As Mike Tyson so eloquently said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."
Project execution rarely goes as planned, and change is a constant threat (or opportunity). Even the best-laid project execution plan may need to be changed when the rubber hits the road.
Project management isn't just about completing the job on time and within budget. It's also about enabling your company to stay on top of the ever-shifting market, project objectives, and business requirements.
In short, business owners, managers, and entrepreneurs need to be ready for continuous change.
This article offers background, strategy, and tips for successful project execution. Let's dig in.
What is project execution?
Execution in project management is the “doing” or development phase of a project lifecycle and tends to be the longest. It's the stage where you turn ideas and your project plan into reality (deliverables).
Typically, you’ll only start this stage once you have received the final buy-in for your project plan and allocated project resources.
- Phase 1: Project initiation
- Phase 2: Project planning
- Phase 3: Project execution
- Phase 4: Project monitoring and control
- Phase 5: Project close-out
In Agile, it’s the 2nd or 3rd phase of the iterative methodology:
- Phase 1: Planning
- Phase 2: Implementation (aka execution)
- Phase 3: Review
- Phase 4: Retrospect
- Phase 1: Project initiation
- Phase 2: Project planning
- Phase 3: Project execution
- Phase 4: Project close-out
What happens during project execution?
No matter the project management approach, there's a lot happening during the project execution stage. Let's unpack a few key activities:
Crafting and presenting deliverables
At the top of the list, this is when your team(s) execute project activities to produce completed products that'll be given to project stakeholders (aka project deliverables).
Deliverables can be a new product, promotional activities, feature enhancements, sales presentation, a reduction in cancellations, or a higher SEO Score.
Clients or quality assurance (QA) resources should review every deliverable for quality before moving on to the next step.
During project execution, a lot of documentation is produced, from status reports to the final deliverables themselves. It's important to organize, store, and manage this avalanche of information
A project management platform is, hands down, the best way to not only track and manage project tasks but also the associated documentation.
Project control and assessment
During execution, the project manager shifts their focus from general concepts and project management plans to track progress. To do so, they track completed work against predetermined metrics, project milestones, and the project timeline.
At the ground level, this includes making sure the deliverables are meeting project requirements and watching the project budget like a hawk.
Project scope management
You (and task owners) should continuously ensure the work aligns with the project's scope.
Without effective scope control, you might end up with scope creep that can change the output of your project (and increase costs).
To do this, you can schedule regular scope reviews (say, once a minor milestone has been reached). If things get off track, devise a resolution plan to get them back on track.
One of the most challenging elements of any project is people management. Do this wrong, and you get ineffective teamwork, which can negatively affect your project. Delays, poor quality, and upset customers are some consequences best avoided.
Instead, find ways to motivate your team, pitch in and celebrate successes.
You can also use a servant-leader approach. Servant leaders collaborate with and involve employees to bring out their best.
Nothing makes project execution easier, whether waterfall or agile, than a high-performing team.
Frequent communication between internal stakeholders, customers, and your team(s) is necessary during execution, or you'll sink faster than the Titanic.
Effective stakeholder communication is all about transparency. To get there, you need to know who, how, and when to talk to everyone involved in a project.
Transparency can build trust among your team, which leads to increased collaboration, easier people management, and better results (read: project success).
Project scheduling can and does change due to resource constraints and client needs.
To stay flexible, many use the Agile methodology (and communicate a lot).
It's best to use project management software to stay on top, if not ahead, of your project schedule.
The ultimate solution is an AI scheduling assistant like Motion. With it, you can automate much of the scheduling process.
Costly project execution challenges
During the project execution stage, there are many (costly) challenges that can derail an entire project. Here are some of the big ones.
Scope creep is when changes are made to a project after it starts that weren't in the original plan. These changes can come from anywhere, including key stakeholders, customers, and supply chain complications. It's the biggest enemy of execution and can easily cost you project success.
Weak change management
There's a strong correlation between change requests and scope creep.
A change request typically comes from a client or influential stakeholder. How you manage it (acknowledge, decide, and maybe incorporate) is the key here.
Keeping your finger on quality is no easy walk in the park.
Often, during the project lifecycle, many tasks are being worked on, and deliverables are being pumped out. Ensuring consistent quality around all of this is a project unto itself.
Lack of resources (and proper leadership)
During execution, priorities can shift, and key resources may become overloaded. Or there may be a shortage of personnel in the first place. Either can jeopardize the project timeline (and budget).
7 Strategies that can help with project execution
Here are seven strategies to help you with project execution (and cross that finish line).
1. Use project management software
If you're engaging with stakeholders often (as you should be), collaborating on cross-functional teams, or balancing a portfolio of projects, project management software will provide the transparency you need.
Project management software can also help automate tasks, plan projects, and improve workflows with features like task dependencies.
No matter the size of your team (or the project's complexity), the most effective project management tools are adjustable, adaptable, and user-friendly (and, nowadays, AI-powered).
An example is Motion, which can help manage and automate allocating tasks and meetings for an entire team. This means there's less likelihood of scheduling conflicts or delays during execution.
2. Keep your fingers on the quality pulse
A good place to start with quality management is with a solid communication plan.
A strong communication plan can help collaborate on resolving issues in a timely manner when they pop up.
Another tip is to set up regular feedback loops where you and your team members review progress and hash out issues. Sprint reviews, and stand-ups are feedback loops you can apply to any project type.
Say you are managing a coffee delivery project. In the feedback loop, you find out that a supplier delivered old coffee beans. This will give you time to source fresh beans so customers can continue to enjoy the best cup of Joe.
3. Stay on top of changes (and scope creep)
When you get a change request (and you will!), you need to decide whether it's worth pursuing. Evaluate it carefully, be realistic, and, most importantly, communicate.
If you give the change the go-ahead, you still need to manage it so it doesn't get out of hand.
Be sure to keep an eye on the scope of the project. To do this, you can go beyond scope reviews and strengthen your scope creep defense with regular check-ins with the project team (like those daily stand-ups).
Let's say you use daily stand-ups with your coffee project. During one of these, a team member points out that customizable coffee cups are becoming too costly, eating away at your profit margin. Time to pivot.
4. Manage stakeholder expectations
Customer and stakeholder satisfaction is heavily reliant on effective expectation management.
Despite mistakes or challenges, it's important to communicate clearly during the project. This can prevent confusion and delays, especially when changes are requested.
Aside from that, there are a few other ways you can manage stakeholder expectations:
- Ask your stakeholders what they want from the project. This will help you tailor your messaging to them.
- Tell stakeholders what they need to know (a project management tool can help you do this automatically and keep all the information stored centrally).
- Set up regular meetings to discuss project progress with stakeholders (sold on daily stand-ups yet?)
Let's say you use Motion for the coffee business. With it, you and your team can easily see all the tasks for a particular client, and once a task has been completed or moved to a particular stage, it automatically updates everyone.
5. Keep track of important project metrics
You should frequently evaluate metrics such as:
- Tasks Status
By tracking these carefully, you'll spot potential issues before they become full-blown problems.
And, like most of the other strategies, easier and better done with project management software.
6. Build a “fail fast” team culture
A "fail fast" mindset uses negative outcomes as valuable teaching moments. And then, when you and your team encounter a problem, you can quickly pivot. i.e., learn from your mistakes early and react fast.
Say your coffee project app failed at launch. Because of the "fail fast" attitude, your team quickly identifies the problem and rebuilds a working app at breakneck speed.
7. Assign clear responsibilities and accountabilities to your team members
You must ensure that your team understands the project goals and their roles in the project execution.
A RACI chart is one of the most effective ways to help do just that. RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. Using the chart, the team can easily see who does what on the project.
For the coffee business, the shop manager is responsible (R) and accountable (A) for ordering new coffee beans, the baristas are consulted (C), and the delivery drivers are informed (I).
Make project execution easier with Motion
Like a juggler, during the execution phase of a project, you have a lot of balls in the air with coordinating communication, employees, strategy, scope, clients, time, and schedules.
Use the power of project management software to keep those balls in the air.
Motion has various features to help you accomplish projects, simplify procedures, and align on shared objectives in one unified workspace.
Sign up for your 7-day free trial today!