Your project may seem to be moving along smoothly. However, the project execution phase is where the rubber meets the road. Want to know if all of your meticulous project planning actually paid off?

At this stage of the project management lifecycle, you’ll find out quickly if your meticulous project planning will pay off.

The problem? Execution is arguably the trickiest phase of the project lifecycle. No matter which project methodology is used, this is 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. 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.

What is project execution, and what happens during this phase?

Project execution is typically the most challenging phase of the project lifecycle. This is 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 requires four main actions:

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.

Here your workflow optimization efforts will be tested as your team works to meet deadlines, hit milestones, and ultimately avoid bottlenecks as the project progresses.

Create and develop project deliverables

In short, project execution is where stuff gets made.

Collaborators work to make sure project deliverables get done on time and within budget, whether it’s a content plan, marketing campaign, or some other creative project.

Again, this is where workflows and communication are key as the right stakeholders assess the status of deliverables as they move from Point A to Point B.

Sprints. Status reports. Stand-ups. Check-ins.

Some (or all the above) will be key to ensuring everyone on your team is on the same page.

That said, execution is also a test of the patience and respective schedules of the project team. In a recent Wellingtone survey, 25% of respondents say they don't have effective technology to collaborate on informal projects. Don't let this be your team!

Chances are, your project isn’t the only item on everyone's calendars. Teams have to find 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 project 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

  • How your teammates’ time is allocated

Benefits of having a strong project execution plan

Whoever said, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” was probably a project manager. (Fun fact: It was actually Benjamin Franklin.)

Making sure the elements pivotal to achieving the project goals, such as a communication plan, are included proactively circumvents issues and protects the project schedule. A strong, inclusive, clear project execution plan is one of the best ways to ensure project success.

Why? A strong execution plan:

Increases and improves team productivity

Yes, you need to spend a considerable amount of time upfront planning a project, from laying out timelines to setting milestones. This planning stage makes it possible to whip through the project efficiently because there’s a plan of how and when to perform tasks.

Making a plan that includes everything on the front end keeps stakeholders from wasting their time wondering and trying to figure out what they should be doing next.

Enhances customer satisfaction

Customers love frequent, detailed updates about the project status. A strong project execution plan lets you keep them informed of where you are in the process in real time, because you have a roadmap of the entire plan. Even if the news is that the project has hit some snags, customers appreciate the heads up and can use the information to adjust their plans and timelines. A comprehensive project execution plan is a good foundation for an exceptional customer experience.

Helps build a team-oriented culture

A project management plan is essential in building and maintaining a strong team that trusts each other. Each team member can understand what’s expected of them, what they should be working on, and who they need to collaborate with. Project management tools are integral in providing channels that facilitate communication. Teams working toward the same project objective are in sync, strengthening the entire culture.

Makes problem resolution a breeze

No matter how well a plan is laid out and executed, problems will rear their ugly heads at some stage of the process. A strong proactive planning phase helps you be ready for them.

Problems can often go unresolved and cause time-consuming bottlenecks within a project. Rocking the execution stage helps identify problems early, so your team can resolve them swiftly before they have time to derail the progress.

Maximizes resource utilization

Don't underestimate this step. A survey by the Project Management Institute (PMI) finds that 11% of investment is wasted because of poor project management.

Only so many team members are assigned to a project, and they have a finite amount of time to spend on their tasks. When you carefully craft a project execution plan, your resource allocation is more spot-on than if the plan is thrown together quickly, with little thought to who does what.

Using the most experienced, skilled people for each project facet increases productivity and decreases the problems and slowdowns. Thoughtfully assigning responsibilities and tasks increase the project’s chances of being delivered on time and successfully.

Common challenges of project execution (and solutions for each one)

The execution phase is where things start happening. This makes it the phase where projects fail or fall apart. Sure, we can plan, predict, and armchair quarterback how our projects should go. But the reality is that you never really know if a plan will deliver until you 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.

World class project planning software see the whole picture

World class project planning software see the whole picture

Make project planning simpler, efficient, clearer, and so much more impactful with Teamwork’s project planning software.

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.

Here your workflow optimization efforts will be put to the test as your team works to meet deadlines, hit milestones, and ultimately avoid bottlenecks as the project progresses.

Create and develop deliverables

In short, project execution is where stuff actually gets made.

Whether it’s a content plan, marketing campaign, or some other creative project, collaborators work to make sure project deliverables get done on time and within budget.

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.

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 

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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.

Challenge 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: Stakeholders 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 discourse, you can have other stakeholders sign off and acknowledge the factors above for the sake of accountability. Ideally, you should hash out these details within your project proposal.

task details and due dates in teamwork

Challenge 2: Lack of leadership and accountability

Late deliverables. Missed deadlines. 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 clear project requirements that detail everyone’s roles and responsibilities. Also, project management software that tracks the progression of tasks is a huge help here.

Task List and Subtasks prioritization in Teamwork

Challenge 3: Inflexibility

Life happens, and so does the unexpected. But what happens if a stakeholder unexpectedly drops out of your project or a go-to collaborator is no longer available? What if a deliverable doesn’t meet your quality assurance thresholds? The project shouldn’t be doomed to fail, right?

Solution: Successful project execution is more attainable if you add buffer time into your project schedule. Also, have a backup plan if you find yourself in a situation where you need to hand something off to another collaborator.

Challenge 4: Communication breakdowns

Too many meetings. Constant and annoying check-ins. Meetings that could've been an email. These suck the life out of your project resources.

Project communication plans should empower your team and improve your quality of work. 

But the reality is that poor project communications are 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.

How to perfect your project execution plan with Teamwork (6 steps)

Adopting project management software is a game-changer if you want to thrive during the execution phase and implement the tips above.

To wrap things up, we’ll discuss what a tool like Teamwork can do to streamline your project execution plan.

1. Assign specific tasks to collaborators (for clarify and accountability)

“Who’s working on what right now?”

Questions and doubts about your team’s tasks shouldn’t cross your mind during project execution.

Teams should be aware of both what gets assigned to collaborators and 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, tasks, and accountability, are clearly understood.

Learn more about Teamwork’s task management solutions.

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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 off-the-cuff chat messages 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.

Teamwork instant chat feature

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. Not adding buffer time is one of the biggest reasons projects miss deadlines.

Project managers must practice change management to keep projects moving forward effectively. 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 project 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.

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4. Be prepared to pivot and hand tasks off

Maybe someone is 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 assess if there are imbalances in your teammates’ workload and instantly reassign tasks accordingly. The ability to instantly assess and react to workload issues is a win-win for your employees and the project's health

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.

5. Evaluate your execution plan regularly and iterate

No matter how well-laid your plan, there are bound to be aspects of it that must be adjusted, added, or scrapped.

Teamwork’s Gantt charts let you see the project timeline and easily change it by dragging and dropping from one area to another. There’s also a project tracker template that gives you a way to keep a close eye on progress (or holdups).

6. Celebrate successes and learn from failures

Taking time to measure how well the team did at completing the project gives you considerable insight into managing future ones. Personalized dashboards show key metrics you can use to review the project’s timelines, milestones reached, and how problem resolutions. The “Filters” feature can share data through different lenses for project managers to analyze the metrics in different ways.

Finally, the project is delivered. Examine it, learn from it, and move on to the next one.

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. This helps you speed up the project execution phase and complete your deliverables.

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 focus on their tasks on the road to completion.

If you haven’t already, we invite you to test-drive Teamwork and see how our project management features can help you perfect your execution plan. Get started today with a free 30-day trial!