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Project Executing: A “How to” Guide

By: Dr. Michael Shick, MSPM, PMP, CSM

You’ve just been handed the reins of a significant project, and now is the time to begin execution. You start feeling overwhelmed and wonder, “Where do I begin?” It’s a daunting task, especially if this is your first time steering the ship of a major initiative.

But, here’s the thing – every expert project manager was once in your shoes. The world of project management might seem intricate, filled with technical jargon and processes that appear complex on the surface. However, with a structured approach, you can move your project team from uncertainty to success. The ‘Executing Process Group’ is a critical component of this journey, and understanding it is foundational.

Imagine for a moment that you are leading your project team. Efficiently allocating resources and effectively communicating with external stakeholders. You are expertly navigating the challenges, ensuring deliverables meet the highest standards, and achieving customer/client satisfaction. It’s not just possible; it’s achievable. With a step-by-step guide tailored for project managers, the complexities of executing your project become more manageable.

So, whether you’re a newbie or someone looking to refine their project execution plan and strategy, dive in. By following the insights and strategies outlined below, you’ll be equipped to lead your projects with competence and confidence. Now, let’s embark on this journey together and transform your project execution aspirations into reality.

 

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Key Takeaways

  1. Executing a Project: The execution phase is critical in project management for transforming plans into tangible deliverables, efficiently utilizing project resources, ensuring customer/client satisfaction on time, within budget and scope, and meeting quality expectations.
  2. Adaptability and Communication: Successful project execution relies heavily on adapting to changing circumstances and maintaining clear, ongoing communication with all stakeholders.
  3. Team Focus: Authentic leadership, emphasizing the team’s emotional and mental well-being, and fostering a trust-filled, supportive, and innovative team culture are essential to project success.
  4. Continuous Improvement and Learning: Utilizing advanced analytics tools, embracing continuous learning, and applying feedback to refine projects are vital to current and future project execution.

 

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What is the Executing a Project?

Project execution leverages the processes required to complete the work defined in the project management plan and to satisfy the project requirements and specifications. This process group is primarily concerned with executing the tasks identified in the work breakdown structure (WBS) and ensuring they are performed effectively and efficiently. Within this project life cycle phase, the deliverables are physically built and presented to the customer/client for approval. Key components include:

  • Directing and managing project work (on time, within scope and budget).
  • Assuring the quality of deliverables.
  • Obtaining and managing resources, building and leading a project team.
  • Maintaining stakeholder engagement.

Effective execution, rooted in the guidelines of the Project Management Institute’s (PMI’s) – Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK, 6e, 2017) Executing Process Group, is paramount to ensure the project stays on track, mitigates risks, addresses issues, and ensures stakeholder satisfaction.

In short:

Project execution is where everything planned is put into action. It involves rolling up your sleeves and taking action on the outlined project plan. It is the third step of the typical project lifecycle, following initiation and planning.

Reasons You Need to Know the Project Executing

This phase of the project ensures what has been planned is realized, paving the way for the success of the entire project. Without it, the project risks derailment, costly delays, and likely failure.

  • Foundation for Deliverables: The execution phase brings ideas and plans to life. Without this, the tangible outcomes customer/client expect will never materialize.
  • Resource Utilization: Proper execution ensures that resources, whether human, financial, or material, are used efficiently and effectively. Mismanagement during the execution stage can lead to waste and increased costs.
  • Stakeholder Satisfaction: The execution phase requires management of stakeholders’ expectations to ensure their continued engagement and support. A project that loses stakeholder trust can face immense challenges.
  • Risk Mitigation: Unexpected challenges often arise during the project execution phase. It is wise for the project manager to check on risk management regularly.
  • Quality Assurance: The quality of a project executing deliverables hinges on the effectiveness of the execution. A project can’t move to its closing stages if the deliverables don’t meet the customer/client requirements and specifications.

While the significance of project execution is evident, many find it challenging to master it efficiently. Because of that, here is a curated step-by-step approach that outlines the essentials and assists you’re equipped to navigate the complexities of the execution.

 

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Project Executing: Step-by-Step Instructions

Due to the complexities of the execution phase, we’ve distilled its essence into a transparent, streamlined process tailored for project managers who desire efficiency without compromising on quality and are stuck in execution gaps. With these steps, effective and efficient project execution is within reach:

  1. Plan Analysis: Review your project plan meticulously. Ensure you understand the project scope, deliverables, schedule, cost constraints, and critical performance indicators.
  2. Resource Rally: Organize and allocate your resources, including team members, equipment, and budgets. Ensure everyone knows their role and understands what they are accountable and responsible for within the span of control.
  3. Stakeholder Update: Communicate regularly with your stakeholders. Update them on the project’s progress and use their feedback to guide it.
  4. Quality Eagle-Eye: Continuously monitor the quality of deliverables. Use benchmarks and standards to ensure the project remains within quality guideposts.
  5. Risk Sweep: Look out for potential pitfalls, challenges, and opportunities. Have contingency plans in place, and be ready to adapt when necessary.
  6. Progress PulseRegularly review the project schedule and report on the project’s progress. Ensure that the project remains aligned with its objectives and timeline.
  7. Team Support: Ensure team members remain motivated, well-informed, and aligned with the project’s goals. Address any concerns or conflicts promptly and establish a rewards program.
  8. Feedback Funnel: Create a system where team members and stakeholders can provide feedback. Use this information to fine-tune your execution strategy.
  9. Closure Countdown: As the execution phase nears, transition to the closing phase. This includes documentation, handovers, and setting the stage for project completion.

 

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Plan Analysis

To execute the Plan Analysis step, start by scrutinizing every detail of your project management plan. This document is your roadmap and should outline everything from timelines and milestones to specific project tasks and the resources required. Ensure that the plan has broken the project into smaller, more manageable work packages and that the work to be performed aligns with your objectives. It is essential so you understand what needs to be done, how each work package contributes, and the expected standards for each deliverable to the project’s end goal. Regularly revisiting the project timeline and reassessing the plan as the project progresses can help identify any deviations early and make necessary adjustments to lessen risk.

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Resource Rally

In the Resource Rally step, your main objective is to effectively manage and mobilize your project’s resources, including your team members, equipment, budget, and time. Begin by ensuring that every team member clearly understands their roles and responsibilities. This clarity promotes accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness. Next, review your resource allocation; ensure the right resources are used at the correct time to avoid bottlenecks or unneeded resource constraints. Effective resource management also means adapting to changes and swiftly reallocating resources as priorities shift within the project lifecycle.

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Stakeholder Update

During the Stakeholder Update step, focus on maintaining clear and open lines of communication with all project stakeholders. This group may include team members, clients, suppliers, and other key individuals or groups with a vested interest in the project. Regular updates keep key stakeholders informed of progress, challenges, and changes. This is also an opportunity to gather their insights and feedback, which can be invaluable in steering the project in the right direction. Tailor your communication style to suit each stakeholder; some prefer detailed reports, while others only need high-level summaries. Also, pay keen attention to whether or not a specific stakeholder is a promoter or detractor and understand their level of influence over the project.

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Quality Eagle-Eye

In the Quality Eagle-Eye step, set up processes to ensure that all project deliverables meet the required quality standards. This involves defining quality benchmarks at the beginning of the project and implementing regular quality checks or audits. A project manager and project team should clearly understand what constitutes quality with the deliverables. Encourage a culture where quality is everyone’s responsibility. If the team faces quality challenges, the project manager should initiate a root cause analysis, promptly take corrective measures, and error-proof the solution to prevent a recurrence.

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Risk Sweep

The Risk Sweep step involves proactively identifying potential risks and challenges impacting your project. This process starts with creating a risk register where all identified risks are noted along with their potential impact and likelihood. Develop mitigation strategies for each significant risk and incorporate them into your project plan. Regularly revisit the risk register to update and review the risks. This should be where you are currently operating in your project timeline, but as circumstances dictate, it could be further out on the project schedule. The point is that you should always look at the present and ahead. You should also adapt your strategy as risk and the project landscape changes.

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Progress Pulse

To effectively execute the project Progress Pulse, establish a system for monitoring and reporting the project’s progress against its planned objectives and timeline. Tools you should consider are Earned Value Management (EVM) for cost and schedule management and project management software to track tasks, milestones, and deadlines. Regular progress meetings and reports help in keeping the team aligned and focused. These updates and the tools you use should provide a clear picture of where the project is, highlighting any areas falling behind schedule or over budget, which will enable timely decisions to stay on track.

"Energetic business team giving high-fives in a sunny office, celebrating success or achieving a milestone in a project."

Team Support

In the Team Support step, you maintain team dynamics and morale. You recognize and address any issues of conflict or miscommunication within the team. Regular meetings, one-on-one check-ins, and informal interactions help you understand team concerns and dynamics. You keep the group motivated by celebrating small victories and providing constructive feedback. It is crucial to ensure that each team member feels valued and understands how their work contributes to the project’s success. You should do so with authenticity, genuine concern for your team members, and promoting organizational support.

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Feedback Funnel

The Feedback Funnel step revolves around creating mechanisms for receiving and managing feedback from team members, internal and external stakeholders, and even end-users. This is critical for making continuous improvements. Establish channels such as surveys, suggestion boxes, or regular review meetings to gather input. Analyze this feedback to identify common themes or suggestions and use it to make data-informed adjustments to your project execution strategy.

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Closure Countdown

As you approach the Closure Countdown, start preparing for the successful closing of the project. Confirm that all project objectives have been met and all deliverables are complete and accepted by the customer/client. Ensure that all project documentation is current, and any remaining contracts or agreements are finalized and closed. Plan for a formal project handover, if necessary, and organize a project debriefing or “lessons learned” session to reflect on what worked well and what could be improved for future projects. Finally, acknowledge and reward the efforts of your team and stakeholders, for a job well done and closure.

Key Considerations For Successfully Navigating Project Execution

While the steps offered provide a systematic approach to executing your project, it’s also critical to remember the intangibles that play a significant role in determining success.

The emotional and mental well-being of your team can’t be overstated. The most well-laid plans that ensure project success can go awry if the unit isn’t motivated, feels unheard or is burnt out. Regular check-ins, ensuring a work-life balance, and providing avenues for open communication can boost morale and improve overall productivity. Moreover, a project manager’s ability to remain authentic should not go unstated. It has been argued that authenticity is the foundation of transformational leadership, and it promotes increased trust and perceptions of support.

Adaptability is key. In a fluid world, changes are inevitable. Rather than resisting change, embrace it. Equip your team with the mindset and tools to respond dynamically to change requests. This involves adjusting timelines or resources and being receptive to new ideas or approaches to enhance the project’s outcome.

Always maintain a clear line of communication with all stakeholders, not just the immediate team. Keeping everyone aligned and informed helps manage expectations, garners support when needed, and builds trust. Remember, it’s not just about the destination but also the journey.

Taking it to the Next Level: How to Elevate Your Project Execution

Once the basics have become second nature, there are advanced strategies and techniques you can employ to refine your skills further and deliver even more remarkable results.

Consider integrating advanced real-time analytics tools, such as AI-driven insights or predictive modeling. These tools can offer you a deeper understanding of your project’s progress, the flexibility to promote innovation and identify additional risks and areas of improvement. For example, AI-driven project management tools and software tools can help anticipate resource delays or conflicts, allowing you to proactively address them.

Invest in continuous learning and training. The project management world is ever-evolving, with new methodologies, tools, and best practices emerging regularly. Enroll in advanced courses, attend seminars, or get certifications in specialized areas of project management.

Foster a culture of innovation within your team. Encourage team members to present out-of-the-box solutions, experiment with new strategies, and challenge the status quo. A team that is fearless in innovating or taking calculated risks will consistently push the boundaries and achieve exceptional outcomes. Remember, excellence starts with high standards, and project execution isn’t a destination but a continuous journey of growth and evolution.

Alternatives to Effective Project Execution

While the method outlined in this article offers a systematic approach to project planning and execution, it’s necessary to understand that project management is a diverse field with various methodologies and techniques that better suit different types of projects and organizational cultures. Here are some alternatives:

  1. Agile Project Management: Unlike traditional project management, Agile is more iterative. It prioritizes flexibility and customer feedback. Teams work in short sprints, and the project’s direction can be adjusted at the end of each life cycle based on feedback. This approach makes it a perfect fit for software development or any project where the end product might evolve.
  2. PRINCE2 (Projects IN Controlled Environments 2) is a methodology that focuses on predefined frameworks and structures. It’s excellent for large organizations and government agencies that need to restrict stages, roles, and responsibilities.

While it may not be necessary, being familiar with other approaches is beneficial so a team can use the most appropriate steps for each unique project.

 

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Final Thoughts on Project Executing

Executing a project can be difficult, but with these strategies and insights, you’ll be equipped with a framework to lead your projects to success.

Over the years, I’ve overseen countless projects, each presenting its own unique challenges. Through trial and error, successes, and setbacks, I have drawn on research and best practices to refine these methods and ensure they are efficient and effective. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to successful project execution, the principles outlined here provide that foundation.

Trust in the process, stay adaptable, and remember that every project is a learning experience. Now go get’em!

 

References

Greenburg, D., Michalaka, D., & Shick, M. (2023). An Integrated Exercise to Teach Earned Value Management. Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice, 23(13).

Kerzner, H. (2017). Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling – Twelfth Edition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Project Management Institute, Inc. (2017). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) – Sixth Edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

 

About the author: Dr. Michael J. Shick, MSPM, PMP, CSM, founder of ROSEMET, is a combat-wounded warrior and retired senior military officer turned esteemed academic and project management expert. Holding a doctorate from Creighton University and serving as an Assistant Professor at Western Carolina University, Dr. Shick’s dedication goes beyond credentials, as he commits to empowering individuals and organizations toward project excellence. With an extensive military, academic, and project leadership background, he epitomizes resilience, expertise, and a steadfast devotion to fostering growth and success in others.