Life Cycle Phases

Project planning takes place at two levels. The first level is the corporate cultural approach; the second method is the individual's approach. The corporate cultural approach breaks the project down into life-cycle phases, such as those shown in Table 2-5. The life-cycle phase approach is not an attempt to put handcuffs on the project manager but to provide a methodology for uniformity in project planning. Many companies, including government agencies, prepare checklists of activities that should be considered in each phase. These checklists are for consistency in planning. The project manager can still exercise his own planning initiatives within each phase.

A second benefit of life-cycle phases is control. At the end of each phase there is a meeting between the project manager, sponsor, senior management, and even the customer, to assess the accomplishments of this life-cycle phase and to get approval for the next phase. These meetings are often called critical design reviews, "on-off ramps," and "gates." In some companies, these meetings are used to firm up budgets and schedules for the follow-on phases. In addition to monetary considerations, life-cycle phases can be used for manpower deployment and equipment/facility utilization. Some companies go so far as to prepare project management policy and procedure manuals where all information is subdivided according to life-cycle phasing. Life-cycle phase decision points eliminate the problem where project managers do not ask for phase funding, but rather ask for funds for the whole project before the true scope of the project is known. Several companies have even gone so far as to identify the types of decisions that can be made at each end-of-phase review meeting. They include:

• Proceed with the next phase based on an approved funding level

• Proceed to the next phase but with a new or modified set of objectives

• Postpone approval to proceed based on a need for additional information

• Terminate project

Consider a company that utilizes the following life-cycle phases:

• Conceptualization

• Feasibility

• Preliminary planning

• Detail planning

• Testing and commissioning

The conceptualization phase includes brainstorming and common sense and involves two critical factors: (1) identify and define the problem, and (2) identify and define potential solutions.

In a brainstorming session, all ideas are recorded and none are discarded. The brainstorming session works best if there is no formal authority present and if the time duration is no more than thirty to sixty minutes. Sessions over sixty minutes in length will produce ideas that may begin to resemble science fiction.

The feasibility study phase considers the technical aspects of the conceptual alternatives and provides a firmer basis on which to decide whether to undertake the project.

The purpose of the feasibility phase is to:

• Plan the project development and implementation activities.

• Estimate the probable elapsed time, staffing, and equipment requirements.

• Identify the probable costs and consequences of investing in the new project.

If practical, the feasibility study results should evaluate the alternative conceptual solutions along with associated benefits and costs.

The objective of this step is to provide management with the predictable results of implementing a specific project and to provide generalized project requirements. This, in the form of a feasibility study report, is used as the basis on which to decide whether to proceed with the costly requirements, development, and implementation phases.

User involvement during the feasibility study is critical. The user must supply much of the required effort and information, and, in addition, must be able to judge the impact of alternative approaches. Solutions must be operationally, technically, and economically feasible. Much of the economic evaluation must be substantiated by the user. Therefore, the primary user must be highly qualified and intimately familiar with the workings of the organization and should come from the line operation.

The feasibility study also deals with the technical aspects of the proposed project and requires the development of conceptual solutions. Considerable experience and technical expertise are required to gather the proper information, analyze it, and reach practical conclusions.

Improper technical or operating decisions made during this step may go undetected or unchallenged throughout the remainder of the process. In the worst case, such an error could result in the termination of a valid project—or the continuation of a project that is not economically or technically feasible.

In the feasibility study phase, it is necessary to define the project's basic approaches and its boundaries or scope. A typical feasibility study checklist might include:

• Summary level

• Evaluate alternatives

• Evaluate market potential

• Evaluate cost effectiveness

• Evaluate producibility

• Evaluate technical base

• A more specific determination of the problem

• Analysis of the state-of-the-art technology

• Assessment of in-house technical capabilities

• Test validity of alternatives

• Quantify weaknesses and unknowns

• Conduct trade-off analysis on time, cost, and performance

• Prepare initial project goals and objectives

• Prepare preliminary cost estimates and development plan

The end result of the feasibility study is a management decision on whether to terminate the project or to approve its next phase. Although management can stop the project at several later phases, the decision is especially critical at this point, because later phases require a major commitment of resources. All too often, management review committees approve the continuation of projects merely because termination at this point might cast doubt on the group's judgment in giving earlier approval.

The decision made at the end of the feasibility study should identify those projects that are to be terminated. Once a project is deemed feasible and is approved for development, it must be prioritized with previously approved projects waiting for development (given a limited availability of capital or other resources). As development gets under way, management is given a series of checkpoints to monitor the project's actual progress as compared to the plan.

The third life-cycle phase is either preliminary planning or ''defining the requirements." This is the phase where the effort is officially defined as a project. In this phase, we should consider the following:

General scope of the work

Objectives and related background

Contractor's tasks

Contractor end-item performance requirements

Reference to related studies, documentation, and specifications

Data items (documentation)

Support equipment for contract end-item

Customer-furnished property, facilities, equipment, and services

Customer-furnished documentation

Schedule of performance

Exhibits, attachments, and appendices

These elements can be condensed into four core documents, as will be shown in Section 11.6. Also, it should be noted that the word "customer" can be an internal customer, such as the user group or your own executives.

The table below shows the percentage of direct labor hours/dollars that are spent in each phase:

Percent of Direct Phase Labor Dollars

Conceptualization 5

Feasibility study 10

Preliminary planning 15

Detail planning 20

Execution 40

Commissioning 10

The interesting fact from this table is that as much as 50 percent of the direct labor hours and dollars can be spent before execution begins. The reason for this is simple: Quality must be planned for and designed in. Quality cannot be inspected into the project. Companies that spend less than these percentages usually find quality problems in execution.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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