Want to know if all of your meticulous project planning actually paid off?
Well, you’ll find out quickly enough during the project execution phase!
The problem? Execution is arguably the trickiest phase of the project lifecycle.
In fact, it’s where many teams totally drop the ball.
Because even the most seasoned project managers understand that nothing ever goes according to plan. That said, bottlenecks and project breakdowns are often preventable.
Granted you know how to react to them as they happen, anyway.
In this guide, we’ll break down what effective project execution looks like and specific steps to make this phase go as smoothly as possible.
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What is project execution and what happens during this phase?
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.
Think of execution as pressing the proverbial “go” button on any given project.
Sandwiched between the planning and control phrases, project execution is where you:
Initiate workflows and processes
Once your project enters the execution phase, your stakeholders get busy. Sticking to your chain of demand, colleagues and involved parties report to managers and higher-ups based on the parameters you set up during planning.
Create and develop deliverables
In short, project execution is where stuff actually gets made.
This is yet again where workflows and communication are key as the right stakeholders assess the status of deliverables as they move from Point A to Point B.
Conduct regular meetings and project-related communication
Sprints. Status reports. Stand-ups. Check-ins.
Some (or all of the above) will be key to making sure everyone on your team is on the same page.
That said, execution is also a test of your team’s patience and respective schedules.
Chances are your project isn’t the only item on everyone's calendars. Teams are tasked with finding a check-in cadence that makes sense. This means:
Checking in often without interrupting (or downright annoying) collaborators
Ensuring that scheduled meetings are productive and necessary
Keeping your teammates from getting dragged down to notification hell
Track the progress of your tasks
During the project execution phase, you’ll begin tracking key metrics and putting together progress reports for your project. This includes:
Time and resources spent (versus time and resources budgeted)
Whether your project is on-schedule or not
How your teammates’ time is being allocated
From here, you seamlessly transition into the control phase of the project lifecycle where you keep a close eye on all of the above.
Where project execution usually goes wrong (and how to fix it)
Again, the execution phase is where projects fail or fall apart. Why? Because it’s the phase where things actually happen.
Sure, we can plan, predict, and armchair quarterback how our projects should go.
The reality? You never really know if a plan’s going to deliver until you actually execute it.
The best way for teams to be proactive about project execution is to anticipate potential problems before they have a chance to snowball.
Below is a quick breakdown of why projects falter during execution. Keep in mind that some of these issues should be addressed during the project planning phase.
Reason 1: Execution gaps and unrealistic expectations
This is the big one.
Execution gaps essentially represent a disconnect between expectations and reality when it comes to elements of a project such as:
Time and scheduling
Budget and resources
The size or quality of deliverables
Collaborators’ scope of work
Solution: Make a point to have stakeholders actually communicate these elements and outline expectations in task details before a project gets underway. While not all team collaborators can realistically have a back and forth, you can have other stakeholders sign off and acknowledge the factors above for the sake of accountability. Ideally, these details should be hashed out within your project proposal.
Reason 2: Lack of leadership and accountability
Deliverables are late. Deadlines are missed. Time’s running out.
When projects break down, finger-pointing often follows. This not only leads to needless confrontation and stress but also hurts the overall quality of your final product.
Solution: For starters, project managers and higher-up stakeholders need to be prepared to take the reins. This also speaks to the importance of crystal clear project requirements that detail everyone’s roles and responsibilities. Also, project documentation that tracks the progression of tasks is a huge help here.
Reason 3: Inflexibility
Again, life happens and so does the unexpected. We know it all too well these days.
But what happens if someone unexpectedly drops off your project or a go-to collaborator is no longer available? What if a deliverable just isn’t up to snuff?
The project shouldn’t be doomed to fail, right?
Solution: Add buffer time into your project schedule. Also, have a backup plan in place just in case you find yourself in a situation where you need to hand something off to another collaborator.
Reason 4: Communication breakdowns
Too many meetings. Constant and annoying check-ins. Meetings that could've been an email.
Project communication plans should empower your team and improve your quality of work. The reality, though?
Poor communication is all too common despite the tech available to teams today. Endless ad-hoc requests and needless meetings are a recipe for burnout, not to mention a surefire way to stretch out your schedule beyond your original deadline.
Solution: Mind how your team talks and how often. Project collaboration is at the heart of execution. Having a centralized place to communicate and document progress means less time switching between platforms and more time actually collaborating.
How to perfect your project execution plan with Teamwork
If you want to thrive during the execution phase and implement the tips above, project management software can be a game-changer.
To wrap things up, we’ll break down what a tool like Teamwork can do to streamline your project execution plan.
1. Assign specific tasks to collaborators (for clarify and accountability)
“Uh, like, who’s working on what right now?”
Questions and doubts related to your team’s tasks shouldn’t cross your mind during project execution.
Not only should teams mind what gets assigned to collaborators but the depth of those assignments. This is where Teamwork comes in handy for managers and team members alike. Beyond specific instructions, collaborators can see:
The priority of any given task, eliminating “What’s next?” questions, and empowering people to work on their most important to-dos first
The status of any given task and how close (or far) it is from completion
Who else is collaborating on a specific task and providing instant points of contact to anyone who might be stuck or require clarification
Collaborators should never be stuck twiddling their thumbs or wondering what to work on next. When your task assignments and project reporting are in-depth, such questions never cross your teammates’ minds.
2. Actively motivate your teammates throughout the execution phase
Progress reporting is a fantastic tool to help you keep a constant pulse on your projects.
That said, don’t forget that your teammates are more than just numbers and your project likely isn’t the only item on their plate.
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.
Because maintaining a positive tone during your team communication can go a long way in terms of motivation.
In short, don’t be afraid to be human. Being proactive about keeping your teammates happy means more productivity and less stress in the long run.
3. Create a realistic schedule with buffer time
We’ll say it again: the “perfect” project plan is a pipe dream.
You need a solid project timeline that reflects reality. In other words, be prepared for drop-offs, delays, and other potential bottlenecks. Build that time into your schedule before your project enters execution.
This highlights the importance of not only having specific milestones and deadlines, but also a high-level schedule that breaks down how your project timeline should progress.
That's why project milestones are so important to the overall time. When you add them to a project, everyone gets a clear view and understanding of the progress and what needs to be completed to move on.
4. Be prepared to pivot and hand tasks off
Maybe someone’s clearly overworked.
Perhaps it’s clear your teammates' schedules are unbalanced and some collaborators are doing way too much heavy lifting – or maybe not enough.
Either way, you shouldn’t treat this as business as usual. Using Teamwork's Resource Allocation tools allows project leads to holistically view everyone's assigned work so you can make better decisions on allocating tasks in the future.
Teamwork makes it easy to not only assess if there are imbalances in your teammates’ workload but also instantly reassign tasks accordingly. The ability to instantly assess and react to workload issues is a win-win for your employees and the health of your project.
Are you making project execution work for your organization?
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.