Home > The Basics of Project Management > The Five Project Management Life Cycles

The Five Project Management Life Cycles

The Five Project Management Life Cycles

As part of the project management process,  the project manager must decipher the best Project Management Life Cycle (PMLC) model to implement based on a number of different circumstances or factors. During the initial planning process, we must determine the type of project we are commissioned to manage and then evaluate the project’s requirements, culture, and management methodology needed to complete the proposed project.  The author refers to this process as evaluating the landscape of the proposed project (Wysocki, p. 299 2009). We will need to understand the various aspects of the four quadrants of the project landscape. By understanding and evaluating the project landscape, the project manager can deduce the best PMLC model to implement on the project.  Additionally, he must take into account each of these models vulnerability in terms of failures and risks. In this report I will identify the five PMLC models, dissect their strengths and weaknesses and assess where I would expect the most failures to occur. I will then propose some mitigating strategies that would be used to minimize the risk of occurrence of these failures. I will also give brief examples in each of these areas of actual projects that I have used the various PMLC models.


Understanding the Four Quadrants of the Project Landscape

Prior to establishing the project management strategy to be used in a proposed project,  the project manager needs to evaluate certain project requirements and factors regarding the best management methodology needed to complete said project.  According to Wysocki (p. 299 2009) he states, “I have built my project landscape around two variables: goal and solution. These two values for each variable generate the four-quadrant matrix. Traditional Project Management (TPM)defines Quadrant 1; Agile Project Management (APM) defines Quadrant 2; Extreme Project Management (EPM) defines Quadrant 3; and Emertxe Project Management (MPx) defines Quadrant 4.”  Project manager’s need to clearly understand the logic behind this matrix and how these four quadrants differ in both goal and solution.

  1. Traditional Project Management (TPM) – This management approach is based on knowing both the goal and solution. In many instances it involves projects that are repetitious in nature and typically there are no hidden surprises because of the constant involved.  In construction, this could be a project that is built over and over, without change and may just be a repeat of a base prototype that was produced.  Even though the author mentions that these types of projects rarely occur in today’s market, I would have to disagree since most retail chains build their developments or building projects on base prototype plans. According to dictionary.com (2010), the meaning of prototype is “the original or model on which something is based or formed”.  Many of the fast food chains, pharmacies, and big box retailers use exact prototypes for their projects and use the TPM approach. I have been involved with a US government project that consisted of 1,200 single family homes based on five standard designs. Each one of these designs were prototype and were built exactly alike with no changes and were based on the same standards and specification.  This project is an example of the TPM approach based on the following reasons:
    1. The project was repetitious and done several times.
    2. There were basically no surprises as each of the five designs were built on the same parcel for nearly 250 different times.
    3. There were no changes that were allowed as each design was approved and selections predetermined.  There were no scope changes contemplated and change requests were not considered.  All the interior finishes were the same; same color, same type, and same specification.
    4. The project was low in complexity as the need for extensive programming and innovation was not required or necessary.
    5. The project was relatively low risk since each conceivable variable was eliminated and the prototype was repeated so many times that the systems used to build were repeated.
    6. The project management office staff and the field supervisors and laborers were accustomed to the prototype that the buildings were built “like clockwork”.
  2. Agile Project Management (APM) – This management approach is based on knowing well defined goals but not the means for a solution.  There is a broad range of projects that fall into this category that range from little known solutions to knowing much of the solution. There are two types of APM approaches which are called Iterative and Adaptive (Wysocki (p.304 2009). The Iterative model the solutions are mostly known while the Adaptive model the solutions are mostly not known.  Many of the development projects that I am involved with follow the APM approach due to the fact that many clients have well defined goals and objectives on what they want to accomplish however, there solution on how to get there is often nonexistent.  Some of our clients might begin with a broad project summary that consists of a narrative with area desired, financial base parameters and certain program requirements, however, they have no idea how to make the project happen. As an example, Hyatt Corporation has come to us stating that they desire to build a 800 room hotel with adjoining conference center to accommodate 5,000 people.  They would state a budget of 400 million and require a 60 month date constraint from start of program design to grand opening. The solution is vague in regards to design, specific budgets, area concepts, etc. so the solution would be very vague on how to get there.  This example would be an APM approach because of the following factors:
    1. The project is conceptual with some basic programming parameters with no or minimal defined solutions to meet the project objective.
    2. This is a new business opportunity for this hotel chain and due to a positive feasibility study there is untapped business opportunity.
    3. This project is critical to the expansion plan of an international hospitality company.
    4. It is essential for the client to be involved with the pre-construction phase beginning with conceptual designs, through schematic and design development.
    5. This approach uses smaller planning teams for strategic planning, specialized task and focus groups, and a highly trained project management staff.
  3. Extreme Project Management (xPM) – This management approach is when neither a goal or solution is clearly defined.  In most instances this approach is used on research and development projects. This type of project sometimes begins without knowing clear goals and solution. These type of projects are very high risk and many times are managed by guesses and trial and error. This type of approach is not conducive for the construction industry because of the following reasons:
    1. All construction development projects are based on design documents and associated specifications.  It would not be practical nor possible to start a project without clear defined goals, objectives and solutions to implement those goals and objectives.
    2. Practically, it would not be possible to obtain the necessary permits and regulatory requirements to begin an xPM project.
    3. The financial or investment groups would not finance or lend project dollars for a proposed project without clear goals and solutions.
    4. The standard project management methodologies for construction would not fir within the parameters of an xPM project approach.
  4. Emertxe Project Management (MPx) – This management approach in which the solution is well defined, however, the goal is not defined. This approach, like the xPM approach, is not conducive to typical construction management projects. This process is used when there is a possible new technology or system that does not have a known application (Wysocki (P.308 2009).

These four management approaches must be considered by the project manager when evaluating a project to determine which PMLC model to implement.  He TPM and APM are the most conducive types of project management approach to use in the construction industry.

Understanding the Five Project Management Life Cycle Models

There are five Project Management Life Cycle (PMLC) models that can be used to manage different types of projects. Each one uses different project management styles, techniques and practices in the sequencing of the five process groups; scoping, planning, launching, Monitoring & controlling, and closing (Wysocki, p. 300 2009).  The author outlines these various models and presents a thorough examination of each of the model’s strengths and weaknesses. The five PMLC models are:

  1. Linear – This management approach is a simple model based on the Traditional Project Management(TPM) approach.  The linear approach deals with the logic that the five process groups are based on a linear type flow process.  The five process group are completed in order sequentially from Scope to Plan to Launch to Monitor and Control and then to Project Closeout. According to Wysocki (p. 329 2009), “The Linear PMLC model is change intolerant”.
  2. Incremental – This approach is very similar to the Linear approach and is also a TPM approach, however, an Incremental approach releases solutions as they are completed.  There are two differences between the Linear and Incremental approaches based on the following (Wysocki p. 330 2009):
    1. The Linear approach does not expect or encourage scope changes while the Incremental approach actually encourages scope change requests.
    2. The Incremental approach releases solutions to goals in parts and then contains though in a typical linear approach pattern,  Certain construction management projects might fit this approach as certain phases of a larger project are released incrementally.
  3. Iterative – This model is based on the Agile Project Management (APM) approach  and is a system that delivers solutions on every iteration.  Many times the solutions are not clearly defined and may require continuous feedback from the client as solutions are developed.  This process is similar to the design development process of a construction project.  As design documents and specifications are completed, the customer gives input in which the solution then iterated through the process of refining the design documents.
  4. Adaptive – This model is another form of the APM approach, however, unlike the Iterative model, this model has minimal information that is known about the solution and also is missing the functional aspect of searching for a solution. This process is widely used by software development companies (Wysocki p. 332 2009).  This process can also be used in the construction management process when dealing with very complex, unordinary projects. This model is in between the Iterative and Extreme models since it deals with a higher level of uncertainty in the solutions possible to meet the projected goals for the project.
  5. Extreme – This model is most appropriately used on research and development projects. It involves heavy client involvement and is a process used when the goals nor the solutions are known and are very high risk and high change type projects (Wysocki p. 332 2009). This model uses both the xPM and PMx approaches and are titled extreme just by the nature of attempting to initiate or complete a project with so many unknowns.

Potential Failures, Risks, and Mitigating Strategies

There are many potential failures and risks with the five models as described by the following:

  1. Linear – As discussed, the Linear PMLC is used when the proposed project has clearly defined goals, solutions, function and processes and is a TPM approach. It has repetitive activities and there are few expected changes to the scope of work. The risks and mitigating factors for this model are as follows(Wysocki p.350 2009):
    1. This process does not accommodate changes to the scope – due to the nature of the construction business, there is always potential for changes in the scope.  This can be caused by a number of circumstances such as a client upgrade, emerging technology in a specific  system, unforeseen circumstances, etc.  This characteristic can potentially lead to a delayed schedule and that ultimately will affect the overall project schedule.

Mitigating strategy: In order to plan for this potential risk, the project manager should adopt a streamlined process for change order approvals.  Also, there should be contingencies established for time and budget creep.

    1. The costs associated are too high – in the construction industry, the costs for preconstruction planning and project programming are considerable.  There is a potential of the “never ending design” that can cause the planning process to be very expensive.  This is frequently caused by customers having too much input from different managers causing a myriad of opinions and ultimate design changes.  These constant design changes can be very expensive.

Mitigating strategy:  The planning team should have specific deadlines for design document review and input. Additionally, there should be s refined owner representative group that has the only authority for input and design changes during the planning phase.

    1. It takes too long before deliverables are produced – most construction projects have a great commitment of time in both planning and implementation that consequently creates a long period of time before a customer can realize and revenue. There is a potential that the project can fail if the schedule is skewed beyond the project schedule due to the costs involved to carry the project.

Mitigating strategy – The financial aspects of the project should be very clear.  Concise source and use of fund strategies should be in place and should be a part of a comprehensive cash flow projection.

  1. Incremental – This PMLC model is a second TPM approach that is similar to the linear however the deliverables are released incrementally through a more aggressive schedule. The risks and mitigating factors for this model are as follows(Wysocki p.361 2009):
    1. The team may not be intact between increments – this is a real concern that a project manager should consider. This is especially evident in design development as certain estimators are very concise in budget planning and have a potential of being moved to other projects if they are sitting idle. This potentially can cause a problem if another estimator is added to replace the original on due to not keeping a cohesive estimating strategy.

Mitigating strategy – The scheduling of tasks of all your key players should be that there is no down time between increments.  Typically, there are other tasks that can be scheduled within the same project to keep all members busy and productive.

    1. The Incremental model takes longer – due to the nature of completing activities in increments, there is a potential that the project could drag on; costing time and money.

Mitigating strategy – The project manager must keep a strict timeline with accountability structures to maintain a steady flow of process and to keep deadlines in check with the project schedule.  The schedule and budget must be monitored to eliminate potential for creep.

  1. Iterative – This PMLC model follows the APM approach and is used when some of the solution is known but the circumstances, features and function are not clearly defined.  The risks and mitigating factors for this model are as follows(Wysocki p.397 2009):
    1. This model requires more client input – this can be a problem if the client schedule is not coordinated tightly with the overall planning process schedule.

Mitigating strategy – There must be clear delineation of responsibilities between the team and client and there needs to be a well defines process schedule with accountability timelines.

    1. Requires co-located teams – This requirement is very difficult since many of our projects have consultant teams from many parts of the world, consequently there is a risk for communication breakdown.  The teams may meet on a weekly or bi monthly basis at a design team meeting, however, the time in between can cause a breakdown in communication.

Mitigating strategy – There must be a well thought and implemented communication plan that incorporates a standard for facilitating accurate information between team members.

  1. Adaptive – This PMLC model also follows the APM approach and is different than the Iterative due to the higher level of uncertainty in regards to the solutions and the processes used to get there. The risks and mitigating factors for this model are as follows(Wysocki p.411 2009):
    1. High level of client involvement – as the Iterative model, the Adaptive requires a great deal of client involvement.  This again can be a problem that can cause a failure  the process because a client is intricate to the process.

Mitigating strategy – Similar to the Iterative model, there must be a system of accountability for the client to make timely decisions to process requests.

    1. Cannot identify what will be delivered at the end of the project – due to the nature of this model, the end solution is not clear until the project has gone through the PMLC approach, therefore, there is a risk of not having the proper funding in place for the final product.  I have seen this happen as clients program requests exceed their ability to pay for them.

Mitigating strategy – There must be concise budgetary estimates given throughout the planning phase to assist the client in balancing program wants to affordability.

  1. Extreme – This PMLC model is the most complex and least structured PMLC model. This model uses repeated phases and has a high failure rate.  The risks and mitigating factors for this model are as follows(Wysocki p.467 2009):
    1. May be looking at solutions in the wrong places – due to the fact that there are no definable goals or solutions at the onset of the project, there is possibility that money spent on the project to date may be wasted. The risk is that funding possibilities may end if there is no definitive progress.

Mitigating strategy – The client should know up front that funds may be lost until the proper solutions come into play.  It is imperative that we find out early in the process that we would be going down the wrong path.

    1. No guarantee for results – due to high risk of failure, the client has no guarantee that their investment may turn a positive result.

Mitigation strategy – There should be stipulations regarding the high degree of uncertainty and high potential for risk in the contract documents with the client.  There should be clear understanding that the process may yield no results.  It should be recommended that these costs be referred as research and development costs.

Summary Evaluation

A project manager must have a clear understanding of the landscape or management methodology needed prior to starting the project.  There are both internal and external factors regarding each project that may help shed light on what PMLC model would be best suited for the proposed project.  It has been my experience that the TPM and APM approaches are most fitting for the construction industry.

Reference List:

1.  Dictionary.com (2010). [Online]. Available from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/prototype (Accessed: 5 June 2010).

2.  Wysocki, R.K. (2009) Effective Project Management: traditional, agile, extreme. 5th ed. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing. (pp. 297-440).

  1. Basil
    November 22, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Your article is very well written and clear, I just have a couple of questions, Like you noted construction projects are best suited for the TPM model, I don’t really understand when you say Goal is not known , or Solution is not Known, Can you give me an example?

    For instance for APM adaptive , you give an example of hyatt corporation and say that the solution is vague, i don’t see how, As every project starts out like that, the owner gives his requirments, the architect works on the drawings, gets owners approval and pass them on to construction

    and for extreme it is even more confusing, how could you work on a project and not know what you want to achieve.

    I am in construction and am only thinking in that direction.



  2. Ciceron
    November 5, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    thank you very much indeed for such a nice analysis.

  3. Roz
    November 15, 2012 at 2:50 am

    So, what are the most important / relevant similarity and difference between the Iterative PMLC and the Incremental PMLC lifecycle models?

  4. Albert
    December 5, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Very Nice!

  5. April 3, 2014 at 12:24 am

    Very good! Not only for construction but for any software projects

  6. August 26, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    We absolutely love your blog and find the majority of your post’s to be what precisely I’m looking for.
    can you offer guest writers to write content to suit your needs?
    I wouldn’t mind producing a post or elaborating on a
    lot of the subjects you write regarding here. Again, awesome web site!

  7. Kiran Khan
    October 2, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    i need some example of linear, incremental, iterative,adoptive and extreme models,

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: