Project Management

Project Performance Demystified: The Five Project Phases and How to Master Them

Elizabeth Dorey

Have you ever wondered why there are times your management style works brilliantly—reliably delivering great projects—and other times it simply doesn’t, perhaps even to the point of failure? Of the many explanations offered for huge disparities in project performance, few seem to be consistently actionable.

That’s why my colleagues and I have developed a new approach to managing projects that’s making a real difference with clients—in many cases, helping to turn a predictably poor outcome into a significant success. Our work on some of the world’s most complex projects has served as the genesis for this model, the Five Developmental Phases of a project.

Before going further, it’s helpful to assert one basic premise: Our research shows that the most effective projects naturally develop and evolve through a series of distinct phases. Failing to recognize these transitions as they occur, and failing to provide the leadership and management required to maximize performance in each phase, helps explain why so many projects fall so far short of delivery targets.

Consider the analogy of building a fire. It begins with an idea: “Let’s build a fire.” But until you gather the necessary materials and successfully ignite them, it remains merely an idea—a “potential” fire. Once lit, the fire …

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