Program Life Cycle Management: An Overview [Updated]

As the name implies, the program life cycle depicts the various stages involved in the lifespan of a program, from its origin until closure. However, there are various other nuances of program life cycle management that will be covered in this tutorial


Program Life Cycle

We know that each program consists of a number of related projects and the success of the program is dependent on the success of its projects. Managing a program involves a series of transformation phases wherein each phase permits the program to move to the next phase until it reaches the closure state.

The Program lifecycle predominantly resembles the project management lifecycle. The fundamental difference is that while program management aims at dealing with results and gains and its value to the organization, project management aims at delivering products on time and obtaining customer satisfaction. 

Let us discuss the attributes of the program life cycle in the next section of the program lifecycle management tutorial.

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Program Life Cycle Attributes

The program life cycle mainly focuses on the following three main attributes:

  • Stakeholders of the Program
  • Benefits acquired from the Program (the deliverables)
  • Rules governing the development of the program lifecycle

Overview of Life Cycle Phases

The life of a program officially begins when the funding is approved for a program or a program manager is appointed. This typically happens during the formulation phase. Every program goes through three major phases, viz. program definition, benefits delivery, and closure.

A program manager’s role is to orchestrate the activities of the program and its various components through its various life cycle stages. It is important to understand the life cycle phases and typical activities that happen during the life cycle because this has a bearing on what exactly a program manager will do in that phase.

For information on the process groups involved in the program management lifecycle, access the Process Groups document from the “Additional Reading” section.

Let us discuss the life cycle phases in detail, starting with program definition in the next section.

Program Definition

As the name suggests, program definition refers to “defining” what the program is all about, why it is being done, and how it will be done.

So in this phase, there are two major activities that are performed, which are further elaborated in the sub-phases, which we will be discussing later.

First, in this phase, the business case and desired business outcomes are outlined and translated into the strategic objectives of the program. Then a high-level plan, which indicates how these activities will be carried out in order to realize the objectives, is created.

The major output of the program definition phase is, therefore, the program management plan. As we have seen before, the program definition phase is divided into two sub-phases program formulation and program preparation.

We will look at these phases in detail in the following section of the program lifecycle management tutorial.

Program Formulation and Preparation

Let us now take a closer look at the two sub-phases of a program definition.

As mentioned already, there are multiple phases involved in the lifespan of a program. In program lifecycle management, a phase is defined as the stipulated time frame within which a series of events and activities take place as part of the development of the program. There are five dominant phases that determine the successful tenure of a program. They are:

  • Conceptualization Phase
  • Set up Phase
  • Construction Phase (Building Program Management and Technical Infrastructure Teams)
  • Implementation Phase
  • Closure Phase

Let us discuss the conceptualization phase first in the next section of the program lifecycle management tutorial.

Conceptualization Phase

This phase determines the program objectives and goals that will receive complete support and approval from the members of the executive committee, stakeholders, and the portfolio management committee.

Before approval of the program, the boards (comprising executive and stakeholder members) carry out a selection process by preparing a mandate, to ascertain the pros and cons of implementing the program in the organization.

The program mandate, also known as the program brief, consists of minimum objectives of the program, its benefits, and the manner in which the program aids in achieving the strategic goal of the organization. The key elements that are involved in the selection and commencement of a program are:

  • The objectives of the program which aid in achieving the company’s long-term strategic goals
  • Analysis of the risk factors in implementing the program
  • Resource Management in terms of funds, personnel, and technology
  • Budget Estimation for the commencement of the program
  • Benefits to the organization.

We will continue discussing the conceptualization phase in the next section of the program lifecycle management tutorial.

Conceptualization Phase

After drafting the program charter, a complete program development plan is created with three main statements, namely:


Mission, which is the need for initiating the program and its main goals from the organization’s perspective.


Value, which refers to ascertaining the methods of managing the affairs of the program on account of trade-offs.


Vision, which is the state of the company after the closure of the program. Once the program charter is finally sanctioned, the stakeholders sign the document, and a Program Manager is appointed to officially take charge of the program.

Let us look at the setup phase in the next section of the program lifecycle management tutorial.

Setup Phase

Once the program has been approved, the setup phase begins whereby the factors that enable the attainment of program objectives are determined.

These objectives are:

  • The design of the program management plan for executing the program
  • The cost of implementing the program
  • Program deliverables
  • Examination of the risk factors
  • Identification of program dependencies
  • Any other constraints that affect the development of the program

Once the factors are analyzed, the Program Manager categorizes the projects to be associated with the program. The projects are selected based on the cost, technical relationships, and regulatory factors.

We will continue learning about the setup phase in the next section of the program lifecycle management tutorial.

Setup Phase – Part 2

The program set up phase is the core area of planning the execution of the program and involves making many decisions and creating several documents such as:

  • Program Evaluation
  • Defining time estimates
  • Defining the activities and placing them in sequence
  • Evaluating the cost estimates and budgets
  • Decisions for procurement of materials
  • Personnel management and staff allocation
  • Program management plan approval
  • Identifying the risk factors
  • Appointment of program management team

Let us look at the construction phase in the next section of the program lifecycle management tutorial.

Construction Phase

The construction phase is a very important phase of the program lifecycle management as it builds the program management and technical teams based on establishing the rules and regulations that govern the program.

The program managers, project managers, and the team members strictly follow the rules and regulations in order to uniformly carry out their duties and to accomplish the objectives of the program. There are many organizational tools that are used by the program manager to track the activities and manage the program.

Some commonly used software are:

Let us continue discussing the construction phase in the next section of the program lifecycle management tutorial.

The technical base team comprises members who coordinate, contribute and guide people in fulfilling the objectives of the program. The organizational pattern of a program comprises the following:

  1. Program Management Office/Board: The main focus of the members of the broad is to inspect the development of the program with regard to satisfying the strategic goals of the organization.
  2. Program Director: The person in complete possession of the program is the director or the executive sponsor.
  3. Program Manager: The person involved in managing the program and the associated projects, and who serves as a bridge between the organization and the project members.
  4. Executive Sponsor: A person involved in making program-related decisions and is always associated with the program management office.
  5. Program Office: The office of the program manager and his team that inspects whether the performance of the project team members is in accordance with the strategic goal of the organization and there is no deviation from the same.
  6. Program Team: The team whose members are associated with the Program Manager to assist him in leading the team in a better manner This organizational structure of the program enables the program manager to direct the project managers and his team to achieve the strategic goals of the company.

Let us look at the implementation phase in the next section of the program lifecycle management tutorial.

Implementation Phase

Once the program is initiated and the team members are identified, the program managers, along with the members, are headed towards enforcing the tasks for creating benefits to the organization in terms of maximizing its profits and achieving its objectives.

Let us look at the closure phase in the next section of the program lifecycle management tutorial.

Closure Phase

This phase focuses on the completion of the program period and documenting the failures and successes that accrue from the program.

Let us next discuss program benefits delivery in the following section of the program lifecycle management tutorial.

Program Benefits Delivery

The Program benefits delivery phase starts after the program management plan is reviewed and approved by the program governance board. This is where the major work of the program is carried out, and the program starts delivering the benefits. This is an iterative phase. During this phase, the components will get initialized, perform their work, and get closed.

The major activities within this phase are as follows:

  • The program components are initialized and planned; their output is integrated and managed so that the program benefits are realized.
  • The program manager positions the components to ensure successful completion of the program.
  • The program manager monitors the program and its components with regard to the uncertainties and brings about changes, if necessary, to adapt to the uncertainties.

As we have mentioned before, the following three component level sub-phases are repeated several times during the program benefits delivery:

  • Component planning and authorization
  • Component oversight and integration
  • Component transition and closure

The program benefits delivery phase ends when the program’s planned benefits are achieved or whenever a decision is made to terminate the program.

In the next section of the program lifecycle management tutorial, we will look at the component level sub-phases to understand the benefits delivery phase with more clarity.

Benefits management aims at maximizing the scope for delivery of a product, thus resulting in the achievement of strategic objectives of the organization. The program manager develops techniques and processes to key out, record, track changes and maintain the benefits created by the program.

Managing the benefits of a program involves a series of stages, namely:

  • Identifying the Benefits of the Program
  • Examining the Benefits Management Techniques
  • Planning the sequence of the program
  • Realizing the Benefits
  • Transition Period
  • Identifying the Benefits of the Program

This process deals with discovering and specifying the areas of business that provide gains to the organization in terms of deliverables.

  • Examining the Benefits Management Techniques

After the program charter has been signed by the stakeholders, it is the responsibility of the program manager to gather and define the specific benefits that the program is expected to create. Deduce the required elements that constitute the effective handling of benefits in a program by applying concise metrics.

  • Planning the Sequence of the Program

The Program Manager should formulate a plan, supervise the activities, map the benefits to the program, and maintain checkpoints to determine that there are no plan deviations.

This phase of benefits management mainly focuses on the associated projects of the program and their deliverables. The program manager should maintain a register to track the benefits acquired during the program.

This phase targets the closure of the program on account of the attainment of the objectives or cancellation of the program. The benefits acquired from the program should be consolidated and transferred to the ongoing program.

Let us now focus more on program benefits delivery in the next section of the program lifecycle management tutorial.

Next up, let us learn the methods that the Program Manager adopts to achieve maximum benefits from a program. These methods include:

  • Meeting the scheduled requirements of the program
  • Adhering to the governance process
  • Coordinating with the project managers
  • Supervising, discovering, and documenting any changes
  • Executing time, cost, and scope checks
  • Executing project evaluation checks
  • Communicating with the company’s stakeholders to update the status
  • Identifying risk factors, and performing risk mitigation and documentation of risk elements
  • Evaluating and approving any program change requests
  • Coordinating with the project managers and allocating resources, schedule activities, and inspecting performance

In the next section of the program lifecycle management tutorial, we will discuss program closure.

Program Closure

The purpose of the program closure is to bring about an orderly and controlled closure for a program. This phase comprises two sub-phases program transition and program close-out.

Within program transition, the following activities are performed: This phase determines the end of the program on account of accomplishment of goals or termination of the program. The benefits of the program should be fused and documented before being transferred to an ongoing program. This is because sometimes the program might require an overlap time frame to perform quality checks, support and maintain deliverables, and support the warrant of deliverables of the program.

Within program closeout, the following activities are performed. Like project closures, programs are also subject to close down, and the benefits should be transferred to the customers or people within the organization.

Firstly, the program sponsor and stakeholders should be informed about the closure of the program. The program manager clearly states the benefits of the program and its accomplishments to the organization.

In the closure state, the Program Manager releases the resources (personnel and technical), program management team, the administrative support team, and vendors that were used for the development of the program.

All the details, information, communications and records of the program should be delivered to the organization, and they become the assets of the company for any future references to build another program or incorporate them in the existing programs.

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Mapping of Processes to Life Cycle

Just as there are 47 project management processes divided into 5 process groups and 10 knowledge areas as described in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) edition V, the third edition of the program management standard provides a description of 36 processes. These processes are divided into 9 knowledge areas and 3 life cycle phases.

The table below provides a listing of all these processes.

Knowledge area

Program Definition

Benefits Delivery

Program Closure


  • Program initiation
  • Program management plan development
  • Program infrastructure development

  • Program execution management
  • Program performance monitoring and control

Program transition and benefits sustainment

Program closure


Program scope control



  • Program schedule planning

Program schedule control



  • Program cost estimation
  • Program financial framework establishment
  • Program financial management plan development

  • Component cost estimation
  • Program cost budgeting
  • Program financial monitoring and control

Program financial closure


Program quality planning

  • Program quality assurance
  • Program quality control



Resource planning

  • Resource prioritization
  • Resource inter-dependency management



Program risk management planning

  • Program risk identification
  • Program risk analysis
  • Program risk response planning
  • Program risk monitoring and control



Communications planning

  • Information distribution
  • Program performance reporting



Plan procurement planning

  • Program procurement
  • Program procurement administration

Program procurement closure

As you may observe, the first column contains a description of the knowledge area that the processes belong to. Processes belonging to program definition are in the second column, program benefits delivery processes are in the third column, and program closure processes are in the fourth column. You will also observe that not all the columns in the table are filled.

For example, there is no scope management process in the program closure phase. However, all the knowledge areas contain at least one definition and at least one benefits delivery process.

There are only 3 knowledge areas where closure activities are performed. These are integration management, financial management, and procurement management.

Finally, We would like to point out the differences between the knowledge areas of project management and program management.

Project management has one extra knowledge area, stakeholder management. This is addressed as a “domain” within program management. In program management, cost management is replaced with financial management, to indicate the fact that program managers deal with the overall financial framework and not just costs on a program.

Similarly, HR management is replaced with resource management to indicate the fact that program managers manage all the resources for a program – not just the people.

You can take a look at this table for a bird’s eye view of all the processes and the way they are classified. This table is also present in the program management standard.

Let us now check your understanding of the topics covered in this lesson.


Here’s a wrap up of everything that has been covered so far:

  • The program definition phase consists of program formulation and program preparation.
  • The program benefits delivery phase deals with the delivery of incremental benefits as the components get initiated and transitioned.
  • The program closure phase includes program transition, i.e., transition of the benefits to the receiving organization, and program closeout, i.e., formal closure of the program.
  • There are 36 program management processes that map to different phases of the program’s life cycle.

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