Project management is a broad subject and a concept used in almost all types of organizations, industries, and sectors. Managing a project means taking it through several steps from the start to its completion. The stages are called project life cycle, which entails a series of steps through which a project is undertaken from initiation to closure (Bao et al., 2018). Different authors define a varying number of phases in a project life cycle. For example, Zareravasan and Mansouri (2015) express various models, including one with four phases, namely adaptation, acceptance, routinization, and infusion. Another four-phase life cycle describes the stages as chartering, project, shakedown, and upwards and onwards stages. For this report, a five-phase life cycle comprising initiation, planning, execution, and closure stages will be used.
Before critically reviewing the current practices in project management regarding the project life cycle, it is important to highlight the various phases and the expected outcomes for each. A vivid description of these phases is presented by Wibowo, Aditama, and Zhabrinna (2018). The first stage is the project initiation where the conceptualization of the project and the process design are selected by the owner. The planning phase is deemed to be the most important one considering the amount of time and the number of personnel involved. A clear picture of the project and specifications of components are done in this phase. Depending on the type of the project, resource requirements, time and budget are all determined in this phase. The third phase is the project execution where the project is implemented. According to Wibowo Aditama, and Zhabrinna (2018), this stage is carried out simultaneously with project control. Material spending, labor, tools, and project process outlined in the previous step are implemented. Lastly, project closure is the phase where the project is completed and handed over to the owner. This phase occurs towards project completion when maintenance works are also undertaken.
This report focuses on a critical evaluation of the current project management practices in managing the project life cycle. An examination of recent literature on the subject is done to identify not only how the topic has been approached in research but also its evolution and the introduction of new concepts. As will be seen, different approaches to the project life cycle are used across different industries and sectors each trying to suit its needs and interests. For example, in construction, new practices and approaches such as agile methodologies are introduced. All these aspects will be critically reviewed to reveal the current state of affairs regarding both research and practice.
Conducting a search on the topic of project management and project life cycle yields results most of which focus on the construction industry. This is major because it is one of the largest industries across the world and where projects are a common theme. Examining current practices in the construction project life cycle, both in research and practice, shows that risk management and sustainability are the major aspects added to the literature. In construction, all projects are considered risky because they are influenced by factors such as productivity, equipment efficiency, soil types, material delivery, and environmental condition among others (Gebrehiwet and Luo, 2019). Schedule delays in projects could be the result of reasons that can be attributed to the owner in the early stages of the project, including planning and designing. Changes in scope and slow decision-making on the part of the owner mean a slow start to the project. Researchers and practitioners have, therefore, opted to initiate risk management across all phases of the lifecycle. Risks in each phase, according to Gebrehiwet and Luo (2019), are quantified and mitigated.
Many of the studies examined here focus on the methods of managing risks across the project life cycle. The most common methods are relative importance index, fuzzy analytical hierarchy process, and Technique of Order Preference Similarity to the Ideal Solution (TOPSIS) among others (Gebrehiwet and Luo, 2019; Iqbal et al., 2015). According to Iqbal et al. (2015), construction projects are not only high-risk but also associated with a poor reputation for coping with the risks. As mentioned above, each industry discusses the project life cycle and incorporated concepts that suit its interests. The risky construction projects are, therefore, seen to focus on how the industry can manage risks better and help improve this reputation.
BIM and IT
Other major concepts added to the project life cycle, including building information modeling (BIM), are discussed in some studies as methods of risk management and others as methods of improving project performance. In a study by Zou, Kiviniemi, and Jones (2017), the term risk is defined as threats or hazards, or uncertainties in projects. The role of risk management has also been expressed as recognizing, quantifying, and managing risks. BIM and its related technologies are used in construction projects to undertake these three major functions of risk management. The BIM and related technologies are automatic rule-checking, knowledge-based systems, as well as proactive and reactive safety systems based on information technology (IT). They collect both real-time and past data to systematically manage the construction risks. In construction projects, the life cycles often begin with the planning, followed by designing and construction stages lasting several months. In each of these stages, the BIM collects the necessary, analyzes it, and helps determine the best risk mitigation approaches.
BMI is also used in building performance analysis (BPA), a concept that deviates from risk management. The adoption of BMI in BPA is discussed by Jin et al. (2019) who explain that the main purpose of BPA is to provide feedback on building design and helps in optimizing this aspect of the construction project. The issues outlined by these authors have included the semantics, sustainability of rating systems, and the interoperability of the BMI in the context of the overall Its used by the companies. Another research focusing on BMI is presented by Matejka et al. (2016) who focus on the later stages of the project, specifically project closure. Regardless of the context of application in research and practice, it can be seen that the industry is seeking to integrate new technologies into the project life cycle to help improve project management outcomes. In this case, the outcomes are in the form of project performance and effective risk management.
The technology integration in the project life cycle is not limited to construction projects. In business organizations, new technologies such as enterprise resource planning (ERPs) are also integrated both into the organization and into the management of projects. A study by Zareravasan and Mansouri (2015) seeks to examine the critical failure factors throughout the life cycle of the implementation of ERP. In this case, it is not the technology used in projects but rather the technology and its implementation that are treated as a project. The ERPs are costly projects and could be time-consuming meaning better practices in project management throughout the life cycle would be needed.
The studies on sustainability in the project life cycle have focused majorly on the construction industry. As such, it can be argued that the construction industry presents the best case studies in project management. It is also hypothesized herein that these projects are often the largest and most complex as compared to other projects in a business organization. For example, comparing the implementation of ERP technology as discussed by Zareravasan and Mansouri (2015) and the construction of infrastructure such as hydroelectric power plant shows the extent to which construction projects differ from others by size. It is argued here, therefore, that it should not be a surprise that current literature dwells more on the construction industry.
Sustainable development is a concept that has been debated for several decades now, especially after the formulation of sustainable development goals (SDGs). In the construction industry, the researchers have deployed terms such as sustainable performance which much be attained across the project life cycle (Enshassi, Kochendoerfer, and Ghoul, 2016). Such concepts insist that all phases from initiation to closure should be guided by the pillars of sustainability. For example, the economic pillar calls for financial affordability, full-cost accounting, employment creation, and sustainable supply chain management. The environmental impacts of the construction projects, as well as the social issues, are also integrated into the project life cycle.
While some studies focus on integrating sustainable performance, others pursue research aspects such as measuring project sustainability throughout the life cycle. According to Yu et al. (2018), national and industrial sustainability evaluation indicator systems have been developed over the past few decades. However, researchers are yet to create project-level systems to evaluate and execute monitoring of sustainability status in construction projects. Their study proposes such a system that allows the industry to examine construction project sustainability throughout the project life cycle. They argue that the industry has been among the most unsustainable and hence such a system should boost efforts towards sustainability. It is important to acknowledge that studies on sustainability in the project lifecycle propose novel ideas that are yet to be seen in practice. Future studies should, therefore, consider examining real-life applications and present case studies to show how the proposed systems work. This is unlike the case of the BMI systems for risk and performance management where construction firms have implemented these technologies.
Shifting focus away from sustainability and risk management in the construction industry, several other practices in project management throughout the project life cycle can be observed in the literature. Public-private partnerships in major projects are becoming a common phenomenon and researchers such as Bao et al. (2018) examine the phenomenon from a project life cycle perspective. Infrastructure projects are usually large and costly and the partnerships between the private and public sectors are seen as the best way to achieve value for money. However, such projects may have a different life cycle than the one used in this report. According to Bao et al. (2018), the stages in these projects include identification, preparation, procurement, implementation, transfer, and posttransfer phases. Regardless of the steps, the general model of initiation, planning, execution, and closure still applies. The collaboration between the two sectors begins from the initiation and goes beyond the final stages. In other words, the completion of the projects does mean the end of the partnership since the infrastructure will be jointly managed.
Critical success factors in project management are another subject that has been examined in the literature on the project life cycle. Research by Wuni and Shen (2020) examines critical success factors in the management of early life cycle stages of the prefabricated prefinished volumetric construction, a new and increasingly preferred alternative coon approach. While the study may be concerned majorly with the project life cycle, it is argued here that the researchers achieve far greater outcomes in explaining the new construction approach. The literature on project performance and project life cycle presented in the study is not new. Rather it is the same concepts applied to a new phenomenon.
However, it is important to acknowledge that the new construction approach will face different challenges and hence will have different critical success factors. Wuni and Shen (2020) determine that issues such as good working collaboration, accurate drawing, and early design freezer, robust design specifications, and effective stakeholder management are the key to successful project completion. These factors, as the researchers argue, are managed throughout the project lifecycle. Stakeholder management is a critical issue discussed in other studies such as Eskerod, Huemann, and Savage (2016). Other studies examining critical success factors in the project life cycle include Orgut et al. (2020) whose focus is on the reliability of the project control metrics. They argue that managers tend to be misled in their project performance perceptions until it nears completion and all shortcomings start to appear.
Engineering concepts have found their way into the literature on project life cycle mainly because engineering projects are more common than other types. It is important to emphasize here that construction projects fall under this broad category of engineering projects. The concepts include geophysical methods discussed by Lin et al. (2018) who emphasize that there is an emerging need for non-destructive geophysical techniques for dam condition imaging. This subject is approached from a project life cycle perspective with the main focus being the feasibility investigation (initiation) and construction (execution) phases. Dam construction projects face numerous challenges and these researchers express the need to bring in new knowledge of dam engineering concepts such as geophysical methods to make these ideas optimally effective and consequential.
Another concept introduced to the project life cycle in systems engineering. Mabelo and Sunjka (2017) emphasize that large infrastructure projects tend to drive the economy both through the construction and completion phases. Unsatisfactory outcomes in such projects are common meaning there is a need to introduce new and better project life cycle methodologies to improve the outcomes. Systems engineering concepts are recommended by these authors, including requirements verification and validation. They emphasize that a holistic project lifecycle model would improve delivery effectiveness. Systems engineering is a way of thinking and a discipline that is increasingly gaining acceptance and popularity in large infrastructure projects. By definition, systems engineering is seen as an interdisciplinary approach that defines customer needs and pursues objectives such as early functionality in the development cycle, requirements documentation, design synthesis, and system validation. With such an approach, the outcomes are managed from the first to the last phase of the project life cycle.
As mentioned above, the current project management practices in the project life cycle have been tailored differently by various industries as they seek to improve the project life cycle outcomes. In the construction industry, engineering concepts such as geophysical methods and systems engineering help to improve the outcomes of each phase in the life cycle (Mabelo and Sunjka, 2017; Lin et al., 2018). However, it is important to notice that even though most of these studies state the project life cycle as their focus, most concentrate on specific phases where the concepts are applicable. For example, Lin et al. (2018) focus on the initiation and construction stages. It is important to acknowledge those that pay attention to the entire life cycle such as those examining sustainability and risk management (Enshassi, Kochendoerfer, and Ghoul, 2016; Gebrehiwet and Luo, 2019; Yu et al., 2018). Both research and practice have sought to improve the project life cycle outcomes by managing various project aspects in each phase.
Project management is a critical function in the modern business world as projects are becoming more complex. The concept of the project life cycle has been used differently across industries and sectors. However, the basic model comprising initiation, planning, execution, and closure phases appears to be standard. The critical analysis presented above reveals that the current practices involve discussion of new concepts and ideas integrated into the project life cycle to improve project outcomes. In construction, for example, sustainability and risk management help achieve sustainable projects with minimum risks that hinder project success. New technologies and engineering concepts have also been featured in the literature.
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