You’ve selected a project with an appealing ROI that fits your company’s portfolio perfectly. You’ve accounted for major risks and built a detailed project plan that provides a roadmap to success. Now all that remains is to execute the plan successfully.
The project execution phase is crucial, as even the best project plan is useless if it isn’t properly carried out. But successful project execution doesn’t come without its challenges. Inadequate communication, unforeseen changes and resource management failures are just a few of the ways poor project management practices can hinder or prevent successfully executing a project.
This guide has everything you need to understand what project execution entails and how to implement a few simple strategies for better project results at your company.
What is project execution?
The execution phase of project management is the third stage of the project lifecycle, encompassing everything needed to complete the project successfully. It follows the project initiation phase — which involves project ideation, evaluation and authorization — and the project planning phase. Some engineering and construction projects also include a project design phase after planning, where initial concepts are refined into finished drawings, models and specifications.
Execution is where the strategies, workflows and goals established in these previous phases come to fruition. It involves practices like supply chain management, allocation of resources, identifying and planning for risks, and, for industrial projects, fabrication, construction and commissioning facilities.
Of course, if you’ve ever executed a project, you know that things rarely go according to plan. Objectives change, priorities shift and unexpected constraints, delays and errors arise. That’s why it’s so important to implement a project execution strategy that provides the flexibility and resilience needed to overcome challenges and meet your organization’s objectives.
6 steps in the project execution phase
While the route to success varies for each project and organization, you can follow these 6 key steps to develop a more effective project execution process.
1. Begin work on assigned tasks while following defined processes
By the end of the initiation and planning phases of the project lifecycle, everyone involved with the project should be ready to hit the ground running, with a full understanding of their roles and responsibilities. The project execution phase should then begin with team members working on their designated tasks while adhering to the workflows your organization has established and collaborating as needed.
Even if you’ve nailed preparation, however, kicking off the project execution phase successfully requires quite a bit more than simply telling employees to get started — especially for complex capital projects. Do your team members have the ability to easily access information on key workflows and customize them to meet the needs of specific projects? Or do they have to rely on outdated documentation, direction from other team members and memory to keep track of the many processes and details involved in any project?
If the latter sounds more like the situation at your company, look for an enterprise project performance (EPP) platform that enables smooth execution of your key processes with visualized workflows, business process management and integrations with apps your team members use every day. These features enable team members to quickly understand even cross-project processes that would otherwise require lengthy, difficult handoffs between employees with different job functions.
2. Communicate within and outside of the team
Communication is a key ingredient in effective project execution. This involves everything from status meetings with team members to keeping external stakeholders apprised of progress or changes. Things move fast during the project execution phase, and team members need a reliable method for keeping each other informed and ensuring they’re always on track.
Modern EPP tools make it easy for team members to generate status reports with relevant metrics, document meeting minutes and takeaways, and communicate these details both internally and externally without missing a beat. They also capture and provide access to project data in real time, ensuring that every team member has access to and uses the same information when executing their responsibilities. Employees can then stay on the same page while focusing on high priority execution initiatives, rather than digging for the information they need to get the job done or working at cross-purposes with other departments.
3. Risk management
Every project includes some level of risk. Evolving regulations, unforeseen supply constraints, stakeholder errors and delays and countless other possibilities — from an increase in the price of steel to an unexpected blizzard — can have a big impact on the project execution phase. That’s why risk management is such an important part of project execution. It involves identifying risks in advance, evaluating the potential impact and likelihood of each and preparing to mitigate them accordingly. Establishing contingency funds and building project schedules that account for potential delays are two of the most important ways to mitigate the impact of risk on your budget and timeline.
In addition to the potential issues mentioned above, a disparity between your project plan and reality — otherwise known as an execution gap — is one of the risks you’re most likely to encounter when tackling a project. Whether it turns out that your project schedule wasn’t realistic, your team doesn’t possess a key skill you thought it did, or a key piece of equipment doesn’t perform as anticipated, execution gaps can easily knock a project off track.
Thankfully, the right risk management solution can provide the transparency needed to shrink the gap before things completely fall off the rails. Look for a platform that includes tools for identifying, assigning and monitoring risks in a single, centralized platform. Data-backed risk analyses enable teams to prioritize risks, monitor progress and adjust when needed, so execution gaps are less likely to arise and are more easily surmounted when they do occur. This system can also boost cash flow during the project, as funds allocated for risks that fail to materialize can be moved from the contingency budget to more productive purposes.
4. Resource management
You can’t properly execute a project if you don’t have the necessary resources, like skilled personnel, the right equipment and materials. Resource management helps ensure your organization has what it needs to bring all its projects across the finish line. To ensure the project is delivered on-time and on-budget, you need to accurately manage resource capacity against project demand, align schedules and prioritize allocation. You can take the guesswork out of the equation by choosing a resource management platform that integrates with other key project disciplines, drawing in all the vital data needed to build and manage detailed resource plans in real time.
5. Change management
Almost all projects evolve as they progress. Effective project execution must take the inevitability of change into account and help team members handle the unexpected when it occurs. A strong change management process helps your organization understand the reasons behind change, evaluate any impact on project costs, resources and scheduling and adapt as needed. Over time, it contributes to greater individual and team accountability, a more flexible culture and reduced expenses.
Communicating the reasons for change and its impact early and frequently with the entire project team is a great start, but it’s not enough. Develop standard change management processes tailored for your most common project types, so you don’t waste time reinventing the wheel during the project execution phase. And look for a platform that makes it easy to build change management workflows, define owners for each step in the process and develop templates for change request and approval forms.
6. Measure progress and review milestones
You can only improve project execution if you collect and analyze the data needed to accurately evaluate your team’s performance this time around. Start by implementing project controls to measure progress compared to the plan as the project moves forward. This gives you a better chance of identifying issues and course correcting before they derail the project. You should also review any mid-project deliverables and engage in a holistic analysis once the project has concluded, keeping your organization on track for continuous improvement. Of course, this all relies on a platform that can pull historical and real-time project data from key systems across your portfolio.
4 project execution best practices
While the steps above form the core of any quality project execution process, there are plenty of ways you can make project execution even more efficient and reliable. Here are four of the best.
1. Focus on smooth project handoffs
Transitioning a project between phases and team members might seem straightforward, but without careful attention and planning, it’s easy for key pieces of information to fall through the cracks. Access to information and the ability to effectively communicate it are the keys to ensuring a seamless project handoff. Address both with a platform that integrates data on all key processes across every stage of the project lifecycle. This makes it easy for team members to prepare themselves for receiving a project handoff and handing it off in turn. In newly-commissioned facilities, the importance of clarity and information transfer to the asset owner at the conclusion of a turnkey project from the contractor doing the work is also a significant step that warrants careful attention.
2. Stay within scope
Project plans are only effective if you stay within scope when executing them. Going far beyond your allocated budget or anticipated schedule in pursuit of additional or changed project goals is a surefire way to compromise your project portfolio. To avoid scope creep, carefully define the project’s scope in advance, establish a clear hierarchy of project priorities and, of course, practice effective change management.
3. Prioritize documentation
Humans miscommunicate, misinterpret and forget. These errors are costly and plague even the highest budget projects. In fact, 98% of megaprojects suffer from cost overruns. That’s why practicing rigorous documentation throughout the project execution phase — and ensuring all team members can easily access that documentation — is so vital.
This doesn’t mean you should ask your employees to struggle with a variety of ad hoc documentation methods, however. Using a variety of platforms just makes more work for team members when they’re creating documentation and trying to find it later on. Instead, opt for a centralized platform that lets employees access critical documentation on every aspect of your project in a single app.
4. Use an integrated enterprise project performance solution
By now, you’ve probably realized that using a variety of disjointed platforms — including spreadsheets, house-built tools and third-party solutions — can negatively impact the project execution phase in many ways. Avoid these issues with an integrated enterprise project performance (EPP) solution that combines all project management and project portfolio management (PPM) functions in one platform. Rather than forcing employees to toggle between a variety of tools and apps while they’re trying to get the job done, a modern EPP solution empowers every team member with the ability to access the features and information they need anytime, anywhere.
Execute projects successfully with EcoSysTM
EcoSys is an EPP platform dedicated to optimizing project execution, along with all your organization’s other PPM and project management processes. With tools for document management, resource planning, risk and change management and much more, EcoSys offers everything your company needs to successfully deliver more projects on time and under budget.
Start your journey to better project execution by contacting Hexagon today.