7 Steps to Ace the Project Execution Phase

• Project

You’ve done the difficult “figuring out” part; you know what needs to be done, who’s going to do it, and when it needs to be done. You now have the predefined steps that will help your team actualize your plans.

The execution phase is usually the longest phase in the project life cycle; and the most demanding. Your team carries out all the planned activities during this stage, constructs the deliverables, and presents them to the project stakeholders.

Your focus, as a project manager, will change to performing and supervising all activities to create the deliverables as outlined in the project plan. As long as your team works effectively and adheres to the plan, you’ll be on track to successful project completion.

In project management, there might be hiccups along the way but if you catch them early on, it’s easy to course-correct. You’ll need to continuously track the project’s progress and ensure that the milestones and deliverables stick to the project schedule. For this reason, the execution stage always happens in concurrence with the next phase–project controlling and monitoring.

Step back and let your team take the lead

The majority of the activities during this phase will be handled by your team. You need to step back a bit and let your team carry out the project plan. It’s a fine line to tread, you need to give your team enough autonomy while taking care that everything goes according to plan.

You need to play the role of a conductor in an orchestra.

The project manager has three main objectives during the execution phase:

  • Managing people
  • Managing processes
  • Managing communication

What happens during the execution phase?

Depending on the nature of the project and your organizational preferences, you’ll decide the sequence of activities that will happen during the execution phase.

  • Execute the project scope
  • Manage the team’s work
  • Recommend changes and corrective actions
  • Manage project communication with stakeholders
  • Conduct team-building exercises
  • Celebrate project milestones and motivate team members
  • Hold status review meetings to make sure everything is on schedule
  • Document all changes to the project plan

What’s produced during the execution phase?

The execution phase is where all the action happens and the plans start materializing. There will be changes to the scope and the documentation will change as a result. This phase produces the following:

1. Project deliverables

Project deliverables are the tangible outputs of the project. They need to reviewed, tested, and meet the acceptance criteria given by the clients.

2. Change requests

When client expectations change or there’s a disconnect between the team’s understanding of the client’s requirements, scope changes happen. These are documented in the change requests, which are then reviewed and approved.

3. Performance data

The execution stage produces a lot of data points that you can use to optimize your team’s performance. You can find where your team is spending most of their time on and how you can cut down on time and costs.

4. Issue log

Whenever there are bugs, issues, or defects, you document them in the issue log. This will help you get back to the issues and fix them.

5. Documentation updates

Any changes to the documents created during the planning phase like the project scope and project schedule will be documented.

What challenges are you likely to face?

In his book, Filling Execution Gaps, Todd Williams identifies six gaps that companies need to close to ensure project success.

  • A lack of common understanding
  • Uninvolved sponsors
  • Misalignment with strategic project objectives and goals
  • Poor change management processes
  • Ineffective corporate governance
  • Poor leadership

7 strategies for successful project execution

According to the PMI’s Pulse of the Profession report, the surveyed executive leaders said that only 60 percent of their strategic initiatives met goals. There’s a huge gap between the plan and the day-to-day implementation.

Here are some strategies for project execution plan that will help you bridge that gap:

1. Delegate tasks to get work done effectively

Task delegation does not mean that you let go of every aspect of the project and start depending on the team members. Instead, it means that you enable your team and build their confidence by making them responsible for a small part of the project. It can be a repetitive task or something you feel a particular member is better at.

2. Empower your team to make decisions

An empowering environment is a sufficient motivator for team members that encourages them to go above and beyond. Give them enough authority to make decisions and take the necessary steps to fulfill the plan.

3. Be open to new ideas

It’s good practice to involve the team in making some decisions. Even if they suggest a different approach than what you had in mind, appreciate their input, and be flexible enough to accept better suggestions. This will serve as a good motivator and make the team feel valued and their contributions acknowledged.

4. Manage the communication

It’s the responsibility of the project manager to consistently maintain effective collaboration between the project team and the project stakeholders. You need to share the project’s progress to all stakeholders throughout this phase frequently.

Schedule periodic meetings with the project team to review the current status of the project. Discuss the next steps in the project, obstacles, and how to solve these problems during these meetings.

5. Measure progress regularly

There’s no way to know if you’re staying on track if you aren’t measuring the project’s progress. Your project planning process included setting measurable goals and KPIs (key performance indicators). This is where all the effort you put into documentation comes in handy.

During the execution phase, risks may materialize. By continuously assessing the risks, you equip your team with contingencies and keep the project from failure.

6. Control the scope

Almost every project suffers from a nasty monster called Scope Creep. It is when the project slowly grows out of your control and beyond the project’s original scope.

Now, you cannot and should not avoid all change requests. Most projects require you to iterate and adapt to change. Market conditions, client needs, organizational priorities can change and you need to deal with them.

7. Ensure the quality of the output

No matter how flawless your team is, there isn’t a project that’s devoid of defects. It’s always a good practice to make sure that you’ve translated the client’s expectations into the deliverable. Test those deliverables and see if they meet the acceptance criteria

Review all deliverables with the stakeholders

Once you have the deliverables ready, you’d schedule a formal phase review with all key stakeholders. All deliverables are reviewed, accepted, and approved. If there are any passable issues, they are documented along with their resolution plan and all relevant plans and documents are updated accordingly.

Once you have the green light from the stakeholders, you officially proceed to the next phase – project closure phase.

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