whenever the requirements are not fully known at the start.  Be sure to include an assumption specifying the need to potentially re-estimate should there be a substantive change in the development tools.

No Tuning Time

Be sure to include time for tuning.  Often extensive tuning is required as programs are moved out of development and into testing.

No Transition Time

Often, development estimates only include time for personnel to be on-site through testing.  However, it is frequently a requirement that some staff is available to assist the client in the transition to the new production system.  If your estimate does not include transition time, be sure to make a specific exclusion of such assistance in the Job Arrangement Letter.


The creation of documentation and help text can be very time-consuming.  Even if the actual creation of the documentation and help text is not part of the project deliverables, you will need to include time to assist whoever is responsible for its development.  The client will assume that this "assistance" will be minimal and, therefore, will not require specific time allocated to it.  If the client does have this sentiment, make sure to secure a separate time and materials agreement for all time spent "assisting" in the preparation of documentation for the system.


Be sure to document all estimating assumptions specifically listing all exclusions.  Also, be sure to explicitly state those items for which the client is responsible.