Introduction to a Phased Approach to Projects

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Principles of a Phased Approach
Example of a Phased Approach
Adapting the Phased Approach
Advantages of a Phased Approach
Go to Guidelines Index





A project is 'an undertaking by an organisation that has a defined purpose or objective, that consumes resources and involves risk'.

For many organisations running business initiatives as projects is a relatively new way of working where skills and experience are scarce. As a result, many projects and project managers experience problems with issues such as:


...organising what is to be done, by whom, and when, to achieve success

...taking a positive step towards controlling future events, rather than letting them take their course

...providing the basis for the control of resources

...providing everyone involved with a common view of the project

...attempting to deliver results that are unrealistic

...working with staff who are inexperienced in project work

...trying to involve the project customer in a positive way

...working with plans that are lacking realism and accuracy

...managing unexpected changes in requirements

...managing communications and understanding.

Accepted best practice principles involve approaching project work in such a way that control can be maintained over direction, cost and risk from start to completion. This is done using a phased approach. The term 'phase' describes a part of the project.

All phased approaches include activity to get the project started, produce the project's product and complete and review the project

For each project, the project manager will decide how many phases to use and the nature of each. 

The example below can easily be adapted to meet the needs of different projects.

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Principles of a Phased Approach 

A phased approach is based on the principle that any project may be broken down into a series of steps i.e. phases.

Each phase has a clear start point, some well defined tasks, and a defined end point. It is usual to review each phase to enable those responsible for the project to make informed decisions about what to do next and why.

The end of a particular project phase will often be the production of a particular deliverable.  The deliverable can be a document such as a progress report, or a tangible product such as an architect's model of a building.

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The benefits of using a phased approach include:

Example of a Phased Approach

The following table illustrates how a four phase approach to a project can be broken down into a number of smaller tasks. The example illustrated below could be applied to many types of business projects. The tasks shown below include examples of Project Management and Project Work.

Project Starts - Phase 1 - EXPLORE



Draft the objectives for the EXPLORE phase

Sponsor agrees to proceed

Draft the plan for the EXPLORE phase.
Project Manager recommends the approach to the project.

Sponsor accepts / rejects approach

Investigate the nature and implications of the customer's objectives.
Gather information about why the project is needed.
Identify approaches to solving the problem (Feasibility Study).
Show the project satisfy can satisfy the business aims.
Produce business case.
Define project roles and responsibilities.

Sponsor / Stakeholders accept the project

Agree the plan for the project and the next phase requirement.
Information might be: background information, project objectives, scope, constraints, assumptions, reporting, plan for the analysis phase in detail, plan for the project in overview.

Sponsor / Stakeholders agree to proceed with the plan

Phase Review - Outcomes:
Proceed with next phase as planned.
Proceed to next phase with modifications to the plan.
Do not proceed to next phase.

Phase 2 - DEFINE



Identify and document detailed requirements

Requirements signed off by Users and Stakeholders

Prepare Cost/Benefit details - Business Case

Business Case accepted by Project Sponsor

Confirm solution.
Plan next phase in detail and revise project plan .

Sponsor authorises the Execute phase

Phase Review - Outcomes:

Proceed with next phase as planned.
Proceed to next phase with modifications to the plan.
Do not proceed to next phase

Phase 3 - EXECUTE



Design solution

Users and Stakeholders accept design

Build solution.
Test it.
Plan the Implementation Phase.

Users and Stakeholders accept the tested product

Phase Review - Outcomes:
Proceed with next phase as planned.
Proceed to next phase with modifications to the plan.
Do not proceed to next phase.




Prepare the environment.
Install any new equipment.
Implement new processes.
Plan and deliver training.

Users and Stakeholders sign-off the project

Prepare project review.
Review project management approach.
Review effectiveness of techniques used.
Modify project management standards.
Review effectiveness of delivered product.

Project Sponsor closes the project

Project Finished


Adapting the Phased Approach

The table above shows a 4-phased framework. However, a project should be planned using phases and decision points relevant to the project characteristics. If the risks are low then the number and frequency of decision points can be reduced, as shown below. Conversely, high risk projects may require additional decision points within the phases, increasing the precision of the control process.


Advantages of a Phased Approach

Pioneering a phased approach may be difficult in an organisation where results are expected quickly and risk taking is commonplace.

Project managers may find the following messages helpful in communicating the advantages of this approach:

  Avoids wasted effort by qualifying the situation and by early decisions on how much effort to put into it
Allows for realistic deadlines through 2-level planning
Aids overall planning and scheduling. The greater certainty in individual plans improves the overall deployment of resources
Visible progress - deliverables are produced for approval throughout the cycle as well as at the end
Promotes quality by imposing the need for management review
Avoids the proposal of unacceptable solutions - by involving the customer at each phase
Confidence - arising from operating in a controlled, planned manner
Improves relationships - the project manager and the project team work with the customer, management and staff throughout the project, creating an 'extended team'



Adopt a simple phase structure if at all possible
Explain the phase structure to all concerned with the project
Adapt the phase structure to the circumstances of the project
Ensure senior managers understand that control points will require their active involvement
Plan the project in outline and the phases in progressive detail
Ensure that the resources are matched to the tasks
Implement a post project review to learn lessons from what was done