Project execution is where the rubber meets the road in the project delivery lifecycle.

The actual work happens here – this is where delivery teams are executing the plan and work to deliver the feature, phase, or other segments of incremental value you’ve committed to stakeholders. This is typically the longest and most complex stage of the project lifecycle – making it prone to errors and delays. Especially when you’re dealing with multiple teams or teams of teams tasked to deliver parts of value.

Avoiding execution pitfalls requires discipline, effective leadership, and good communication. Modern PMOs are tasked with supporting teams as they choose to execute work via different delivery methodologies, processes, and tools. This is important for maintaining visibility and governance, and for ensuring projects are delivered to the desired requirements and outcomes.

The following best practices will help ensure your project execution phase runs smoothly. Your teams will be delivering on target in no time.

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Centralize project information to monitor work progress and health, coordinate execution, and ensure timely delivery tied aligned to the portfolio.
Centralize project information to monitor work progress and health, coordinate execution, and ensure timely delivery tied aligned to the portfolio.

What Is Project Execution?

This phase, also called project implementation, is the third of four project lifecycle phases. Those four phases are:

  • Initiation
  • Planning
  • Execution
  • Closure

After completing the first two stages, your project team is ready to produce their deliverables. This can be a long and arduous journey, taking months or even years to get to the final stage.

Success is dependent upon the three primary components of project implementation: Managing processes, people, and communication.

  1. Following processes: Beyond project management methodologies, it’s essential to follow the procedures and requirements detailed and agreed upon in the project plan. However, flexibility is also important – especially in dynamic environments where changing circumstances and priorities are common.
  2. Managing people: The human factor can be the most challenging aspect of any project, especially today. Project managers must keep morale high by celebrating accomplishments and encouraging team members to do their best work. PMO leaders should also empower teams to deliver in a manner that supports the methods and approaches that best suit the team and their work – whether they’re following traditional waterfall methods, agile project execution, or a mixed hybrid approach.
  3. Distributing information: Stakeholders, customers, and teams need regular communication. Transparency helps build trust and unearth any issues that need attention. It takes a collaborative approach to know what, how, and when to communicate with each stakeholder during project execution.

Below are some challenges you could face during the execution phase.

Major Challenges Faced in the Execution Phase

There are an extraordinary number of factors that can make or break your project during its implementation. Some of these factors are under the project manager’s control – others are not.

Here are six common challenges to be mindful of during project execution:

  • Ineffective leadership: From the sponsor to the project manager, to executive teams – a poorly run project causes delays, missed commitment deadlines, and cost overruns.
  • Lack of cohesion: When teams don’t understand the requirements or goals and objectives needed to be accomplished with the project delivery.
  • Strategy execution gaps: Teams don’t understand how their day-to-day work and working with other teams or team members ties to the corporate strategy.
  • Weak change management: Rigid governance without regard for actual value delivered can inhibit the organization from adapting to changing customer demands or market conditions.
  • Lack of resources: As priorities change, budgets are diverted and critical people may be overloaded. Or they may no longer have the capacity needed to take on work, risking delivery timelines.
  • Inadequate risk management: Even if the project plan has accounted for potential risks or dependencies, project managers may not effectively mitigate them before and during execution.

Managing and adapting to these challenges takes preparation, organization, and flexibility. The following strategies will help you deftly handle pitfalls, both anticipated and unknown.

Strategies for Improving Your Project Execution

No project is without its challenges. With that said, an effective execution strategy can help you overcome those challenges and keep your project on time and on budget.

Below are some actionable tips to help you improve project execution. You can support your teams deliver their best work using the most appropriate methods for each team.

Empower teams to deliver

Complex initiatives and evolving conditions require advanced problem solving, speed, and agility. Teams have more autonomy and responsibility in today’s workplace. Flexible governance from PMOs and project managers pave the way for these teams to deliver according to plan.

All delivery takes place in the Executing Process Group. This group is accountable for:

  • Completing all deliverables
  • Evaluating and applying the processes, analyses, plans, and procedures required to succeed

Project managers play a pivotal role in helping teams do their best work. They do this by coordinating overall project execution and resolving bottlenecks.

Modern PMOs also support teams through adaptive governance – giving teams “just enough governance” to resolve issues that threaten the success of ongoing projects.

Here are a few of the best practices for empowering teams to deliver:

Consistently monitor key project indicators: Project managers should regularly check project elements such as:

  • Status
  • Budget
  • Tasks
  • Schedules
  • Quality assurance
  • Dependencies
  • Potential risks

Having access to this data helps you resolve bottlenecks, mitigate risks, and ensure the project runs smoothly.

The project manager should also empower team members to speak up if they see an issue or feel something is not working during project execution.

This open communication is conducive to the “fail fast” mentality that views setbacks as important learning experiences, not failures. When teams experience a setback, they quickly pivot by adjusting their strategy, learning from their mistakes, and applying those learnings in the future.

Assign clear responsibilities and accountabilities to your team members: Ensure teams know exactly what the project goals are and how each one supports company objectives. Each person must understand their role on the team, and project managers should ensure teams have the necessary resources and support to complete their tasks.

Once everyone is clear on the direction and responsibilities, the team can set their own goals and accountabilities with guidance from the project manager. Teams decide how they want to prioritize and execute work, and the project manager ensures that the work stays aligned with the company’s strategy and goals.

A flexible tone is key here. If someone is overloaded, it’s important to be adaptable and move tasks around.

Develop a realistic project timeline: Your team will appreciate your due diligence in developing schedules based on what’s reasonable to achieve in a given time frame. Adding in buffer time is a way to prepare for changes and bottlenecks that could arise during project execution.

In addition, create specific milestones and deadlines that teams can visualize. Leverage project management tools with Gantt or roadmap views of these milestones. This shows how the tasks and work align to those critical timeframes.

Make adjustments as needed and have backup plans just in case. These endeavors empower the team to focus on being productive.

Promote visibility across all of the project’s work and timelines with Gantt charts that show progress and scheduling through the execution phase.
Promote visibility across all of the project’s work and timelines with Gantt charts that show progress and scheduling through the execution phase.

Motivate teammates through the execution phase: Even the best teams need encouragement from time to time. Celebrating key achievements will help boost morale and reinforce how trusted and valued the team members are. Breaking down the work into smaller deliverables also helps to be able to celebrate the “little wins” more frequently.

Another way to empower teams is to develop a project management communication plan. Teams will appreciate knowing the project’s “who, what, when, why, and how.”

The communication plan could include:

  • What platforms to use
  • When meetings should occur
  • Time zones of each team member

A good communication plan minimizes the chances of teams feeling in the dark and helps team members feel connected and accountable for the work.

Consider extending this plan to stakeholders and clients, as well. They all have different communication needs and expectations to be mindful of.

Verify quality standards

Another critical aspect of project execution is the quality assurance management process. This component looks at the quality of the work delivered.

Project managers are responsible for auditing and monitoring all project requirements so that the company’s goals are met. Here are some steps to ensure that all deliverables meet the high-quality standards of your organization.

Assess quality during project execution: Ensure all standards are being met during implementation. This enables you to make course corrections and fix any mistakes before it’s too late. That way, if you do have to make corrections, there’s less of a likelihood those changes will derail your project.

Set regular feedback loops to ensure continuous improvement: Use your communication plan to help you monitor quality standards. Weekly or monthly check-ins with teams are critical for keeping everyone on the same page throughout the project.

Feedback loops also give teams the chance to provide important information about the status of your project, which you can report back to stakeholders.

Ensure activities are aligned with your overall project goals: Change requests are a given considering how quickly market conditions, client needs, and organizational priorities shift. However, guard against scope creep so that your project serves its intended purposes.

Monitor progress with the team often to ensure the project is on target. Build an atmosphere of openness and trust so that people are comfortable sharing information and opinions with you – both good and bad.

Schedule a formal phase review with key stakeholders as the project deliverables are being finalized: This can bring any issues to light and give you time to make changes without missing your deadline.

Phase reviews will give you a clear understanding of the steps to take to ensure your project’s success. Use the information from this meeting to create a resolution plan that outlines the changes you need to make.

Manage stakeholder expectations

Client and stakeholder management is a discipline crucial to customer satisfaction. Good communication, even about mistakes or setbacks, is necessary throughout project execution.

A few best practices can help build a good working relationship with your varying constituents and keep your project aligned with the company’s goals and objectives. Follow these tips to minimize friction that could cause delays and undermine the success of your project.

Manage stakeholder communications: Encourage open communication and transparency throughout the project execution phase. This can help you avoid misunderstandings and delays, especially when change requests are made. Effective relationships with clients and stakeholders keep projects on time, on budget, and within expectation.

“Set it and forget it” has no place in this process. Stakeholders need regular communication.

Address any requirements, questions, and issues they may have so they understand how the project is being run and what to expect at each milestone.

Ask for expectations before project execution starts: Your understanding of stakeholder expectations will help you tailor updates and messaging to each person’s specific needs.

Tell your stakeholders what they need to know: The key to managing stakeholder expectations is to know your audience. Everyone will have different data, timing, and communication needs, so consider adding this to your communication plan.

Give stakeholders data reporting and relevant analytics in a format that’s easy to access and clear for them to consume. That way, they can make informed decisions or changes to plans as necessary.

An effective Project Portfolio Management (PPM) solution can pull together the information and keep the data synchronized and accurate for you.

Get a comprehensive snapshot of project status, risks and issues, and costs and share with stakeholders to make data-driven, proactive decisions.
Get a comprehensive snapshot of project status, risks and issues, and costs and share with stakeholders to make data-driven, proactive decisions.

Schedule regular check-ins to discuss progress with stakeholders: Once you know your stakeholders’ communication preferences, schedule regular meetings to discuss the status of the project.

These meetings are critical for ensuring alignment between your project and the company’s strategies and goals. And, as mentioned earlier, have a final review scheduled to ensure all delivery needs, outcomes, project goals, and objectives are met.

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Adapting New Strategies to Current Project Execution Plans

Strategies, priorities, and plans inevitably evolve. Project managers should ensure that the project evolves with them. Here’s how you can do this:

Ensure alignment between teams: Teams need to understand what the change is and why it is happening. Explain how teams will be impacted, then address any questions or concerns they may have.

Understand the big picture: It’s easy to assume your project is an island, but that’s seldom the case. Understand how your project fits within your team’s workload, as well as how it fits into the corporate objectives and strategy.

It’s also important to know how other projects across departments support the organizational goals so you minimize duplication or wasted efforts.

Schedule regular check-ins to assess the status and health of your projects: Altered plans can create confusion and timing issues. Check with your teams often to ensure they’ve adjusted to the updated deliverables, budget, and timeline.

Adopt stand-up meetings from agile methods to keep everyone in sync, and use tools that help visualize the work and status.

Use Agile Task Management to communicate important project information and visualize the work, so that team members can identify and deliver on-time.
Use Agile Task Management to communicate important project information and visualize the work, so that team members can identify and deliver on-time.

You can follow these strategies when launching new endeavors or apply them to existing projects. They will help you have a smoother project execution and keep the work delivered aligned with your company’s goals and objectives.

Project Execution at Work

Use the best practices in this article to effectively manage your project execution. This will help ensure clients and stakeholders receive what’s being asked for, no matter what bumps occurred along the road. Technology such as collaboration tools and PPM solutions can make project execution easier and more efficient for teams, project managers, and for the PMO. Watch our on-demand Hybrid Portfolio Management demo to see how Planview can help you build agility. Increase your organization’s adaptability to change and empower teams to deliver their best work using methods that work best for them.