Process groups are NOT project phases

For our 10th anniversary as SUKAD we have decided to run a competition where we give away enrollment to our classes and sets of books.

Every week we ask one question – and there will be 4 winners; 2 win courses’ enrollment and 2 win set of books.

The first week we asked the following question:

“Can you provide the names of the project phases or stages on the project life cycle?”

Before you read more … can you think of the answer?

We expect some readers will answers like what most respondents answered: “Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling, and Closing”.  We realize that most give this answer because of the image below from the PMBOK Guide. I am sure you realize these are called process groups.

Project Management Process Groups


Again, these are the process groups from the PMBOK Guide, which is published and copyright to the Project Management Institute.

If you answered “Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling, and Closing” then you are making the most common mistakes where most practitioner who are PMP or follow PMI makes. These process groups are NOT project phases. Per the PMBOK Guide the process groups repeat in EVERY PHASE! Refer to the next two images – both explain this point in a different way.

The first image

Process Groups Repeating Along the Project Life Span

Process Groups Repeating Along the Project Life Span

The Second Image

Project Life Cycle - Phases - Process Groups - Knowledge Areas

Project Life Cycle – Phases – Process Groups – Knowledge Areas

We have published many articles on this topic before, you can search our blog site for more reading. We are also working on book on the PMBOK but that might be a few months before it would be ready.



18 thoughts on “Process groups are NOT project phases

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  3. Joseph Moser

    The whole premise of Projecy Management is that the work crosses functional lines. Work in any stage impacts (or has the enormous potential to impact) other workgroups, meaning that no work can be done by a single workgroup in isolation.Otherwise there would be no need to take on the inefficiencies / extra costs of project management. While the work of a singe stage could, possibly be dominated by one particular work group, but it would still bre covered by the integrated Project Management Plan

    1. Mounir Ajam Post author

      Dear Sir

      The following is from the just released draft report of the PM Standard from the upcoming PMBOK Guide

      “The Process Groups are not project phases. If the project is divided into phases, the Process Groups interact within each phase. In fact, it is possible that all Process Groups could be conducted within a phase”

  4. Joseph Moser

    I have run many cross-functional projects that have distinct phases (or stages) but I have never even seen one where work in a single phase would be done by a single, different work group, let alone be “sponsored” by a different authority, and requiring a new group of stakeholders, let alone a new (or even really Modified) charter. Yes, stages have to meet a milestone/phase-gate, where decisions about moving forward can/need-to be made. All that is taken into account by the cyclic depiction of the planning and executing phases in the PMBOK method. An individual contract (strance if a single contract would encompass a full stage of a project) can be closed without launching into a full PMBOK Close process group.

    1. SUKAD Group

      Dear Sir

      Please consider our notes carefully

      You said “I have never even seen one where work in a single phase would be done by a single, different work group, let alone be “sponsored” by a different authority, and requiring a new group of stakeholders,”

      May be We should answer using questions: again consider a large project not one with a few people:

      1. Say an office tower — during the feasibility study do we have the same stakeholders as for the construction phase? Some will be the same but others would needed in feasibility but not in construction and vice versa.

      2. Same thing for the team – would the team conducting feasibility would be the same as the one doing engineering?

      On the charter – we said there is ONE PROJECT CHARTER … but in addition, there are stage authorizations. Let use the same office tower project; would not the feasibility phase require authorization? How would you authorize it? Keep in the mind, per the PMBOK Guide the project charter is not developed yet (at the start of feasibility). Then let us say the project is feasible – only then management would issue the PROJECT CHARTER. Next we move into the next phase – to have an architect do the schematic and architectural design; how would we authorize this phase? Moving on to detailed engineering, again, is not there an authorization for that?

      You mentioned the stage gates – is not that authorization to the next phase? We do not have to call it charter and in our methodology we call it phase or stage authorization.

  5. Joseph Moser

    The tasks within the executing and monitoring and controlling do, indeed, repeat if a given project has distinct phases, with related stage-gates, (which is indicated by the cyclic illustration) but the Initiating and Closing groups do NOT repeat. That is true whether it’s PMBOK or the UK PPP documentation. For example, in the US DoD acquisition world, no one expects to go back at each stage-gate (e.g., PDR, CDR. TRR) and get the sponsor to issue a new “charter” and while it is wise to record lessons-learned, in “real time,” as the project moves along, the archives need to be created after the lessons have been correlated and finalized. And almost never do contracts get closed after the stage gates. By and large. though, the PMBOK diagram is a useful depiction of the “phases” of a project.

    1. Mounir Ajam Post author

      Dear Sir

      Thank you for your comment. I will answer in multiple responses.

      You say “the Initiating and Closing groups do NOT repeat.” Please look at the Process Summary in the PMBOK Guide; it clearly shows in integration chapter “Close Project or Phase” … this means you close every phase.

    2. Mounir Ajam Post author

      In regard to the charter

      You said “no one expects to go back at each stage-gate … and get the sponsor to issue a new “charter”

      What we advise here is to understand what is the purpose of a document called a charter. The purpose of a PROJECT CHARTER is to authorize a project and there is only one. However, the purpose of a charter is to authorize work – therefore, every phase must be authorized. The authorization document could be an email, letter, or anything equivalent that would authorize the phase work in accordance with the overall project objectives.

      You mentioned DoD – I am sure, when DoD wants to do a project they would have an overall charter but they would also authorize a study phase; a design phase; implementation phase; etc.

    3. SUKAD Group

      Mr. Moser
      Thank you for the feedback.

      Please consider this – an organization, DoD or any other “project owner” organization want to build a product; a building, factory; etc.

      A project of this nature require many phases, such as:
      Feasibility (concept) — Design Basis (Requirements) — Preliminary Design — Detailed Engineering — Construction — Pre-commissioning — Commissioning — Close

      Each of these phases could be done by a different group, team, contractor, therefore, each phase will require authorization. Authorization is the main purpose of a charter. Of course we still have an Overall Project Charter.

      Then when a contractor is done with a phase, there is a need to close the phase.

      Therefore, Initiating and Closing Processes repeat for the various phases, like all other process groups.

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    1. Mounir Ajam

      Hi Claude
      I guess you and I and many others has been saying for years and maybe the people we touch learn about this … but the challenge unless PMI start to stop publishing papers and case studies that present the process groups as project phases; and the PMP exams starts to ask questions like this so it gets into the PMP prep books; and the PMBOK stop using the term project to mean “project or phase”; we will still have PMP, CAPM, and other PMI loyalists – who does not understand the PMBOK making this mistake.

      1. Claude Emond

        I understand, Mounir. What is sad is that the PMBoK has tried to change this since in the third edition (2004), but it has never been properly fixed afterwards.

        I believe anyway that the real problem is that many of the people on the standard committees and volunteer writing teams in PMI do not even understand this themselves….or do not really care as long as they win their PDUs. 🙂

        I believe you might spend a lot of energy trying to fix those things from within PMI. I myself did and I am done trying again 🙂

        I, as one of the co-authors of the first edition of «The Standard for Portfolio Management», made some mistakes writing the first standard. I tried for more than 6 years to have it fixed in edition 2 and 3. These editions did not improve on edition 1; they got worse, since the people who wrote them most surely do not even work on project portfolio management endeavors; if they did this would be fixed right now : . When I met the team leader for edition 3 in Washington in 2010 (with my co-lead for edition 1), it was obvious she had no clue of what was really going on in project portfolios and nothing I would say was listened to; her ego was to strong – she was competing with me instead of seeing I was just trying to help her.

        So, many of those who are very active in PMI do not have a clue of how to really use the project process groups, neither do they understand project portfolio management. But they are closely knitted together, they run the show and let me tell you that some of them are pretty nasty company. A lot of Ego trips by people who are not real project managers and specialists, but political opportunists and consultants who have never lead major projects.
        However, since PMI is a for-profit business, they will catch up eventually, when what they profess gets rejected by the outside world 🙂

        So, I believe that you already do the best you can to serve your clients well and to promote good project management in your writings right now. Things will get fixed, even if PMI is the last one to do so. Actually, IPMA, APM and others like the ICCPM are a lot better at evolving and improving their paradigms, so I find solace sharing and building a better future with them and people like you :).

        Cheers from Montreal


        1. Mounir Ajam Post author

          Hi Claude
          What you stated is exactly how I also feel and i have also tried for many years to change things from the inside with PMI and could not do much because of the reasons you stated here. So I work on the outside, educate my clients and community as much as I can. I am even publishing a book the PMBOK, include recommendations so if these guys care – they may consider some of what the long term volunteers and true project managers are suggesting. However, i am not keeping my hope up.

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