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

25 thoughts on “Is the project life span different from project life cycle?

  1. Pingback: What is the difference between the project life cycle and the project management life cycle? | Redefining Project Management

  2. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by Trevor K. Nelson, PMP, IPMA-C, PMD Pro 2,
    https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Is-Project-Life-Span-Different-106439.S.5979446096815013890view=&gid=106439&item=5979446096815013890&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439

    Mounir,
    I’ll disagree with the concept of ‘let’s agree to disagree as long as within the org we agree.’
    Part of the problem within the pm community as a whole is the inability to find a common vocabulary, even as PMI points to this being one of the central benefits of the PMBOK Guide and PMP.
    Well, we do have a common ‘vocabulary’, but we don’t agree on the definitions. And that creates not only problems for PM’s, but for pm as a practice. How can we as professionals expect to demonstrate the benefits and how important pm can be if we can’t show that there’s even congruency within the practice?
    We see this with many terms and concepts – life span/life cycle, scope change/scope creep, life cycle/process groups (the idea of positive risk is another discussion altogether).
    Using terms differently due to personal preference only increases the gap.
    For me, there’s a hierarchy – Life span (the entire length of a project)
    Life cycle (the stages/phases a project goes through during the life span)
    Process groups (the processes repeated within each stage/phase)

    Reply
  3. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by Mike McCormick,

    https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Is-Project-Life-Span-Different-106439.S.5979446096815013890view=&gid=106439&item=5979446096815013890&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439

    SUKAD Group:
    Here’s a quick illustration I just put together for this response.
    http://www.mccormickpcs.com/images/Project_Methodology_Process_Ill.pdf
    On your web site your state: “whole project life span (project life cycle)” which is
    the issue I have with your Model. Your model methodology illustration is a good
    representation of industry best practices as you stated on your benefits page.
    Now I only spent 10 minutes reviewing a few pages but my initial review is that
    the SUKAD Model is an Adaptive Methodology utilizing the various flavors of
    methodologies in the industry (e.g. PMI, Agile, Scrum, TOGAF, etc.).
    I like your business model but I and many others on this thread do not share your view point regarding this topic.
    I hope this helps. Good luck with the debate.

    Reply
  4. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by Bill Duncan,
    https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Is-Project-Life-Span-Different-106439.S.5979446096815013890view=&gid=106439&item=5979446096815013890&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439

    Mounir —

    You wrote,”linguistically, I personally see project life span is the correct
    term.” On what basis? Why follow Max and IGNORE the dictionary
    definitions? Why create your own definitions to replace those that are
    generally accepted?
    How can you say that the “project life cycle” is the same as the “project
    management life cycle”? That is linguistically ignorant. It’s like saying
    that New York is the same as New York City. Or that “new hat” is the
    same as “hat.” When you add a word to a phrase, you change the
    meaning.
    Your argument in favor of project life span has to be applied to the process groups as well. They only occur once in each phase, so you must logically call them the project management life span. You must also change the “product life cycle”
    to “product life span,” and the “biological life cycle” to “biological life span” since every creature lives but once.
    Gosh, while we’re at it, let’s change the name of “critical path method” to the
    “risky sequence approach.” We should also consider changing
    “project management” to “assignment coordination.” Better yet … why use the dictionary at all? Why not call project management “orange juice”? And if we call “program management” “pink juice,” no one will ever have to wonder what “PM” means any more!
    But the best arguments are simple:
    1. The dictionary definitions do not support Max’s objection to the use of the term “cycle.”
    1. Everyone in the discipline already understands what the “project life cycle” is.
    Changing the name does not add any insight. Changing the name does not provide any value.

    Reply
  5. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by SUKAD Group, https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Is-Project-Life-Span-Different-106439.S.597944609681501389view=&gid=106439&item=5979446096815013890&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439

    Mike
    I can accept your comment “I do not agree with SUKAD’s model: The Customizable and Adaptable Methodology for Managing Projects™” if i know why.
    What do not you agree with? What is wrong with it?

    Reply
  6. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by SUKAD Group, https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Is-Project-Life-Span-Different-106439.S.5979446096815013890view=&gid=106439&item=5979446096815013890&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439

    Bill – one can say there is a project management life cycle (the process groups) those repeat on a given project for each phase.When we talk about a project – A PROJECT has a LIFE SPAN.
    Is not this what you said as well? “Mounir — individual projects have a life-span.” 🙂

    Reply
  7. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by SUKAD Group, https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Is-Project-Life-Span-Different-106439.S.5979446096815013890view=&gid=106439&item=5979446096815013890&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439

    All – in most articles here on Linked, we find debate about terminologies and choice. Risk are they threats only or threats and opportunities; life span or life cycle; phase or stage; phase or process group.
    We come from different cultures and perspectives. To me what matter is to define and unify our terms within an organization. What is important is people within that
    organization use the same terms; even if others use different terms.
    Linguistically, I personally see project life span is the correct term; if i work in an
    organization that uses the term project life cycle – then i will use that term
    since neither is wrong.

    Reply
  8. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by Ryan Tay Tong Leng,

    https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Is-Project-Life-Span-Different106439.S.5979446096815013890view=&gid=106439&item=5979446096815013890&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439

    It’s a matter perspective imo.
    If you are looking from a single or unique project perspective, the life span would be the same as the life cycle. Whereas the reverse applies when you look across a larger number of similar projects, which Trevor has pointed out earlier.

    Reply
  9. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by Bill Duncan,
    https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Is-Project-Life-Span-Different106439.S.5979446096815013890view=&gid=106439&item=5979446096815013890&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439

    From Max Wideman’s otherwise excellent glossary:
    “Editor’s Note: The label “Project Life Cycle” would be better described as
    “Project Life Span”.”

    Reply
  10. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by Trevor K. Nelson, PMP, IPMA-C, PMD Pro 2,
    https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Is-Project-Life-Span-Different106439.S.5979446096815013890view=&gid=106439&item=5979446096815013890&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439

    Two different things.
    Two projects may have the same life CYCLEs, but drastically different life SPANs.
    Let’s look at construction for example – two buildings being built. They go through the same processes (concept, design, drawings, engineering, bidding,construction,
    move-in).
    But depending on the contractors, Owners, financing, etc. one may take longer than the other (life SPAN).
    Empire State Building in NY took 13 months to build. Similar but smaller buildings have taken much longer. Processes (cycle) are the same, but span (time from start to finish) is different.

    Reply
  11. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by Ronald L{Ron}Hadley Business|Engineering|IT Solutions-NC/RTP,
    https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Is-Project-Life-Span-Different106439.S.5979446096815013890view=&gid=106439&item=5979446096815013890&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439

    Mike, I’m new to this group with 10 yr s with IBM overall and 30+ years in Business Development Technology and your definition makes sense. I think also a Product Life can evolve with updates, features and continue like an iPhone, as an example so the Life Cycle merges with the Life Span, in this case. Just my thoughts.

    Reply
  12. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by Mike McCormick,
    https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Is-Project-Life-Span-Different106439.S.5979446096815013890view=&gid=106439&item=5979446096815013890&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439

    I don’t see the confusion…
    Project Life Cycle is the various cycles of project processes (phases, gate reviews, etc) throughout the Project Life Span (duration, time period).
    When researching from official resources you will find two “key” words that demonstrate the difference between “life cycle” and “life span”.
    From Merriam-Webster on-line
    LIFE CYCLE
    Key Word: stage
    LIFE SPAN
    Key Word: duration
    And the article
    states the same findings but I do not agree with SUKAD’s model: The
    Customizable and Adaptable Methodology for Managing Projects™

    Reply
  13. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by Bill Duncan,
    https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Is-Project-Life-Span-Different106439.S.5979446096815013890view=&gid=106439&item=5979446096815013890&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439

    Mounir — individual projects have a life-span. Projects in general have a life-cycle: the phases repeat. If you want to argue that projects have a life-span because they occur once, then there is no value in discussing the life-span because it can’t be compared to any other project’s life-span.
    Why introduce a new term when everyone already understands the old one? No one has proposed that we start calling the product life-cycle the product life-span. Nor has anyone proposed that we call the product life-cycle the product, service, or result life-span.
    Once again … look at any decent English or American language dictionary:
    “a series of events that are regularly repeated in the same order”
    “the period of time taken to complete a single sequence of events”
    Now tell me that those two definitions don’t apply to the project life-cycle.

    Reply
  14. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by SUKAD Group,
    https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Is-Project-Life-Span-Different106439.S.5979446096815013890view=&gid=106439&item=5979446096815013890&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439

    Bill – it is not about Wideman … a human have a life span or a life cycle? When we consider a project from idea to closure is that cyclical or a span of time?
    Mounir.

    Reply
  15. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by Bill Duncan,
    https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Is-Project-Life-Span-Different106439.S.5979446096815013890view=&gid=106439&item=5979446096815013890&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5979446096815013890%3Agroup%3A106439

    No. “Life span” is a term coined by Max Wideman because he refuses the accept the dictionary definition of “life cycle.

    Reply
  16. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn ISO 21500 Project Management group by Helmut Berger

    https://www.linkedin.com/groupItemview=&gid=96642&item=5950968899372593152&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5950968899372593152%3Agroup%3A96642&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5950968899372593152%3Agroup%3A96642

    Project life cycle: defined set of phases from the start to the end of the project (ISO 21500, Terms and Definitions) project life span: period between project start and project end. Don´t mix up project and product

    Reply
  17. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn ISO 21500 Project Management group by Raphael M Dua,FAICD, MACS Snr, PCP, CP, GradDISC

    https://www.linkedin.com/groupItemview=&gid=96642&item=595096889937259315&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5950968899372593152%3Agroup%3A9642&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commetID_discussion%3A5950968899372593152%3Agroup%3A96642

    Yes, when I was the Senior Planner and Scheduler for the construction of the Australian Submarines our Project Life Cycle was 15 years, to build the six boats but the life of type (i.e. its operational life) for the Collins was minimum of 30 years

    Reply
  18. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn ISO 21500 Project Management group by Triantafyllos Katsarelis, PM- C IPMA, Dipl. Eng,MBA, https://www.linkedin.com/groupItemview=&gid=96642&item=5950968899372593152&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5950968899372593152%3Agroup%3A6642&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#comentID_discussion%3A5950968899372593152%3Agroup%3A96642

    I use the terms “project life cycle” for the duration of a project and “project PRODUCT life span” for the duration of the product or service produced by a project.

    Reply
  19. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn ISO 21500 Project Management group by Jamal Beitelmal, Looking for new opportunity

    https://www.linkedin.com/groupItemview=&gid=96642&item=5950968899372593152&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5950968899372593152%3Agroup%3A96642&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5950968899372593152%3Agroup%3A96642

    If you mean project life cycle and product life cycle, the answer is yes. The product life cycle is longer.

    Reply
  20. Pingback: PM Thinking: The PMBOK® Guide Process Groups | Redefining Project Management

  21. Pingback: Mapping PMBOK process groups to project life span (CAM2P™ Model) | Redefining Project Management

  22. Michele J. Jones, PMP

    Yes, one does plan the plan for larger projects. For example, the main Project Management Plan could say what should be defined in the Procurement Management Plan. We do plan to plan and we also decide how to decide.

    Reply
  23. Pingback: What are the differences between project phases and stages?

We welcome your opinion - supporting or challenging the topic