The Five Project Management Process Groups Explained

Every project requires five process groups known as the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) process groups. They can be confusing for team members and leaders who are newer to formal project management, but we’ll break down and explain what each one requires and entails.

Project management process groups define what a team needs to do and the knowledge areas they need to know during the lifecycle of a project. Let’s start with the first process group: initiating.


  1. Initiating

Initiating is the first process group of project management, and it helps set the vision of what the project wants to accomplish. This stage is when the project becomes formally authorized, the initial scope is defined, and the stakeholders are identified.

Stakeholder identification is one of the most crucial steps in the initiating process; correct identification and analysis of those stakeholders is what makes or breaks a project, and this information is located in the Stakeholder Register, which gets created in the process of identifying Stakeholders. The Initiating process group happens to ensure projects and programs are sanctioned by the sponsoring organization, align with their strategic objectives (or diverge and the reason why,) and a project manager is assigned.

During the initiating process group, a project charter gets developed, and the document usually includes:

  • Required resources
  • Known risks
  • Key stakeholders
  • A high-level timeline
  • A high-level cost estimate
  • Success Criteria or Definition of “Done”

Projects that don’t go through the initiating process group tend to go without a specific goal or objective, and the odds of being successful drop significantly. With no objective to fall back on, it is easy for scope creep to occur. 

This stage is also when a project manager is selected and authorized to carry out the project. The sponsoring organization should establish a project manager early on during this process because they are the ones who hold accountability for the entire program. This is also a good time to determine the authority level, or what changes the PM can and can’t approve.

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  1. Planning

The second process group of project management is Planning, and establishing the scope of the project happens here. The project’s scope, milestones, budget, risks, and summary get defined at a high-level in the initiating phase, but there is still more to do regarding those.

Progressive elaboration is an iterative planning process, and it happens in this stage and throughout the project as well. The team begins developing much more detailed project documents by collecting project/product/stakeholder requirements and breaking that scope into individual work packages, or deliverables. 

There are many discrete processes involved in planning, and a project team chooses which ones to use for any given project – which is known as tailoring. Planning is crucial to project management; if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. Nearly half, 24 of 29 project management processes happen in the process groups.

Not only is the team responsible for planning out the project, but they consider the risks and the best way to respond to them. A project management plan gets created and includes items like:

  • A definition of the project’s scope (what they are and are not doing)
  • A list of detailed requirements
  • An estimate for time and costs
  • A detailed timeline and schedule
  • A Risk Register and Risk Report
  • A plan for communications, quality, and procurement

The planning process group creates a roadmap and path to success for the project. The team should come out of this stage with a well-defined understanding of how to execute the project within budget and schedule.


  1. Executing

After the planning has occured to the point where work on the project can start (remember progressive elaboration? This is an iterative process, planning is usually finished when the project is finished), it’s time for the executing process group. Now the work starts, and there is a project management plan to keep everyone on track throughout the project’s execution. This is when the project team starts creating deliverables, and the project manager coordinates the resources.

During this process group, the project manager is not only responsible for acquiring and managing the team but also for cultivating them by utilizing team-building exercises. The project manager also manages communications and stakeholder engagement while ensuring the project and product quality.

In the execution process group, most of the budget gets spent and the project’s deliverables get produced. It is also the most likely time to receive stakeholder change requests. 

Project execution could last for weeks, months, or years. The most important task for any project is to stay on track, and that’s where the fourth process comes in.


  1. Monitoring and Controlling

  • Track, review, and regulate the performance and progress of the project.
  • Identify any areas where a change in the plans might be required.
  • Initiate any necessary changes to the project plan.

No project stays on plan perfectly. The monitoring and controlling process group helps you get back on track by comparing the plan to where you actually are, measuring variances, and taking corrective actions.

Scope, cost, and schedule all have variations in regard to the tools and techniques used to control them, but they all have baselines that were defined in the planning process. Because progress gets tracked by those baselines, planning changes aren’t made lightly, but they can be made.

Proper planning is essential to project management, but monitoring and controlling is the process that keeps the team on top of the plan and keeps the project focused on hitting its objectives.

  1. Closing

Closing is the fifth and final process group of project management. This process is when the project is formally closed, and the customer signs-off and accepts it. The closing stage is where projects often fizzle out; team members stop showing up to every meeting, and communication efforts go downhill.

Project management best practices show that the effort applied to the whole project should be applied to the closing stage as well. The project manager should close the project by holding a lessons learned session, archiving records, and celebrating the team before releasing them from their duties.

  • Creating a report that measures productivity, schedule variation, and return on investment (ROI).
  • Holding a stakeholder meeting to ensure they are satisfied with the deliverables.
  • Archiving the project records, including the plan, process, budget, and notes from the lessons learned session.

 

Becoming Project Management Professional (PMP) certified is the best way to be seen as an effective, successful project manager while improving your abilities even further.

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