Is the project life span different from project life cycle?

We recently had the honor to have Mr. R. Max Wideman publish a guest paper for us with the title, Redefining Project Management; which we are re-publishing as a series of blog articles. This is second article in the series.

In the first article, we provided the introduction for the series and why we are using the term ‘redefining’ project management. In this article, we continue to set the scene and address the first definition / confusion on the difference between project life span and project life cycle.

Setting the Scene

We realize that some readers may well question our motive and discredit this paper/series of articles. But before rushing to judgment, read the next few lines and answer the following questions, please.

  1. On any given project (not a task or tiny project), how often do you perform PMI’s initiation processes described in PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge?
  2. How about the planning processes … or closing processes … or the other processes?
  3. During a project, how many “project” management plans do you have? (Notice the apostrophes around the word project)
  4. Does the statement perform the executing processes during the project “initiation phase” make sense?
  5. How about plan the planning phase, does that make sense?
  6. Is there only one “charter” on a “project“?

If you answer “once” to questions 1 and 2; “one” to question 6; “one project management plan” to question 3; and questions 4 and 5 do not make sense to you … read on. This paper is for you!

What are we Redefining?

The ultimate goal of this series is to clear a confusion in regard to “project life cycle” vs. the PMBOK “process groups”. To reach the ultimate goal, we do so in steps and each step would be a blog article.

  1. We will explain the term project life cycle
  2. We will explain project phases and stages
  3. We will highlight the PMBOK process groups
  4. Finally, we will clear the confusion between process groups and project life cycle

Project Life Span or Project Life Cycle?

Which is the correct term: Project Life Cycle or Project Life Span?

We really do not know, with certainty!

In a recent LinkedIn group, we debated these terms and at the end of the day we decided to agree to disagree, which is often common in these groups since it is not easy to have a unified language, and maybe we should not?

Project Life Cycle

Some argued that the word project life cycle is more appropriate. Their basis: “since the project processes repeat from one project to another and once we finish a project we could start another …” The same group also presented that the dictionary defines life cycle as “all stages of development”. Here are some references:

  • Encarta presents us with: “the complete process of change and development during somebody’s lifetime or during the useful life of something such as an organization, institution, or manufactured product.
  • Another definition also from Encarta provides: “stages of development of living organism”.
  • Oxford Online[1] gives us: “the series of changes in the life of an organism including reproduction”.
  • Webster Online[2] gives us: “a series of stages through which something (as an individual, culture, or manufactured product) passes during its lifetime”. This is quite similar to Encarta.

In summary, the main argument for project life cycle is the comparison to organism life since the term is used in that context.

Project Life Span

The other debaters agreed that project management processes do repeat therefore, the term project management life cycle might be appropriate. On the other hand, a project does not repeat; therefore, the project life span, which is a period of time from idea to closure is the better term.

  • The dictionary provides us with “length, duration, period, time …” for the word span.
  • More from Webster Online[3]: “an extent, stretch, reach, or spread between two limits … as … a limited space (as of time) … especially: an individual’s lifetime … the spread or extent between abutments or supports (as of a bridge)…

Project-Life-SpanThe author prefers the second term and that is what we used in our project life span model, the SUKAD Customizable and Adaptable Methodology for Managing Projects™ (CAM2P™).

So which is correct? You decide and tell us what you think.


[3] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/span