How to Execute a Project

Welcome to the wonderful world of project management! The Project Management Institute (PMI), the PM’s foremost authority, identifies five basic steps in the project lifecycle.  

  1. Initiating 
  2. Planning
  3. Executing 
  4. Controlling 
  5. Closing 

This blog post targets the execution phase—carrying out the project plan.

Project execution is typically the most challenging phase of the project lifecycle where tasks and deliverables are put into action and thoroughly monitored to ensure the project succeeds.

Sandwiched between the planning and control phrases, project execution is where you:

  • Initiate workflows and processes
  • Create and develop deliverables
  • Conduct regular meetings and project-related communication
  • Track the progress of your tasks

As a side note, it’s worth mentioning here that this third step in the project lifecycle, execution, runs simultaneously with phase four, controlling. Don’t be surprised when you see the two phases mashed together.

When looking at the project lifecycle in a sequenced manner, this is the best, most logical way to organize the information.

Need a flowchart? Here’s our proprietary tool.

There are three main areas to consider regarding project execution.

  1. People — be sure to stay connected with all the project players. Team members, vendors, and stakeholders are all needed to execute a project successfully. Resource management is essential to project completion. Remember, don’t focus too much on daily tasks. Micromanaging leads to worker dissatisfaction. Keep your eye on deliverables and let people get there how they need to.
  2. Processes — tracking workflow and staying on top of processes help keep the project schedule on track. If you don’t have processes established, create them. Or, if they prove inadequate, redefine them. Setting up sets of steps that work in real life helps create repeatable success methods and shaves time off the hours needed to do the work. Standardizing the work also helps to ensure consistent quality.
  3. Communication — holding team meetings and reporting progress can make or break a project. If communication breaks down, activities falter, and the project devolves. Communication should be consistent, clear, and timely. Staying in contact with your people helps to avoid surprises on either side.

Execute the Project Management Plan

Easier said than done. Now is the time to follow your project management plan.

Kick-Off Meeting

While there is a kick-off meeting in the project’s initiation phase, there should now be a formally assigned resource team and a more significant amount of information to disseminate to them. Get everyone aligned by presenting:

  • key milestones + deliverables
  • interdependencies
  • communication + collaboration standards
  • document storage locations
  • objectives

Importantly, make sure to define roles and who is doing what. While the team should have been involved in the planning stage, this meeting serves to clarify grey areas and answer any questions that have cropped up regarding the project.

Establish standing meeting times and places now, with all the players together and able to provide their schedule preferences.

Document Storage

Struggling to find the right files means that time is lost from performing the actual work. Optimize your workflow by adhering to a clear, intuitive folder/file structure.

Ensure files are stored in a central location with adequate permissions for the whole team to read and edit accordingly.

As a Microsoft partner, we advocate using SharePoint as it comes with a variety of useful project features, including version control and real-time collaboration. Consider adding metadata tags that allow files to be sorted and filtered for more complex projects or mature organizations. Additional features include review process workflows and sharing files via links.

Watch this overview of our Project Manager’s Guide to Modern SharePoint for more information.

Focus on the Schedule and Budget

Where does executing end and monitoring/controlling begin? Well…

Automated Reminders

A great tip is to set up automated reminders. Rather than constantly checking in with team members, which is annoying for them and the project manager, have a bot do it.

Have you ever heard of killing the messenger? Let a robot do your dirty work and remain an innocent bystander.

Reminders aren’t just for team members. The project manager can set up reminders for themselves to stay on top of key milestones, reports to stakeholders, vendor check-ins, etc.

Plans vs. Reality

Everyone does their best to execute the plan, but the plan is, at its heart, just a theory as to how the project will be completed. Real-life has a way of throwing wrenches in even the best-laid proposals.

The best way for teams to be proactive about project execution is to anticipate potential problems before they have a chance to snowball. We’ll get more into change control in our next blog in this series.

Keep in mind that some of these issues should be addressed during the project planning phase. Do your best to keep the schedule on track and stay within budget proactively by communicating expectations, having clear requirements, and adding buffer time into your schedule before you execute a project.

Consider Project Performance/Milestones

While the schedule is overarching, hitting specific project milestones and key performance indicators is vital to keep the project on track.  

Regular & Irregular Team Meetings 

A weekly team meeting (at minimum) is standard and gives everyone visibility into work that has been completed, knowledge of what’s coming up next, the opportunity to address issues, roadblocks, and much more. Take notes and adhere to a clear meeting structure.

Most importantly, celebrate wins and accomplishments. This is an important time to build team camaraderie and increase buy-in. As a project manager or team lead, your role also requires you to be a sort of motivator-in-chief.

Check-ins and chat messages that are off-the-cuff can feel a bit more personalized and impactful for teammates that may need support. Make sure to build this naturally into your project communication plan.

Maintaining a positive tone during your team communication can go a long way in terms of motivation.

Look at Risk, Issues, Change

You have a risk management plan for the project, now is the time to execute it. Changes to the project should be carefully considered. Look at the project performance as a whole. This is another area of project execution that bleeds into the next phase of the lifecycle.  

Reporting & Meeting with Stakeholders

The only thing stakeholders like less than going over budget are surprises. Execute your communication plan and deliver the facts straightforwardly. While everyone seems to find themselves “managing up” at points, make sure that you’re presenting an accurate picture rather than an idealized one.

Keep expectations in check, and remember, if something goes wrong, it will be better if everyone sees it coming.  

Reporting should be done in a timely and clear manner. Making reports easily digestible and visually attractive is always suggested. Incorporate charts and graphs—keep a close eye on the designs you’re using, sometimes the data can become misconstrued.

For Microsoft users, Power BI is a great option for generating reports, it also ties into Microsoft Project, Excel, and a variety of other applications.

Nailing the execution phase is easier said than done.

But once you have a few projects under your belt with your team, you can better understand what you need to do to make your plans into reality.

Either way, the ability to seamlessly communicate and endlessly document each piece of your project should be a top priority. Doing so allows your team to maximize their schedules and actually focus on their tasks en route to completion.

This concludes the execution phase. Catch up on the previous two phases; Initiation and Planning. The next phase of the project lifecycle is Monitoring.

Put the project management process to work

Processes and frameworks are great to have in your back pocket. But remember, every organization runs differently. Before rolling something out, you must consider the people, institutional history, challenges, and existing practices.

Motivations and empathy are everything in project management. So carry on, attack those projects, and do what’s right for everyone involved.

And if you’d like us to provide a deeper look into your organization to take the pain out of project management without sacrificing your hard-earned gains, we’d love to connect with you in a free 30-minute consultation.

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