Is your organization failing to close the gaps between strategy and project execution? This isn’t an easy task.
Fortunately, there are strategies (and tools!) you can use to overcome those gaps, and you’re not alone in this challenge. Let’s learn how the right strategies and tools can help you close gaps to promote successful project execution. We’ll hear from experts and review key takeaways that project leaders can immediately put into practice in their programs and projects.
What Is Project Execution?
During the five process groups of the project life cycle, there are multiple objectives and outcomes for each phase. After the project initiation and the planning processes, project execution begins.
Successful CEOs Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy define execution in their book Executive: The Discipline of Getting Things Done: “Execution is a specific set of behaviors and techniques that companies need to master in order to have a competitive advantage. It’s a discipline of its own.”
Project execution is the third phase of the project life cycle and one of the most vital of the project phases. During this phase, you’ll construct your deliverables and present them to your customer and key stakeholders. This is usually the longest phase of the project life cycle and predictably the most demanding.
Project execution’s key purpose is to complete the work defined in the project management plan and meet key project objectives. During this phase, a project leader focuses on these key processes:
- Managing people
- Following processes
- Communicating information to all key stakeholders, sponsors and team members
When you’re executing a project, you need to manage many things: resources, costs, schedule and more. ProjectManager is work and project management software that has multiple project views that can do this more efficiently. Build Gantt charts, assign tasks and track progress to share data with stakeholders and keep the project team connected in real time. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.
Project Execution Steps
Project execution, as with project management, is broken down into steps to ensure you’re not neglecting anything crucial. The eight project steps can slightly differ depending on the project and how your organization works, but we’ve outlined the basics below.
1. Execute Project Scope
You’ve planned for the project scope, collected requirements and defined it using a work breakdown structure. Once that scope has been validated, it’s time to put it into action. This also involves controlling the scope, which is part of the monitoring and controlling phases of a project.
2. Manage Your Team
Assigning tasks to the team is only the beginning; you need to monitor their work and ensure that they’re producing at capacity by monitoring their workload and removing any bottlenecks that might block their progress.
3. Make Changes
This leads to the changes that are necessary for every project. No matter how good your plan is, there will be changes that impact your schedule and budget. You need to monitor the project, recommended changes and take corrective action to stay on track.
4. Update Stakeholders
Your stakeholders are invested in the project, and you need to manage their expectations. One way to do this is by regularly communicating with them. Manage those communications by finding how often they want to be updated and how they prefer to get those updates.
5. Conduct Team-Building Exercises
Proper execution only occurs when teams work together. That collaboration involves many things, such as tools to connect them, but also trust. Team-building exercises are a way to upstart trust, especially for new teams that don’t have a lot of shared experience.
6. Celebrate Milestones
Some might want to save the celebrations until the final delivery, but having milestones, acknowledging them and rewarding the team throughout the execution phase is how you keep morale up, which influences productivity.
7. Meet Regularly
In order to keep your stakeholders updated, you need to have a clear picture of the project’s performance and progress. There are tools that monitor and report on performance, but you also have to meet regularly with the project team and get status reports and feedback.
8. Document Changes
As we noted, change is part of a project. You might be tempted to identify and respond quickly to change, which is important. But without documenting these changes to the project plan, you’re setting yourself up for problems. These change management documents offer historic data for future projects, but also explain actions in the current one.
Project Execution Challenges
There are more problems than we’ve outlined as things may go wrong or stray from the project plan. That’s why monitoring and tracking during execution are so important. Here are some common issues to look out for.
Scope creep is when the project scope goes beyond its original objectives. This may happen due to stakeholders wanting changes, supply chain issues and more. It’s your job to review every change and prioritize them or disregard them accordingly.
Having a trusting team requires everyone to be accountable for their work. Without accountability, you’ll have lengthy delays and higher costs. Holding your team accountable is part of successfully managing your team.
You should have developed a risk management plan during the planning phase and it will come in handy as you execute the project. This allows you to identify issues as they arise and respond to them quickly.
Organizations that implement an executive strategy to turn strategic goals into business value will discover the “larger system” for success–the C-suite executives, middle management, project manager and project team.
Earlier this year, another book was released called Filling Execution Gaps by Todd Williams. Williams’ book takes it one step further to clearly identify “six execution gaps” to close for realizing repeatable project success.
Per the latest PMI Pulse of the Profession 2017, “C-suite continues to be largely focused on bridging strategy formulation and execution and tackling technology and business disruption.” Williams’ research reveals the gaps we’ve been missing.
Williams’ research identifies six primary gaps that prevent successful project execution:
- Absence of common understanding
- Disengaged executive sponsors
- Misalignment with strategic goals
- Poor change management
- Ineffective corporate governance
- Lackluster leadership
The reality is that fixing each gap individually is not the solution. The real challenge is finding solutions, developing action plans and implementing strategies to fix all six gaps. According to Williams, it’s not rocket science, but understanding how each gap affects your program initiatives is key to the most critical phase of your project: execution.
Closing the Execution Gap
There are two pieces to closing the gap:
- Aligning the strategic plan goals and objectives with an implementation plan
- Executing in the program and project delivery of outcomes that meet those objectives
Closing that execution gap, also known as the strategy gap, is one of the most frustrating challenges that business leaders face today. The execution gap is a perceived gap between a company’s strategies and expectations and its ability to meet those goals and put ideas into action.
Project Execution Plan Template
If you’re looking for a project execution template, we have a free action plan template for Excel that outlines the action steps you need to take. It lists who is assigned to the task, the deadline, what resources are needed and more. It’s a static document, but if you’re not ready to upgrade to project management software, you’ll find it useful.
Strategic Tips to Improve Project Execution
Let’s review some strategies to promote successful project execution.
1. Begin with the End in Mind
It’s a good idea to consider aligning your strategy with the projected final outcomes. A big problem with going from concept to implementation is simply a lack of clearly defined goals and objectives. Executives who cannot define what they want to accomplish can hardly expect project leaders to understand their strategy and lead their projects with any level of meaningful contribution.
2. Gain Buy-in From Your Core Team
A well-defined project helps earn the buy-in from your team and stakeholders. Explaining the vision behind strategic decisions gives this core team a deeper understanding of how their knowledge and work will contribute to the larger whole. Using collaborative project management software is an ideal way to keep everyone working as a team while keeping sight of primary objectives.
3. Project Leaders Get Their Projects Across the Finish Line
To make sure strategies get put into motion, make sure you have the talent with the right project leadership skills to manage the project. Emotional intelligence and self-awareness continue to be essential skillsets for project leaders.
4. Build a High-Performing Team
Aim to build a highly qualified team that can help define the right strategies and alignments for your programs and projects. Project leaders who can align their vision and work with their teams will successfully deliver key programs and projects, and the alignment of vision and strategy to implementation will help you close those gaps.
5. Monitor Progress and Performance Through Accountability
Implementing any strategy involves meetings to discuss the various projects and programs that are required. Meetings are critical to helping bring together the focus in this phase to do the following:
- Manage people
- Follow processes
- Communicate information to all key stakeholders, sponsors and team members
Meetings are a great way to solidify agreements, document actionable items, identify risks/issues and hold your team accountable to follow through to produce results.
Keep the line of communication open throughout the project. Make sure to follow up before, during and after meetings regarding outstanding action items, issues and risks. Avoid micromanaging and adjust your leadership style based on the situation and the team member.
More Project Management Templates to Help with Project Execution
You’ve seen our free action plan template for Excel, but that’s only one of the dozens of project templates we offer. There are free templates for every phase in your project, including the execution phase. Here are a few to help out with execution.
Part of executing a project is making sure it’s meeting your schedule and budget constraints. Our free project dashboard template for Excel tracks metrics such as tasks, workload, costs and more. Of course, you have to input the data, but if you’re not using cloud-based project management software, it’s your best bet.
Another way to ensure your tasks are going as planned is with our free project task tracker template for Excel. It allows you to see the planned effort against the actual effect so you can catch any anomalies and resolve them quickly. It’s a great task management tool that can also be used as a task checklist, project tracking and task analysis template.
Another important part of the execution phase is managing your team. Our free timesheet template for Excel allows you to keep track of their time on the job, calculating cost per hour, vacation and overtime. Track how much time they’re spending on their tasks and get another view of the project to help you keep it on track.
Using ProjectManager for Project Execution
Strategy and theory will only get you so far when it comes to execution: you need the right tools to ensure that your project plan becomes a success. ProjectManager has a powerful suite of tools to help you execute your project plan.
Track Project Execution in Real Time
Get a high-level view of your project with real-time dashboards. There’s no setup required as with other lightweight software. Our tool automatically collects and calculates live data and displays it in colorful graphs. See six project metrics that monitor progress and performance, from time and cost to workload and health.
Manage Tasks More Effectively
The dashboard allows managers to monitor the project while our task management tools help team members execute daily tasks. Our award-winning software has multiple project views, including a list view where team members can see all of their assigned tasks, task priority and due date. It’s easy to update progress, add comments and attach files tasks so all the work stays project-centric. Transparency is key for good execution, and ProjectManager has it in spades.
If you’re looking for a tool to help you implement these strategies as you execute your project, there’s ProjectManager. Our cloud-based project management software offers real-time data, so you can see what’s happening as it’s happening. Try it free with this 30-day trial.