Skip to content
Added to your Saved Content Go to my Saved Content Added to your CPD log

View or edit this activity in your CPD log.

Go to My CPD
Only APM members have access to CPD features Become a member Already added to CPD log

View or edit this activity in your CPD log.

Go to My CPD

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


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?

This video is hosted by a third party (, you cannot view this video content unless you accept marketing cookies to be able to view this content. If the popup doesn't appear, please clear your browser cache and refresh the page.

Related reading

Lab 620 X 620[1]
The benefits of following a project management method

Would you as a project manager like to be able to deliver successful projects more often and more consistently? This would certainly have it's advantages both for your own career and for the reputation of your organisation... read more.

Read blog
Bridge2 620 X 620[1]
How to build a project management process from scratch

“Developing a project management department has been an excellent learning curve, it has made much more sense than attempting to move forward without a project management department.”... read more.

Read blog
Wind Farm 620 X 620[1]
Hybrid project management: is it your next challenge?

Have you ever thought about what your next project might bring in terms of management challenges? Could these be different in a hybrid project? Would you be able to recognise and prepare for any differences ahead of time?.. read more.

Read blog
Angel Of The North[1]
How to go hybrid

Hybrid life cycles are on the rise. The Association for Project Management has included hybrid in its Body of Knowledge for the first time, reflecting a reality that has been in place for a while... read more.

Read blog
Solar Panels 620 X 620[1]
How the FCA went hybrid on a massive scale

Martin Bellamy, chief information officer at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) takes a hybrid approach to project management... read more.

Read blog
Plane Engine 620 X 620[1]
Agile versus waterfall - why Dr Seuss wouldn't approve

Both agile and waterfall are perfectly valid, but entrenched views seem to have emerged from some people on both sides that “only my way works”... read more.

Read blog
A Guide To Assurance

A guide to assurance of agile delivery

The guide supports experienced assurance professionals who may be undertaking assurance of their first agile project and shows how undertaking traditional assurance reviews can be adapted to ensure assurance activity of agile projects is both effective and valuable.

Buy from bookshop

APM Assurance Specific Interest Group

The effective operation of assurance provision and use of assurance information are essential to the reliable delivery of successful projects. Assurance is an essential element of project management, working closely with governance and risk management in a mutual supportive arrangement.

Get involved in the community

APM Assurance Specific Interest Group


APM Body Of Knowledge 7Th Edition Promo Image

APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition

The APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition is a foundational resource providing the concepts, functions and activities that make up professional project management. It reflects the developing profession, recognising project-based working at all levels, and across all sectors for influencers, decision makers, project professionals and their teams. 

Buy from the bookshop

You may also be interested in

Apm Learning V2 Card
APM Learning

The APM Learning portal is an online resource which provides members with access to digital guides, modules and other digital learning resources as part of the membership benefit.

Resources V2 Card
What is ...?

Browse our popular project management 'What is ...?' topics for definitions, quick insights, view related case studies, research, blogs and glossary.

Project V2 Card
Project Journal

Project – APM's official journal – is circulated quarterly for members only, and online for regularly updated news, blogs, opinions and insights for those in the project community.

Hub V2 Card
APM Community

The APM Community is our online community platform that connects our members faster and easier than ever before.