A brief overview of the dig­i­tal project life­cy­cle and typ­i­cal steps for design and soft­ware development

Be aware: organizations may run wildly different processes depending on the product, services offered, and partnerships they offer. Use this as a loose reference to guide your own organization.

A cycle diagram listing the phases of the Project Lifecycle in the order of the sections mentioned in this page

Notice anything interesting? The digital project lifecycle mimics a typical software, marketing, or campaign lifecycle. There is an official start, planning and strategizing pieces, designing and application of ideas, and delivery of value before the project closes.

Check out our Project lifecycle template.

Project intake

These are the typical steps you complete during project intake or sales.


  1. Lead comes in
  2. First call
  3. Initial review of overall scope, schedule, budget, and risk analysis to determine project fit
  4. Second call (third call or more if needed)
  5. Sale closes with a signed agreement outlining understanding of scope (for part of project, full project or retainer) and first payment to hold the spot

Project initiation (if internal facing team)

  1. Project concept announced
  2. Team scopes, budgets, and prioritizes project based on impact, effort, and reach
  3. Initial project summary and roadmap drafted

Project setup and planning

These are the typical steps you complete to set up and plan your project.

  1. Upon receipt of first payment, schedule:

    A. Pre-kickoff: PM and point of contact re: what to expect at kickoff

    B. Internal kickoff: Project team to discuss goals and strategy

    C. Kickoff: Project team and external or client stakeholders

    D. Post Kickoff: Quick follow up between PM and internal project team

  2. Onboard and welcome stakeholders

  3. Setup project tools/folders/systems, establish process, constraints, any relevant milestones

  4. Review, post, and share kickoff notes

Research and discovery

Begin discovery phase and prepare research sprint(s) (documentation and exploration)

  1. Begin research sprint(s) (documentation and exploration)
  2. Determine and flesh out project scope and requirements, budget, flexible schedule, people resources, risks, communication, QA/QC, and launch plan
  3. Create formal project plan; share with client; get approval for rest of project
  4. Mandatory re-estimate of scope; add any addendums to agreement

Project management and delivery

These are the typical steps you complete to manage and deliver your project.


  1. Information architecture, user flows, content strategy, wireframing or prototyping begins
  2. If not coding (aka static mockup), clickable wireframe is created. Also called low fi prototype
  3. Additional research related to technical specs (e.g., server setup, APIs, integrations), content structure, messaging, and hierarchy, legal or regulatory outline
  4. Content is organized and developed
  5. Team and PM note any scope, budget, or schedule changes and communicates back to stakeholders

Design & development

  1. Style guide or brand guidelines developed (if Branding: logo and other assets created)
  2. Hi-fi prototyping
  3. CMS development is integrated (if relevant)
  4. If app, development sprints are staggered after design sprints
  5. Documentation and technical specifications incorporated
  6. Regular reviews and sign-offs take place for each iteration
  7. Change control: estimate additional scope/sprints for out of scope items
  8. Quality control: Testing, bug fixes, and feature prioritization occurs throughout
  9. Document scope, schedule, budget changes and notify stakeholders throughout

Project close and transition

These are the typical steps you complete to close and transition your project.

Launch/deployment/ongoing phases

  1. Stakeholder onboarding and training to CMS/app use (documentation required)
  2. Quality assurance and additional threshold testing
  3. Bundle all assets for delivery
  4. User testing and ongoing metrics tracking (e.g., ROI)
  5. Submission for approval for app store, if relevant
  6. Retrospective with team
  7. Plan schedule and scope details for next phase
  8. Point domain, if relevant
  9. Launch
  10. Post-launch adjustments as needed
  11. Begin next phase

Related resources

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What a healthy digital agency looks like

The traits and qualities that define our most successful agency partners

Project benchmarking 101

Projects, process, and people health

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