Project execution is a must-have skill for beginning project managers. According to a researcher at the University of Baghdad, “The execution phase of the project is [the] most dangerous and the most draining on the resources during [the] project life cycle,” which is why it needs to be planned and monitored by a professional in order to succeed. Although it’s simple once you understand it, the process of creating a project execution plan can be complex. Explore more on what project execution is, why it’s so important, and everything else you need to know to create a truly successful project execution plan.
What is project execution?
Project execution is the name for all the phases of a project where the action happens. It’s one of the essential elements of a perfect project plan.
In the first phase, one of the many roles and responsibilities of the project manager is to plan the goals and objectives. In the second phase, they plan how those will be reached.
The execution phase (or phases if it’s a large, complex project) then kicks off, and teams get to work on the plan outlined in the two previous steps. At the end of the project execution phase, teams have deliverables ready to show project stakeholders.
Project executions can be tricky. The biggest obstacle for successful project execution is finding a way to marry strategy with action. Once teams begin bringing these ideas to life, managers may encounter unexpected stumbling blocks, delays, or results that don’t align with their vision.
That’s why project execution is so important. Without it, projects may get done, but they might not produce the desired result. This is often referred to as a project gap or strategy gap.
The goal of project execution is to minimize or entirely close this gap with effective execution strategies.
Are there different execution strategies?
There are at least six different execution strategies in project management. Here’s what they are and how to use them:
- Create group accountability
Group accountability is all about keeping collaborators on task and on time as much as possible. This can be done through review calls and a transparent task management system that every team member can access.
The effects of group accountability are profound. The American Society of Training and Development found that people are 65% more likely to reach their goals when they've shared them with someone else. In addition, people are 95% more likely to reach their goals when they share them with a group and meet regularly to review them.
- Choose your north star
A north star is your big picture goal. It can also be your own personal reason why this project matters to you, outside that it’s part of your job. This method is also referred to as purpose-driven management.
Forbes says that “the best project situation is one where the company objectives and employees' professional purpose converge with purpose-driven project leaders.”
In their recent article on the topic, guest contributor and Chief Strategy Officer Majeed Hosseiney notes there are many components to successful purpose-driven management, including strong standards, methodologies, even personal needs.
- Visually track progress
Not only is visually tracking progress helpful, but Entrepreneur magazine takes that belief one step further in their recent article: “Unless You Track Your Progress, Setting Goals Is a Waste of Effort.” They argue that if your team can’t see their goals clearly, they’ll soon forget about them.
It’s like the popular business saying: you can’t manage what you can’t measure. In other words, using a visual project management tool, with features such as Gantt charts and illustrative reports, is more than just a nice-to-have; it’s mission-critical if you want to excel at project execution.
- Reward hard work
Team motivation is something that project managers can and should work to cultivate. As the Project Management Institute advises, “low morale reduces productivity, harms stakeholder relationships, and ultimately impacts the project's output and organization's bottom line. It is important that the project manager take quick and decisive action to curb a declining morale.”
This is especially important for long-term or complex projects where people can lose steam along the way. Outside factors beyond your control, such as the state of the world, may also affect morale, but if you have a strong plan in place, you can curb the negative effects long-term.
- Assess talent gaps
It’s better to get a clear picture of what each team member can and cannot do before the project begins rather than realize you need additional help once you’re in the project execution phase.
This may require collaborators to get additional education. You may even want to host team workshops or hire additional freelance support.
Doing so now will save everyone the headache of overcoming learning curves and delivering rushed, subpar work later on.
- Establish feedback loops
Feedback is essential throughout every stage of the project lifecycle. But during the project execution phase, it plays an even more important role. Sharing positive and constructive notes on team members’ accomplishments helps them align with expectations so they can do more (or less) of the same thing as the project continues.
Start by giving a reasonable amount of feedback sooner rather than later so everyone is on the same page from the very beginning. You can share feedback in team meetings, conduct formal assessments, or delegate feedback by adding approvers to specific tasks in your project management platform.
Who is in charge of project executions?
Project managers are in charge of project executions. First, they have to draft a very detailed project execution plan and get buy-in. Then, they must oversee people, communication, and progress throughout the entire phase. Although they’re not the ones doing the tasks, project managers must make sure all the i’s are dotted, and t’s are crossed without overstepping. At the end of the day, if a project execution isn’t successful, it’s the project manager who must explain what happened and why.
What are the challenges of project executions?
There are three overarching challenges of project executions all project managers face. They are managing people, facilitating processes, and communicating with everyone involved. Here’s more on what they are and how to overcome them even if you have zero project execution experience:
- Managing people
There’s a fine line project managers must walk after they’ve created the execution plan and while the execution is happening. They must lead but not order, encourage but not criticize, and make rules but not be too strict. Things may change along the way for those involved, such as taking more sick days than anticipated, leaving to go on planned vacations, and even family tragedies, which can all affect productivity.
How to overcome: Always build wiggle room into your project schedule and test our management styles to see which works best for you.
- Facilitating processes
As you continue to monitor progress, you might see that there are issues in task execution. One delayed action item can trigger a chain reaction of missed deadlines and moved milestones. This is exactly why it’s important to stay on top of everyone’s progress with visual project management tools that make it easy to know where everything is at a glance.
How to overcome: Be vigilant about how resources and keep your plan flexible enough that you can adjust at a moment’s notice without sacrificing any non-negotiable delivery dates.
One of the biggest issues with project management, and even more so during the execution phase, is communication. Communicating updates, questions, problems, and even expectations are key factors in project success. As a project manager, it’s your job to ensure everyone knows how to communicate with one another and when they should do it.
How to overcome: Use a project management tool like Wrike to loop people into ongoing conversations right within the platform. Combine this with a regular check-in meeting schedule and an open-door policy for communication, and you should see positive results.
How to create a project execution plan
To create a project execution plan, you need to create the copy, design the pdf, and get buy-in from collaborators before finalizing your draft.
Project execution plans can be as short as one page or as long as 175 pages in some examples from Energy.gov. But depending on the complexity of your project and your execution plan, you can expect to write an average of 50-80 pages. Even if you consider yourself a great writer, those numbers can feel daunting, so we’ve put together some simple steps you can follow to speed up the process:
- Step 1: Create a title page with each of the following:
- A company logo and project title
- Document title (“Project Execution Plan” is fine)
- The subtitle for this document if you’re creating more than one execution plan for a larger project
- A reference number
- The date it was finalized.
- Step 2: Include one to two pages for approval, submitted by, concurred by, and recommended by signatures. Write down each person’s name, title, role, and office underneath where they should sign.
- Step 3: Add in a chart to document the history of your revisions. Add headers for document number, date, action, and description.
- Step 4: Create a table of contents to make it easier to reference.
- Step 5: If figures, tables, images, or other graphics are included in the document, list what they are by type and what page readers can find them on.
- Step 6: Include a glossary of acronyms, abbreviations, and key terms reviewers need to know.
- Step 7: Outline your step-by-step process for how revisions to the document will be executed. Include terminology, distribution, responsibilities, change process, and review process.
- Step 8: Write an introduction that explains what the project is about, why it’s important, and how it came to be. Include items such as scope summaries and Key Performance Indicators.
- Step 9: Detail what the management structure and chain of command for the project will be.
- Step 10: Create an acquisition strategy for the project with details such as a critical decision strategy and tailoring strategies.
- Step 11: Define your scope baseline, schedule, budget, and any other major concerns that fit your unique project.
- Step 12: Write out your project management processes and oversight strategy throughout each project phase.
- Step 13: Finally, include a list of references and their sources, if any were made throughout the document.
These steps offer an overview of what you need to do. But every project is different, so use your best judgment when drafting your own project execution plan.
Tips to improve the execution phase of project management
Although improving the execution phase of project management is something professionals learn over time, it’s very costly if you don’t at least have a strong foundation. Project deadlines, budgets, and client relationships are at stake, so it’s important to know the basics.
Here is what you need to do to avoid the common pitfalls of project execution:
- Establish a communication plan for both teams and stakeholders before the project begins.
- Make sure everyone understands what needs to be done by:
- Encouraging people to ask questions.
- Hosting regular check-in meetings for the duration of the execution phase.
- Organize and oversee teams, even if they are miles apart, using a project management platform that makes it easy for collaborators to share real-time updates.
- Outline clear processes for how certain tasks will be completed. Include details such as task dependencies, deadlines, and approvers where needed.
- Keeping stakeholders informed and engaged is key to preventing 11th-hour surprise requests or issues with deliverables. Go out of your way to get their written approval on key elements as you go along.
- Write a clear implementation plan during the planning phase so that everyone is on the same page about how this process will go.
- Have a strong change management plan in place before teams get to work.
- Always make project deliverable expectations as clear and detailed as possible.
- Encourage your teams to loop you or other managers into conversations using @mention tools in your project management software so you can streamline feedback and correct issues before they derail the project.
- Help leaders find their personal “why” for every project so that they’ll remain enthusiastic, present, and accountable to their teams.
How to plan your project execution phase with Wrike
By now, you’ve learned exactly what project execution is, why it’s important, and how to do it. As a beginning project manager, it’s important to get hands-on experience wherever possible, especially when it comes to project execution plans. That’s where Wrike comes in.
Wrike is a powerful project management tool that will assist you with creating a project execution plan that makes buy-in easy and management more effective.
Outline your project plan with visual Gantt charts, proposed timelines, milestone markers, and task allocation. Include these in your project execution plan to support your ideas and make the information even easier to understand so that everyone can get on the same page faster.
And if you have recurring projects, you can easily create a time-saving template to use for this and future assignments that you know will be effective.
Get started with Wrike’s many helpful features for project execution for free using our two-week trial that will help you master this important skill in no time.