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A step-by-step guide through the project execution phase

PostsProject management
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

April 19, 2024

Project kick-off is an exciting time, and the execution phase offers peak thrills: It’s where everyone springs into action and turns plans into something tangible. But it’s also the most dangerous part, where said plans could turn into an expensive mistake, with resources, teams, and time being wasted or underused. 

Luckily, the project execution plan is here to help. Here’s everything you need to know about mastering this phase like a pro.

What is project execution?

Project execution is a core phase in the project management life cycle, which itself comprises 5 distinct stages:

  • Initiation
  • Planning
  • Execution
  • Monitoring 
  • Closing

This stage breathes life into theoretical frameworks, translating plans into physical or digital outputs. Success hinges on good resource deployment, smart planning, savvy task execution, and plenty of stakeholder engagement. 

In simpler terms, think of it as the ‘doing’ phase.

What happens during the execution phase?

Here’s a quick summary of the key moments. It’s not necessarily a linear process, but you will move through each of these at least once. 

1. Resource allocation: The project manager allocates and organizes resources. This includes humans, equipment, and materials.

2. Team assignments: The manager assigns specific tasks to team members based on the project plan. 

3. Task execution: Actual work on the project begins. It involves following the methods and processes set out during the planning stage, ticking off tasks as you go.

4. Quality assurance: Tasks need to be reviewed for quality as they’re completed.

5. Performance reporting: This includes updating schedules, budgets, and resources. Effective communication during this phase helps keep everyone informed and involved (stakeholders included). 

6. Problem-solving and adjustments: Invariably, issues will crop up, calling for adjustments to the original plan.

7. Stakeholder engagement: This might involve regular meetings, reports, or demonstrations of work in progress. Stakeholder feedback is incredibly useful and might lead to adjustments to the original plan. 

What’s produced during the execution phase?

From documents to products, there’s a lot that comes out of this crucial stage. Here’s what teams can generally expect to produce. 

  • Deliverables: These are the tangible products or services that the project was initiated to create. These can range from cakes to software products and constructed buildings to training sessions and events. They are the primary output and your project’s reason for existing.
  • Documentation: Projects create documentation. This includes technical docs, project status reports, and revised project plans. Love it or loathe it, it’s essential for transparency, tracking progress, and ensuring consistency and quality throughout the project lifecycle.
  • Status updates: Regular updates on the progress of the project are a must. These updates keep stakeholders in the loop. They also might lead to timely feedback that can affect the course of the project. 
  • Issue logs and change requests: Issues are as certain as night following day. When they do, issue logs record these challenges and the strategies used to address them. Similarly, change requests document any needs for alterations to the project scope or deliverables, which must be approved by relevant stakeholders to keep the project aligned with its goals. 
  • Performance data: Data helps you analyze efficiency and make adjustments accordingly. It could include time tracking, cost management, and resource utilization to name but a few metrics . This data is vital for analyzing efficiency, making adjustments, and planning future projects.
  • Quality records: Inspections, tests, and reviews all produce records that are part of maintaining quality. Records help you maintain a certain level from project start to finish.
  • Approval and acceptance forms: Every deliverable needs to go through a sign-off process. Usually, it’s the client or stakeholder doing the final checks. Sign-off documents are the standard way to formalize the process.

What is a project execution plan?

A project execution plan is a key document used by project managers to direct the execution phase, describing how the project will be carried out, who will do what, and how it will be monitored. Essentially, it acts as a template for project implementation and a road map for project teams.

It outlines all the vital elements needed to ensure the project’s success. Think of it as a living document that you update as the project goes on and new information comes to light. Regular reviews and updates are necessary to keep it on track.

What should your project execution plan include?

All the essential components needed to guide the project team over the finish line. This typically includes the following. 

  • Objectives: Clear, measurable targets aligning with the broader business or organizational goals.
  • Scope: Detailed description of deliverables and the boundaries of the project.
  • Tasks and activities: A breakdown of all the tasks, including who is responsible for what and how they interrelate.
  • Resources: Specification of the human, financial, and material resources required for the project. 
  • Timeline: A schedule outlining when each task begins and ends, plus important deadlines and milestones.
  • Budget: Detailed financial plan that outlines the costs associated with each aspect of the project, including labor, materials, and other expenses.
  • Risk management plan: Identification of potential risks, the likelihood of these risks occurring, their potential impact, and strategies for mitigating them.
  • Quality management: Standards and metrics to ensure that the project’s deliverables meet the required quality, plus procedures for quality control and assurance.
  • Communication plan: For stakeholders, including the methods, frequency, and channels.
  • Change management process: Procedures for handling changes to the project scope or plan, including how you’ll approve and document those changes.

Why is monitoring an important part of project execution?

With regular monitoring, managers can swiftly spot and fix deviations from the intended scope, budget, or timeframe. 

Here’s why keeping a close eye on this phase is so important.

  • Resource management: Monitoring helps ensure resources are used efficiently.
  • Risk mitigation: Early risk identification helps you spot issues before they snowball into bigger ones.
  • Quality control: Ongoing monitoring helps you spot quality issues in the deliverables, ensuring the project meets the required standards and satisfies the clients/stakeholders.
  • Keeping stakeholders happy: Continuous monitoring also boosts stakeholder confidence by keeping them engaged. 
  • Staying on track: Projects can start well, but without regular check-ins, even the best-planned events can stall, and the dreaded ‘project gap’ opens up.

The project execution gap explained 

A project execution gap is the discrepancy between where a project should be according to the plan, and where it actually stands at any given point. 

Delays, unforeseen obstacles, resource shortages, or changes in project scope can all lead to this problem. And it is a real issue: this gap between expectation and reality can delay deadlines, lead to budget overruns, and compromise project quality. You’ll find some of the most common culprits in the next section.

Common project execution challenges

Even the best-made plans get waylaid. Problems arise when you don’t have a contingency plan, aka a ‘plan B’, which is often the difference between taking problems in your stride, and letting them derail you. Here are some common challenges you’ll need to keep an eye out for.

  • Resource constraints 
  • Scope creep
  • Miscommunication 
  • Stakeholder conflict
  • Technical challenges
  • Scheduling issues
  • Compliance and regulatory changes

11 project execution strategies

The key to mastering the execution phase is to head in with a plan. Here are 11 failsafe strategies to get your project across the line. 

1. Get everyone aligned

Strategic alignment from the get-go is critical to the project’s success. This means that the aims and objectives should be in line with overall corporate plans and stakeholder expectations. 

To do this, invite key stakeholders to participate in the planning phase to discuss and agree on the project’s scope, objectives, and expected outcomes. 

This early involvement helps you identify and resolve any differences in expectations sooner rather than later. Review on a regular basis to account for changes in company strategy or external factors that may influence the project’s trajectory.

2. Plan for effective handoffs

Effective handoffs guarantee the project flows smoothly and that no information is lost between stages. This is especially important when transferring tasks from one team to another or when certain phases of the project are complex.

  • Document all processes and important information. 
  • Create handoff checklists that contain accomplished tasks, outstanding issues, and future steps. 
  • Make sure everyone participating in the project has access to these materials.
  • Organize transition meetings where outgoing and incoming teams can chat about the status of the project.

3. Be aware of the domino effect

This refers to the interconnectivity of activities and how the delay or acceleration of one might affect others later on. Project delays, resource misallocation, and budget overruns tend to follow.

To successfully manage it, prepare a precise project plan that includes all jobs and their dependencies. Then use project management tools that display these dependencies, such as Gantt charts or critical path analysis, to help you identify the tasks that are most likely to trigger a domino effect. 

Regularly update your schedules to reflect the actual progress and adjust dependencies as needed.

4. Delegate generously but with care 

Delegation involves assigning the right tasks to the right team members based on their skills, experience, and current workload. It’s obviously key when it comes to resource optimization — but giving employees extra responsibility is also great for morale

  • Define each task, including its scope, deadline, and expected outcomes
  • Provide the necessary resources and authority for team members to complete their tasks 
  • Match tasks with team members’ strengths and career aspirations, which can boost motivation and engagement.

Following task delegation, do regular follow-ups and feedback sessions. These help you monitor progress, provide support where needed, and ensure tasks are on track to meet their deadlines. 

5. Keep a firm grip on project scope

Scope creep can spell disaster for a project. This happens when new elements are added to the project without equivalent increases in resources, time, or adjustments to project objectives.

  • Start with a well-defined project scope document that clearly outlines what’s included and what isn’t
  • Get a written agreement from all stakeholders
  • Implement a formal change control process to handle any requests for changes in the scope. 
  • For every change request, assess how the proposed change will impact the project’s budget, timeline, and resources
  • Ensure no changes go ahead without stakeholder authorization
  • Document all changes and communicate them to the wider team and stakeholders
  • Revisit the project scope during status meetings to ensure the project remains aligned with the original objectives
  • Train team members to recognize and report potential scope changes — they are often the first to notice when project boundaries are being stretched.

6. Empower the team

When team members are empowered to make decisions, it can lead to faster problem resolution, increased engagement, and increased innovation. This empowerment also reduces bottlenecks, as not every decision needs to go through management.

  • Establish clear guidelines that outline which types of decisions team members can make on their own and which should be escalated
  • Provide training and resources to help team members make informed decisions
  • Encourage a culture of open communication and trust
  • Let your team know that it’s okay to take calculated risks and that they have support even if outcomes don’t always meet expectations. By trusting your team’s expertise and judgment, you boost their confidence.

7. Master your team’s communication 

Good communication helps everyone collaborate better, from stakeholders to interns and beyond. It also helps prevent communication breakdowns, which can spell disaster for a project.

  • Develop a communication plan that outlines who needs to receive information, when they need it, and through what channels. This plan should cover all forms, including meetings, emails, reports, informal updates, and so on.
  • Use tools that facilitate good communication, not limiting yourself to email: Project management software, collaborative platforms, and regular status meetings all count.
  • Make sure these tools are accessible and used consistently.
  • Encourage an open communication culture where team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. 
  • Regular feedback loops between project managers, team members, and other stakeholders are also crucial. This keeps everyone aligned and feeling like one big happy team. 

8. Keep an open mind

Being open to new ideas can result in better procedures, solutions, and overall project results. This openness generates a creative environment in which team members feel valued and encouraged to give their very best.

  • Create a supportive atmosphere where all suggestions are welcomed and considered
  • Run regular brainstorming sessions, which can be a great way to gather insights and solutions from a wider range of people
  • Implement a process for evaluating and implementing feasible ideas. This could involve setting up a small committee or using project management tools to track and manage suggestions
  • Recognize and reward team members whose ideas lead to positive changes, reinforcing the value of creative thinking within the team. 

9. Measure progress 

Just like an athlete working towards a competition, measuring progress is essential for keeping the project on track. It also helps you spot any issues and take remedial action if necessary. 

  • Establish clear metrics and milestones at the outset of the project. These goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). 
  • Use project management tools that enable real-time tracking, especially task completion rates, budget expenditures, and milestone achievements.
  • Schedule regular progress review meetings with the project team and stakeholders. During these meetings, discuss the project status, review the metrics, and examine any areas where the project may be falling behind. 

10. Keep the quality high 

Stakeholders have the power to declare a project a success or a failure, so it pays to keep them smiling. Quality management impacts not only the final outcome but also the project’s credibility, not to mention the satisfaction of these VIPs.

Establish a quality management plan at the start. This should outline the quality standards, criteria for acceptance, and the methods for hitting these standards. Key components might include:

  • Quality metrics: Define metrics for measuring the quality of deliverables at various stages of the project.
  • Quality control processes: Implement regular checks and audits to ensure the work meets the established standards. Peer reviews, testing processes, and quality audits are all good options.
  • Quality assurance activities: Think about building in processes that prevent quality issues from happening in the first place. This could include training, feedback loops, encouraging accountability, selecting high-quality materials, using Andon, refining processes, or all of the above.

11. Use project management tools 

Using project management tools properly is critical for project success. These technologies speed up processes, improve communication, and give insights into project health, helping teams stay on track.

  • Choose tools that best fit the needs of your project. Consider factors like the size of your team, the complexity of the project, and specific functionalities like task management, scheduling, resource allocation, and communication.
  • Train your team to use the tools. This training should cover advanced feature usage along with the basics. 
  • Integrate tools so they’re an integral part of daily operations. 
  • Take advantage of real-time capabilities to keep track of progress and address issues promptly. 
  • Use collaboration features like shared workspaces, discussion boards, and document sharing to keep communication clear and centralized. 
  • Use the reporting and analytics functions to help you identify trends, foresee potential problems, and make smart decisions about future projects.

Project management software helps ensure every phase of your project — from initiation to closure — is conducted with precision and efficiency. Ready to take Backlog for a spin? Try it for free today! 



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