Project Management

lifecycleManaging public safety communications projects benefit from taking a project lifecycle approach, which consists of five stages and requires a disciplined approach to success. The Project Management Book of Knowledge Guide (PMBOK®Guide)1 defines these stages as: 1) Initiating Process, 2) Planning Process, 3) Executing Process, 4) Monitoring and Control Process, and 5) Closing Process. To successfully implement your technology project, you should understand these key stages. 

The Department of Homeland Security Office of Emergency Communications refers to system lifecycle planning as the sum of all recurring and one-time nonrecurring costs over the full lifespan or a specified period of a service structure or system. It includes purchase price, installation costs, operating costs, maintenance and upgrade costs, and remaining residual or salvage value at the end of ownership or its useful life. 

SEARCH can assist with your project lifecycle needs through its years of experience in providing technical assistance and training/education, and developing resources to help organizations manage public safety and justice agency technology projects of all sizes. 

Steps in the Project Lifecycle

The first step of the project lifecycle, initiating, helps get the project off to a good start and creates an environment of shared understanding and engagement with key stakeholders. Develop a project charter from the start—it should provide the business case, authorize the project (committing resources for it), and identify key stakeholders and governance. From there, the project moves on to the planning stage—one of, if not the most important stages in the project lifecycle.

Project planning begins with engaging an experienced, capable project manager, who can bring the key stakeholders together to confirm the project’s objectives and secure commitment of resources. The project management plan that emerges should clearly articulate the objectives, milestones, and resources that the project requires to succeed. The project manager should ensure that the plan receives proper review by the project’s governance structure, and that it remains a current, relevant document for all stakeholders throughout the project. 

Thoughtful, careful planning at the right level of detail is a critical success factor for any technology project. Project planning is not to be confused with a Schedule or Milestone Plan, i.e., GANTT Chart (a chart that defines the schedule for the project). A project management plan has many elements and factors, to include:

  • Defined Scope
  • Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
  • Cost/Budget Plan
  • Schedule
  • Resource Plan (material and labor)
  • Communications Plan
  • Risk Management Plan
  • Procurement Plan

The level of detail or depth for each element will depend on the size, cost, visibility, and risk of success for your technology project. For example, a low-cost, high-risk and high-visibility project may require a more detailed communications plan to keep key internal and external stakeholders informed of the progress and risks of the project. 

Risks can play a big role in the planning process. With proper project planning, projects can greatly mitigate significant risk, such as:

  • Key stakeholders not understanding the goals, objectives, milestones, and timelines of the project
  • Key resources, such as staff or technology investments, not being available when needed
  • Difficulty in measuring and communicating progress
  • Lack of coordination between key project participants


Executing the project can only begin once proper planning is complete. The project manager now begins to assemble the project team and focuses on actuating the project plan. The project is now moving ahead and resources, procurements, installations, documentation, etc. are all being executed—however, this does not suggest that all elements are as planned. This is where the project manager must manage stakeholder expectations and provide the bridge between the project technical objectives and business objectives. 

Managing expectations is only part of the equation—monitoring and controlling the project—is required to ensure the project stays within the constraints identified in the planning stages of the lifecycle. However, a project management plan is not a perfect prediction of how the project will go, nor is it a set of precise instructions to be followed without consideration of circumstances that arise during the project. The value of planning is in the disciplined thinking it requires: what is this project trying to achieve, and what is the current understanding of the steps (activities, investments, and so on) required to achieve it? The most successful projects recognize that the business context and environment in which a project operates will change constantly – and therefore the plan must evolve along with them. Successful projects also recognize that it is important to avoid over-planning – that it is best to do the right amount of planning; to identify key objectives, milestones, and resources; and to plan frequent and well-communicated updates to the plan as the project unfolds.

Now the project is done and everyone is ready to move onto the next project—but a missed opportunity awaits those who do not take the time to formally close the project. How well did your plan projections meet your actuals? Were you under-, over- or right-on with your budget? Understanding the lessons learned on your project will help you in the future with planning and projections for the next technology project. Additionally, the project must be transitioned from the project implementation team to the operational aspect of the organization.

Project lifecycle management does not always guarantee success, because as we all know in the public safety field there are many unforeseen circumstances that can arise in the course of a project. What does hold true is that public safety technology projects have proven to be more successful when we plan and follow this methodology.

Additional Resources

Need advice on project lifecycle management for your agency’s or jurisdiction’s project? Want resource materials? SEARCH is here to help through a variety of tools, resources and publications.

View or download these SEARCH Public Safety Issue Briefs:

  • Improving Life Cycle Management Through IT Service Management, which examines both the traditional and Information Technology Service Management (ITSM) approaches to life cycle management, and why it is important to engage in a continual improvement process. It reveals how managing public safety services using elements of ITSM can increase service quality, reliability, and operational efficiency.
  • The “Accidental” Project Manager. Public safety operations, communications, or first responder personnel may find themselves in the position of managing an IT project for their organization—sometimes with little or no preparation. This brief examines this trial-by-fire nature of project management and outlines how to effectively manage this reality.
  • Free Project Management Tools. As budgets diminish, public safety project managers must find new ways to manage projects with fewer resources. Free project management tools can support capital and noncapital public safety projects. This brief provides an overview of free project management tools, and summarizes how to use them to support public safety projects. 

Listen to these SEARCH podcasts that address aspects of project management and lifecycle planning:

View or download Create a Project Plan, an excerpt from SEARCH’s Law Enforcement Tech Guide: How to plan, purchase and manage technology

View or download this SEARCH presentation, Strategic Planning 101: Critical Success Factors and Surefire Ways to Fail!

View or download a Sample Project Plan

1 Project Management Institute “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®Guide) – Fourth Edition, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2008.

All projects require a plan

Successfully automated and integrated information system projects are preceded and accompanied by continual, comprehensive and strategic planning, which allows system stakeholders to develop a roadmap for the future.

A good plan determines the range of user needs, identifies automation priorities, and considers technology and data standards. It focuses on the human and funding resources required to support these systems. It embraces the systems development lifecycle. The plan addresses operational systems specifications, hardware and software standards, existing systems and the environment in which the automated system will work.

Planning ensures that all users have their needs addressed by the system. Planning also includes a complete business process review to find better, more effective and more efficient ways of doing business. It contemplates future needs of the agency and users, scheduled upgrades and replacements.

Source: Law Enforcement Tech Guide: How to plan, purchase and manage technology (successfully!)

Briefly, what is a project plan?

The Project Plan serves as the detailed roadmap guiding continued project planning, procurement, implementation and management. It is a disciplined effort to produce decisions and actions. The resulting Plan will catalog the decisions about what to do, and when, why and how to do it. It is an inclusive process, and is designed to keep all project stakeholders “on the same page.”

While the Project Charter is a succinct document that illustrates the vision and intent of the proposed project and its key sponsors, the Plan articulates the specifics of getting the project done. The Project Charter is a key building block and starting point for the Plan.

A thorough Project Plan also assists in managing user expectations by detailing exactly what will be accomplished, how and when, and by whom. The process and subsequent documentation keeps things focused and moving forward. By documenting issues that have been dealt with and decided upon, it prevents “covering the same ground,” which can often bog a project down.

Source: Law Enforcement Tech Guide: How to plan, purchase and manage technology (successfully!)

Karen Lissy

Ms. Karen Lissy is a Justice Information Services Specialist for the Law and Policy Program of SEARCH, The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics. In this position, she provides assistance to state and local justice and public safety agencies to collect, curate, and use National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) data and computerized criminal history record (CCH/CHRI) information for policy analysis and development.

She also guides justice and related organizations in how to craft and implement laws, policies, practices, and technology applications to effectively collect and use CCH and related justice/public safety data; address legal, policy, and regulatory issues associated with CCH data; better manage and operate criminal justice information and identification systems; and develop security and privacy policies that protect justice information sharing systems.

Ms. Lissy has nearly two decades of research and data analysis experience, having led projects and tasks in support of two agencies within the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs (the Bureau of Justice Statistics and National Institute of Justice), as well as the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, and multiple foundations, including Ford, Annie E. Casey, and Hewlett. Prior to joining SEARCH in October 2020, Ms. Lissy served as a Social Science Researcher at RTI International, as a regional Crime Analyst for the Redmond (WA) Police Department, and as Director of a research program with the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. Beginning in 2012, Ms. Lissy’s work has focused on improving data in law enforcement to answer policy questions and improve community/police relations.

Ms. Lissy earned a Bachelor’s degree in Public Policy from Duke University, and a Master’s in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Michael Mackay

Mr. Michael Mackay is an Information Sharing Developer for SEARCH, The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics. As part of the Software and Data Engineering Program (SDEP) team, he plans, develops, implements, and deploys information sharing systems on behalf of SEARCH clients in local, state, tribal, and Federal government settings. He also provides programming, configuration, and testing assistance, and consults on implementation architecture and design with clients. 

Mr. Mackay supports justice, public safety, and homeland security information sharing nationwide through SDEP services that include software architecture and systems design, application development, deployment and support, data management services, and direct technical assistance and training. These services offer capabilities that include federated query, authentication access/control, subscription/notification, process/workflow automation, data analysis, and more. 

Prior to joining SEARCH in 2021, Mr. Mackay worked as a Software Engineering Intern for TDM Business Toole Suite, where he provided software development support using Java frameworks, implemented relational database models using MySQL, and designed GUI components using NetBeans. 

Mr. Mackay will work in an Agile development environment, a methodology that SEARCH embraces that focuses on incremental development and delivery, collaboration in a team approach, and rapid and flexible response to change throughout the development cycle. 

Mr. Mackay earned a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Applied Mathematics and Statistics from Stony Brook University, New York.