Project execution: one of the most critical phases of a project, but one of the most difficult phases to manage. This guide will help you stay on track.
As a project manager, you know the value of the planning and preparation phases of your project. After all, you can't expect a project to go well if you haven't prepared for it! But as the saying goes, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry" – and even perfect planning doesn't ensure project success.
The key is to take those plans forwards in a well-managed project execution phase. This part of the project life cycle can be full of challenges for the team lead, and you may find that there's so much going on, you're not sure where to focus your attention.
In this guide, we'll look at the challenges you might face in the project execution stage, how to minimize the risks they pose to your project, and how a project execution plan can lead your team to repeatable project success.
Project execution refers to the "doing" phase of the project. The project plan, which was approved during the planning stage, is carried out and all the project outputs are achieved. During this phase, project team members work on their assigned roles, and the manager keeps everything on track by monitoring metrics, costs, and project resources.
This phase is also called the control phase because this is where the production of project deliverables is initiated, internal stakeholders are updated on project's status, and there is the opportunity to realign the project direction if needed, to keep it on the right path.
Even a well-executed project will encounter some minor issues or errors. Here are some challenges project managers may face during the execution phase:
As you track progress of individual tasks in the project, you may notice delays. These could be due to a lack of available human resources, technology, or geographic problems. Delays can also be an effect of project dependencies within the project.
Scope creep happens when miscommunication or external conditions result in changes from the initial plan. In the absence of solid change management procedures, minor alterations can become large-scale modifications that affect overall project execution.
Improper resource allocation, uncontrolled scope creep, and delays in the timeline all contribute to financial overruns. While the project is still running, you can expect payroll, contracts, leases, and utilities to continue simultaneously, so delays in project delivery equate to overuse of the project's resources.
A project manager or team leader may instill independence and self-sufficiency in their team, but there is a fine line between teaching and absenteeism. Ineffective project governance and a lack of oversight may threaten a project's success.
If middle management are making decisions throughout the execution phase, it is vital that they have all the information they need, such as risk logs, feedback, and project status reports. Otherwise, the resolutions made or approvals given may be subjective rather than objective.
Mitigating project execution challenges can be daunting, especially if you have an entire project to oversee. Before the project execution phase starts, conduct a risk analysis to gauge possible outcomes and prepare contingencies.
During project execution itself, minimize the risk of something going wrong by employing these five strategies:
By employing a project execution strategy, you can reduce the risk of execution gaps and ensure your project's progress moves forward smoothly.
Part of the preparation phase is establishing a project execution plan (PEP). This differs from the project management plan (PMP), a comprehensive guide on the whole project, because the PEP focuses on the processes and procedures for the project execution phase.
The PEP acts as a handbook of guidelines referencing standard systems and methods for tasks, costs, and approving authorities in the execution phase. It should be agreed by everyone involved in the implementation of the project, including team members, stakeholders, external or third-party contracts, and outsourced groups or individuals.
Since it is a fluid document that records all project changes and updates to the overall status, all modifications should also be communicated to the entire team, to keep everyone on the same page.
It can be stressful to look into all the components of a PEP, and it may take a while to set up from scratch, so here's a quick guide to the key elements your PEP should include:
This is the approved charter during project planning, including the project goals, project scope, and deliverables.
A list of project tasks, corresponding team member assignments, and how long each task is going to be.
The timeline and order of tasks that need to be completed are indicated here, including the milestones for a set of tasks.
A list of all available and upcoming required resources, their matching costs, and where these resources will be distributed.
This is to set a clear definition of everyone's job function, make sure the roles are not duplicated, and foster team accountability and responsibility, including the approvers or senior authorities involved in the project.
Changes made, even to the tiniest detail, should be appropriately documented in this section, including the date it was requested, who requested it, and who authorized the changes.
Constraints on budget, quality, resources, and policies should be registered and recorded, as well as the date and people involved for review, assessment, and guidance for the next project.
In addition to the above-listed structure, it would be helpful if the PEP also had the following:
The project execution phase can make or break your project, but it doesn't need to be daunting. With the help of a clear project execution plan and the right project management tools, PMs can successfully navigate the challenges and risks of the project execution phase, to produce high-quality, timely project deliverables.
No one ever said that change was easy! But following change management best practices will give you the best shot at great results from your change initiative.
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