Moving beyond project delivery

Reflecting on the life cycle concept as way for organising project work


Advances in Project Management


By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management
Lancaster University Management School

United Kingdom


Life cycles are fundamental to the management of project work. Indeed, Professor Peter Morris, reflecting on the prevailing state of the profession, affirms that ‘the one thing that distinguishes projects from non-projects is their life cycle’ (Morris, 2013; p. 150).

The notion of the project life cycle has become a ubiquitous part of the theory and practice of project management to the extent that it often defines and delineates the process, flow, rhythm, dynamics and boundaries of projects. In doing so it also shapes the discipline and the way we think about projects, organising work and      temporary structures.

Why life cycles?

The life cycle concept, as we know it, serves many purposes. The life cycle represents a path from the origin to completion of a venture. Division into phases enables managers to control and direct the activities in a disciplined, orderly and methodical way that can be responsive to change. Phases group together directly related sequences and types of activities to facilitate visibility and control, thus enabling the successful completion of the venture.

The project life cycle acts as an important management tool focusing on the allocation of resources, the availability of key individuals, the integration of activities, the support of timely decision making, the reduction of risk and the provision of control and governance mechanisms.

The additional benefits associated with using a life cycle approach include (see, Dalcher, 2002):

  • attaining visibility,
  • breaking work into manageable chunks,
  • identifying the tasks,
  • providing a framework for co-ordinating and managing,
  • controlling project finance,
  • identifying and obtaining correct resource profiles,
  • encouraging systematic evaluation of options and opportunities,
  • addressing the need for stakeholder review,
  • providing a problem-solving perspective,
  • verifying ongoing viability on a progressive basis,
  • encouraging continuous monitoring,
  • managing uncertainty, and
  • providing a common and shared vocabulary.

Control is attained through the division into phases and the breaking up of work into identifiable and significant milestones and meaningful deliverables (products delivered at certain times). Partitioning activities into phases gives the impression of natural order of thought and action. The spacing of activities along a time axis suggests the mutual exclusivity of stages and the primarily unidirectional flow of activities.

Each phase has specific content and management approaches with clearly identified decision points between them. Matching the content requires the application of an ever-changing mix of resources—skills, tools, expertise, money and time. Introducing phases with formal interface points encourages the opening of a communication path and the transfer of project information through formal hand-over or technology transfer between life cycle phases.

Rethinking project management

As highlighted above, the project life cycle has dominated and shaped project management thinking. The resulting instrumental rationality is often interpreted as how projects ought to be performed in the real-life environment of project work (Dalcher, 2016). Some of the ideas implied through this type of thinking have been challenged by the UK Government funded Rethinking Project Management Network (Winter and Smith, 2006; Winter et al., 2006). Over the course of two years, the Network brought together senior practitioners and leading researchers ‘to develop a research agenda aimed at extending and enriching project management ideas in relation to developing practice’ (Winter and Smith, 2006). Overall, the network found a strong need for new thinking to inform and guide practitioners beyond the current conceptual base (Winter et al., 2006; 640).

The main outcome of the network was the development of a new agenda for research presented in the form of five directions identified by the participants as critical to the management of projects. Each direction is represented as a move from a current way of thinking, represented on the left, towards a more promising perspective – as described on the right (see, Table 1, (Winter et al, 2006, Dalcher, 2016))…


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower and other publishers in the Routledge family.  Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower/Routledge Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ. 

How to cite this paper: Dalcher, D. (2019). Moving beyond project delivery: Reflecting on the life cycle concept as way for organising project work, PM World Journal, Volume VIII, Issue I (January).  Available online at https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/pmwj78-Jan2019-Dalcher-moving-beyond-project-delivery.pdf


About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Author, Professor, Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
Lancaster University Management School, UK




Darren Dalcher, Ph.D., HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI, SMIEEE, SFHEA is Professor in Strategic Project Management at Lancaster University, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK.  He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has written over 200 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Software: Evolution and Process, a leading international software engineering journal. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Routledge and of the companion series Fundamentals of Project Management.  Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, A Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the British Academy of Management. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He sits on numerous senior research and professional boards, including The PMI Academic Member Advisory Group, the APM Research Advisory Group, the CMI Academic Council and the APM Group Ethics and Standards Governance Board.  He is the Academic Advisor and Consulting Editor for the next APM Body of Knowledge. Prof Dalcher is an academic advisor for the PM World Journal.  He is the academic advisor and consulting editor for the forthcoming edition of the APM Body of Knowledge. He can be contacted at [email protected].

To view other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.