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What is a life cycle?What is a life cycle?

Definition

A project management life cycle is a framework comprising a set of distinct high­-level stages required to transform an idea of concept into reality in an orderly and efficient manner.

Life cycles offer a systematic and organised way to undertake project­-based work and can be viewed as the structure underpinning deployment.

Definition from APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition

Types of life cycles

Life cycles are fundamental to the management of project­-work: Different approaches can be util­ised for deployment, depending on the desired outputs, benefits and outcomes and the expected uncertainty, novelty and risk appetite. The choice of deployment approach will play a key part in selecting the most suitable form of life cycle.

Linear (waterfall) life cycles are sequenced into a set of distinct phases, from the development of the initial concept to the deployment of an ultimate outcome, output or benefits. This approach aims to be highly structured, predictable and stable.

Iterative (agile) life cycles are composed of several iterations, which repeat one or more of the phases before proceeding to the next one. Iterative approaches can only proceed when user feedback is available to be used as the basis for initiating new cycles of development, refinement and improvement.


Hybrid life cycles typically fuse together elements to create a new model or approach. For example, utilising iterative or agile methods for early requirements gathering, where the uncertainty is greatest, and following it up with incremental or sequential processes to formalise deployment. Other types of life cycle include:

  • Incremental: Where the target state is achieved through a staged series of smaller
  • Evolutionary: Where deployment entails a number of major transitions, each based on user feedback from the preceding

There is no universal best approach. Project professionals select the most suitable arrangement for their context, most often combining features from any of the above into a hybrid life cycle.

Watch: Which life cycle approach is right for you?

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