How to differentiate between a project phase and a project stage?

Those of us in project management often think that we ‘speak-PM,’ meaning we have a shared terminology. However, we believe that we have common words, but we do not necessarily have standard definitions of those same words. Therefore, project management terminology is tricky and includes confusing terms that are often used out of context. Today, we update and re-publish this article on how to differentiate between a project phase and a project stage. Further, we had published a similar article on how to differentiate between tasks and projects.

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 the third article in the series.

Project Phase and Project Stage

In a previous post, we discussed the terms Project Life Cycle and Project Life Span, two words that we often use to refer to a project life from idea to closure. Which is the correct term? We really do not know since there is a significant split in the opinions of project management practitioners on the right terminology. However, in the SUKAD project management methodology, we use the Project Life Span term since, in our humble opinion, it is the more representative term. On the other hand, we later realized that the majority of practitioners prefer ‘Project Life Cycle.’ Therefore, and since there is no significant difference between the two, in the latest version of CAMMP, we use Project Life Cycle.

In today’s article, we address the terms project phase and project stage. We will also touch on the methodology that we have developed since it involves both terms and which we shall demonstrate in a specific example later in this series of articles.

Project Phase or Project Stage?

For better control, we divide the project life span (project life cycle) into time segments that we commonly graphically represent per the image below.

Project Life Cycle with Phases
Figure 1: Typical Project Life Span / Project Life Cycle

While we typically refer to these time segments as phases or project phases, others refer to them as stages or project stages. North American English speakers prefer phase, with a stage as a subset of phase. However, UK English speakers prefer a project stage as a synonym to a project phase.

Project Phases

However, in the SUKAD project management methodology (CAM2P™) (CAMMP™), we actually use ‘project phase‘ and project stage’ as two independent items. In CAMMP™, we use the term ‘project phase’ to refer to three major time segments that span the project from start to finish. Further, we believe these project phases are universal (apply to all types of projects). However, in some domains, they might use different names for the project phases).

This image and the next one are from Project Management beyond Waterfall and Agile and are in line with CAMMP Version 3.
Figure 2: Project Phases according to CAMMP™ model

These phases are:

  • The Discovery Phase, from concept to project authorization,
  • The Development Phase, from the project authorization to the project detailed plan and final approval,
  • The Delivery Phase, from final approval to closure.

Project Stages

Further, in the CAMMP™ Model we also use the term project stage to refer to nine-time segments that span the project from start to finish.

These are also updated per CAMMP Version 3

These project stages (sub-phases) can significantly overlap. These stages could be adjusted (merged, expanded, etc.) to better reflect the specific industry or application area of the project. In other words, they can be changed through ‘customizing and adapting the model.’

Figure 3: Project Phases and Project Stages according to CAMMP™ model

The stages are:

  • The Concept Stage covers the project concept, justification (business case), and strategic alignment. The output is a project brief.
  • The Feasibility Study is necessary for the organization to determine if it can deliver the final product and complete the project successfully. Therefore, if feasible, the project sponsor issues a project authorization document.
  • The Requirement Stage is to explore for the stakeholders’ expectations, fully understand the product and its characteristics, among other topics. Consequently, the work leads to a Project Requirements Document.
  • The Strategy Stage is mostly about the strategy going forward. Also, it includes the Project Management Plan.
  • The Definition Stage is required to develop the project detailed plan. Further, the plan is necessary to gain final approval and funding.
  • The Implementation Stage is clearly about doing the work, which is developing/building the product of the project.
  • The Operational Readiness Stage is parallel to implementation and expands to project provisional acceptance and handover.
  • The initial operations stage may be required and would be a period of commissioning or a pilot.
  • The Close Stage is the final stage and would include verifying the final product, reconciliation, closeout report and other processes.

Closing Comments

Finally, the CAMMP™ Model is not unique; many other organizations have their own internal project management methodologies that are similar to the above but using different terms. However, we believe CAMMP offers enough new content, to make this SUKAD approach a candidate to be a leading model. Consequently, we are using CAMMP to develop the Uruk Platform, a cloud-based solution for the management of any project.

With this article and the previous one, we have defined a project life cycle model. Next, we will use this article as the foundation for comparison with the PMBOK Guide process groups. In the next post, we will discuss, the PMI process groups.