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A good project execution plan has always been essential to delivering a successful project. But the way work is planned and executed continues to change as the speed of business constantly accelerates.
Project leaders shouldn’t focus on measuring success by looking at whether the project was delivered on time and within budget. They should prioritize delivering greater business value as their biggest outcome.
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Modern, adaptive organizations depend on the PMO to empower teams and connect strategy to the work delivered. They prioritize delivering project-centric work that strategically helps the organization.
Achieving this requires PMOs to recognize the way projects are planned and executed is changing. The traditional project execution plan is no longer an immutable document that teams and project leaders must follow. It’s a flexible guideline that outlines what can be expected – and that plan can change depending on internal and external factors that can influence the project.
Learn how to create a project execution plan that sets your teams up for success, while offering enough flexibility to support changes within your project’s journey.
What Is a Project Execution Plan?
The project execution plan defines how a project will be executed, monitored, and delivered.
All team members and project stakeholders should understand its importance. The project execution plan outlines what’s needed for success and establishes how project leaders will run the execution phase to meet the project requirements.
The PMO acts as a vital entity by:
- Connecting teams with the bigger picture
- Determining the right business outcomes
- Measuring the value delivered
Governance should become more flexible to accommodate quick adaptation to change. It should account for giving teams autonomy to define how work is delivered, and it should provide guardrails to ensure they stay on track.
When executives shift strategies, or priorities and markets evolve, modern PMOs can help teams pivot fast while staying tied to the overall strategy.
A good, detailed plan yields countless benefits – especially when it’s adapted as needed to align with strategy or changing demands.
Project execution plan types for different work delivery
PMOs and other project leaders should carefully consider the project and teams assigned when choosing how to deliver work.
Although a project execution plan has historically been a key component of traditional project delivery, the elements of a plan can certainly be applied to other methodologies. Project execution plan types will vary based on the level of compliance, precision vs flexibility needed, and autonomy necessary for delivery.
Below are three ways that teams deliver work. A project execution plan can help support each method of work delivery.
- Traditional waterfall: A waterfall project execution plan is treated as a linear, sequential process. Teams complete milestones in order, according to a set scope of work, timeline, and costs.
- Agile: Unlike waterfall, agile builds change and flexibility into the project execution plan. At the end of each sprint, teams collect feedback on the work delivered and apply it to the next sprint. When requirements and direction change after a sprint, PMOs and project managers can adapt the plan accordingly.
- Hybrid: Hybrid projects draw upon elements from both agile and waterfall. They provide a firm direction and scope, while giving room for adaptability when needed. Hybrid plans are beneficial for teams, PMOs, and organizations transitioning into agile methodologies.
Depending on the type of project and the team, hybrid work may be a more effective approach than waterfall or agile.
How to Create a Project Execution Plan
Consider your options with technology when you start creating your plan.
Project portfolio management (PPM) software can help capture data to a centralized location where project and portfolio managers can freely access up-to-date information. This helps to inform their decision making when things go off course, as well as help them create checks and balances, and provide a method to measure success.
Remember, your project execution plan can have many components, but the elements below are imperative.
Goal statement, scope, and building a business case
The goal statement summarizes the project’s purpose, while the scope looks at how they can achieve the project objectives.
A good goal statement reaffirms the desired outcomes and the expected benefits to the organization, stakeholders, or customers. These could be anything from ROI projections to increased customer loyalty. You can also include risks and anticipated challenges here, along with measures to address these concerns.
It’s a good practice to include sprint goals into the project execution plan when doing agile and hybrid work. The sprint goal outlines the objective of that sprint and is useful for demonstrating what you plan to accomplish. It’s also good for keeping the team on track when team members define how to work.
Elements detailed in your project scope and business case should include:
- Statement of work
- Customer and sponsors
- Work deliverables, outputs, and enablers
- Milestones for waterfall-driven work
To drive transparency and ownership, the more specific the better – especially with large, complex projects involving cross-functional teams.
Defining quality is vital in every project execution plan. PMOs can help identify what quality standards are needed to reach these goals and how to measure them.
Quality specifications depend on the project objectives and scope. Traditional quality measurements are typically “on time and on budget.”
However, the focus on delivering organizational value – not just project outputs – requires moving away from the traditional quality standards that PMOs have grown accustomed to. Be thoughtful of the key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be defined by goals and measures to make a greater impact for the business.
Engaging teams in this process leads to better measurements and commitment to the plan. Everyone should agree on the quality definitions and specifications. Knowing what is expected facilitates more successful project outcomes.
Allocation of resources
This section of the plan lists all resource, needs, and skills teams required to complete the work.
Resources include the budget, people, and materials involved – and where each resource is allocated.
Allocating resources appropriately can facilitate a smoother execution phase by preventing delays and resource conflicts. To further minimize these conflicts, consider taking a page from the agile approach and using cross-functional teams.
This will ensure your resources are distributed evenly with more consistency across skillsets. Rather than allocating them to a team comprised of disparate members assigned to a team based on their availability.
Effective resource planning begins during the demand management and prioritization process. By identifying resource availability and dependencies, PMOs can make informed decisions about how to distribute resources across portfolios, programs, and projects in sync with initiatives and investments.
Schedule of the work deliverables
The scheduling part of the project execution plan is where project managers break the work down into tasks. This schedule guides teams through every stage of the execution.
A typical schedule for waterfall-driven work includes the projected start and end dates, deadlines for deliverables, and milestones.
Using a work breakdown structure allows you to visualize the scope of your project and break work down into manageable components like sprints or milestones. Tools like Kanban boards and Gantt charts make it possible to create a visual breakdown of your project, making it easier for you to plan, execute, and deliver your projects.
Remember, no matter how perfect your project execution plan is, there are always going to be risks. Keep an open line of communication and make schedule updates as needed, so you keep stakeholders informed and prepared for any changes.
Contingency planning can be another component of the schedule. This is a great way for project leaders to build in extra time for project phases that may be difficult or present potential risks.
The right project execution plan sets the stage for good communications and collaboration. Progress moves faster if internal staff and customers know who to contact about project matters – and how to reach them.
This requires documenting elements such as key personnel and their roles and responsibilities. Everyone involved in the project should have a clear understanding of:
- Who’s accountable for which processes
- Who to consult with questions or concerns
- Who has decision-making authority for specific aspects within the project
Kanban boards, Gantt charts, and other work delivery tools increase work efficiency and reduce project setbacks. Customizable project plans and workspace templates, establishing team workflows, and creating lane policies and other processes for Kanban boards can help teams stay organized as they work.
Project Managers play a central role in setting teams up for success by supporting and empowering their teams.
Modern PMOs should support multiple ways of work, set the best practices for achieving project success, and provide the means for cross-team collaboration and status reporting. Implementing a PPM solution will make sure all project data is easily accessed from a centralized location. This information rolls up into the broader portfolio view of projects and programs across the organization.
Your plan should also detail the methods for monitoring and reporting progress and performance.
Teams may use their own tools to communicate internally, but individual software can only take you so far.
Your company needs a centralized place to plan, collaborate, and deliver work.
Using a work delivery tool or project management solution will ensure that all collaboration stays under one roof, so everyone has access to the same, up-to-date information. The ideal project management solution facilitates better collaboration while making it easier for project leaders to manage the work being done.
5 Tips for Building a Successful Project Execution Plan
Below are five tips for building a successful project execution plan.
1. Outline your project plan
Developing a rough project outline is a good starting point. This brings the necessary elements into focus, informed by pre-planning notes and initial input from stakeholders.
Answer the following questions as you develop the project execution plan:
- What’s the project goal and how does it connect to the larger strategic plan?
- What’s our expectations and how do we measure success?
- What are the main deliverables?
- Who’s on the project team and what is everyone’s role?
- How will the team execute the deliverables and meet the deadline?
- What happens when the plan changes or if deliverables are late?
- What are potential risks and dependencies that may arise within the project execution plan?
Project sponsors, customers, and other stakeholders can provide valuable feedback here. The answers will help to make determinations such as the approval process, work tasks, resources, and timeline.
The more solid the outline, the better the clarity and visibility.
2. Communicate with your team
Gather input from team members. Their expertise will drive the project.
Project leaders should communicate regularly with teams throughout execution through standup meetings that:
- Spotlight daily contributions
- Look at capacity dependencies
- Identify issues to address
Agile and hybrid teams should determine how they want to plan and execute the work.
Autonomous teams are given more ownership of execution with agile and hybrid projects. This gives the PMO more time to ensure projects align with business goals. A key enabler is ensuring the team understands the project goals and how they align to the bigger picture of company initiatives – where their contributions create real business impact.
3. Support hybrid ways of working
Successful PMOs champion the teams engaged in this hybrid work and tailor each project execution plan accordingly.
Rather than adhering to one set methodology, they advocate for the right work type for the expected outcome.
An effective PPM solution facilitates this by providing teams with the capabilities and tools to deliver work following their chosen methods.
Your solution should provide timely, high-quality data about resources and interdependencies across projects, programs, and portfolios. This gives PMOs the visibility needed to manage initiatives across the organization. And when things change, the PMO can advise leaders on trade-offs between potential decisions and replan when needed.
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4. Align deliverables with company strategy
PMOs are in a prime position to drive strategic value in the organization. What other department can translate high-level objectives and strategies into progressively more detailed components?
Modern PMOs must prioritize outcomes that provide customer and business value, as well as align with the company’s strategy.
Employing an adaptive portfolio management approach enables coordinated delivery across the business. As priorities change or disruption occurs, PMOs can guide organizational shifts and replan as needed.
5. Be prepared for change
Changes to the project execution plan are inevitable. Good project plans serve as guidance for how to shift when a shipment is delayed, or the timeline is moved up.
The project goal, scope, connection to corporate strategy, and other plan elements help to vet change requests. Project leaders can objectively say yes or no according to the outcomes and customer value the project is trying to achieve.
It’s essential to understand the scope and goal of the proposed modification when handling a change request.
- What actions are required to make the change?
- How much time and resources will it take?
- Any other dependencies, potential risks, or implications to consider?
- Can this be done any other way? What does MVP (minimal viable product) look like to still provide the value anticipated?
Project managers should determine how the proposed changes affect the plan, including resources, timeline, and budget.
Seek recommendations from the team to determine if there are team members who can implement change, and determine the time and resources required.
Creating a Plan that Adapts to the Needs of the Business
Execution plans help PMOs ensure that deliverables are always aligned to strategy. But building a project execution plan requires more considerations and decisions these days.
PMOs and project managers are no longer bound to rigid approaches. Modern-day PMOs are more flexible, allowing for changes depending on market shifts, pivots to strategic priorities, opportunities for innovation or increase competitiveness, and for the needs of the customer.
Flexibility should be woven into the fabric of your project execution plan, enabling teams to change course in stride.
Empower your teams to do their best work. Register for the on-demand Hybrid Project Portfolio Management demo and see how partnering with Planview can help you drive value while becoming more responsive to change.