Project Phase ≠ Process Group
Thanks to cartoons, there is a very popular misconception that mice love cheese! It is not that mice hate cheese but they perhaps like grains more than cheese. Or sweets more than cheese.
In the project management world, too, there is a widespread misconception that a process group is the same as a project phase. I am referring to the five process groups – Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling and Closing. Without even blinking, some project management folks would easily substitute planning process group by planning phase. Even some experts, too, would do the same!
So why do we have to be so careful about not mixing up project phase and process group?
Project phase results into deliverables. Project phase culminates into the final project deliverables or an intermediate project deliverable. Some things, that the customer would be eagerly waiting for. For example, the phase called foundation would create the foundation of a house or the phase called coding would create software code.
Project management process group on the other hand comprises of project management processes. All the project management processes create project management plans and documents, with the exception of Direct and Manage Project Work. The deliverables from project management processes help manage the project. For example, the project management deliverables like scope baseline or risk register.
Grouped under five process groups, project management processes are forty-seven in number. Of course, the numbers, forty seven or five, may change with the next edition of PMBOK® Guide. But the number of phases in a project would never be a fixed standard number irrespective of the PMBOK® Guide, whatever edition. The number of phases (and the names and the inputs and outputs) would greatly vary from one project to another.
Phases progress with time. A phase has a start and a finish. This would be true in a plan driven life cycle or in an iterative life cycle. A phase would get completed (based on the completion criteria) and hand it over to the next phase in sequence. On the other hand, a process group does not have a start or a finish. For example, monitoring and controlling would be required throughout the project. Or planning will have to be re-visited at many times in the project. Like you would do for a phase, you cannot say planning or monitoring and controlling is completed for good.
Organisations would usually have standardized project life cycle and thereby standard phases. Or may be, there would be bouquet of standard life cycles to be chosen from. You are expected to comply to a standard life cycle. Or tailor a standard life cycle for your project and comply to it. Project management processes on the hand are applied based on the project context. It may be difficult to standardise the entire project management for a project.
So how do the two, that is, the project life cycle and project management process groups come together?
Quoting PMBOK® Guide Fifth Edition “Processes in a process group consist of activities that may be performed and recur within each phase of a project as well as for the project as a whole” (emphasis mine).
The above principle is depicted in the figure below. I stands for initiating, P for planning, E for executing, M&C for monitoring and controlling and C for closing.
Mukund Toro is an independent Project Management Consultant who has worked with more than 1000 project managers. His 20+ years’ industry experience in software and telecommunication includes working in various capacities from project manager to director across multinationals, product and service companies and government research organisations.