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Effective execution in project management is about more than seeing projects delivered on time and within budget. It’s also about helping your organization keep up with rapidly changing business demands.
Change is a constant that PMOs and project managers should be prepared for, so it doesn’t hinder execution and delivery. Even perfect plans can change during the execution phase – when progress is made and performance is measured.
One way to thrive during change in the project execution phase is by supporting new ways of collaboration. That way, you can empower teams to deliver work that drives business value.
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This is a guide on execution approaches for today’s project management practices. Learn how to enhance project execution by following the eight tips in this article.
But first, let’s take a closer look at what execution in project management really is.
What Is Project Execution?
Project execution is where teams start developing the product, service, or other deliverables committed to stakeholders.
Typically, project leaders focus on three primary components of execution in project management: Managing processes, people, and communication.
- Following processes and guidelines: Leverage flexible governance structure to create procedures that enhance delivery and drive the highest value
- Managing people: The human factor can challenge the best project managers, especially in new settings and situations where teams are cross-functional and working remotely
- Distributing information: Stakeholders, customers, and teams need regular communication about status, timelines, changes, project performance, and more
The PMO’s role has traditionally been to ensure projects are delivered on time and on budget. They did this through standardized governance processes that dictate how work is delivered.
However, traditional governance can be too rigid. It runs the risk of undermining the value of the work delivered, which is why modern PMOs must focus on more than just the efficiency of execution in project management.
Instead of looking at outputs, modern PMOs should be looking at how portfolios and programs connect to the company’s strategy and demands. This requires changing the way projects are prioritized and executed, such as:
- Supporting new ways of work: Move away from the waterfall method when agile or hybrid approaches better fit the needs of your projects, work, and teams
- Redefining governance: Abandon the command-and-control style of leadership in exchange for flexible governance that gives teams more autonomy
- Looking at the bigger picture: Fund and prioritize projects and work, programs, portfolios, and initiatives based on the value they deliver to the organization
By 2025, Gartner estimates that 75 percent of PMO value measures will look at strategic business value over project execution efficiency.
For this to happen, PMOs should deploy adaptive PPM solutions that connect their portfolio to company goals and strategies.
This requires looking at what happens during execution in project management differently than before.
What Happens During Project Execution?
It’s now time to begin the work.
The PMO plays an important role in ensuring good execution in project management by connecting strategy to delivery. They’re also responsible for empowering project managers and teams to work in methods that best support their projects and skillsets.
The project manager’s role evolves into coordinating the team’s (or team of teams’) work. Their main responsibility is ensuring delivery is aligned with the project plan.
As the project manager works on coordinating delivery, the PMO should ensure that delivery is aligned between the portfolio of work and the company’s business needs and objectives. They activate the workflows and processes outlined in the plan, timelines, and anticipated outcomes, and ensure that everyone understands them.
Once this is established, the teams can decide how to deliver the work in the manner that they decide is best –with driving benefits and value realization as the ultimate “north star.”
Project managers can work with the teams to:
- Continually revise and optimize the plan
- Help mitigate the risk of delivery and remove obstacles
- Account for new developments, such as a loss of resources
Learn how to empower teams and drive strategic delivery. Register for the on-demand Modern PPM webinar, “4 Ways to Connect and Empower Teams.”
Status updates and stakeholder communication are also key components of successful execution in project management.
Executives and other stakeholders will have different needs depending on their roles and departmental objectives. They may want to see future projections based on deliverables to date, schedule, and evolving market demands.
What Does Project Execution Achieve?
The work done during project execution must lead to something tangible that drives value. Below are the results achieved by effective execution in project management.
Deliverables are the materials and results generated within the scope of a project – in the form of incremental value delivered.
All deliverables should meet quality assurance criteria. The project manager ensures that deliverables are thoroughly tested, meet acceptance standards, and are approved by the client or business sponsor.
To enhance this process, consider a hybrid approach where deliverables can be broken down into the smallest pieces of work that will achieve the desired outcome.
Teams can succeed or fail fast, and learn in the process how to continuously improve for future deliverables.
Managing change is an inevitable part of execution in project management. Customer requirements morph, executives change the strategy, and team members move due to priority shifts. That’s why adaptability is important.
Project managers should have a solid change management process that helps them easily adapt to handle these developments.
The change management plan includes three components:
- Change management goals: What project leaders want to achieve with change management
- Change management responsibilities: Who to send change requests to, who will evaluate the changes, and who will communicate changes to the respective parties
- Change management process: Clear instructions for submitting change requests, how to implement and communicate requests, and the assessment criteria for the requested change
With these processes and procedures in place, project leaders are better equipped to manage budgets, schedules, scope, communication, and resources.
Planning and providing strategic insight to stakeholders requires being able to visualize and analyze trends, in addition to identifying interdependencies across your organization.
Depending on the PPM capabilities and technology used alongside work delivery tools, execution in project management can produce tons of information about project status and health.
This includes visibility into money spent vs. budgeted, timeline targets vs. completion dates, and actual resource utilization against planned utilization.
More advanced capabilities provide insight into work intake and demand. Data about resource capacity help determine if a team or department can support the work requested.
In addition, the right data facilitates the measurement of key performance indicators such as return on investment. But obtaining access to this data is a key challenge PMOs and project managers face.
Project Execution Challenges
Gaps in project execution occur when any sort of gulf arises between expectations and reality on the ground. One example is the failure to link the overall organizational strategy and objectives to employees’ everyday work.
Portfolio managers, project managers, and project teams should all understand how their collective and individual efforts support the company’s direction and strategic plan. If not, they may unwittingly make decisions that run counter to the organization’s strategy.
Strict adherence to traditional project management approaches can limit flexibility and hinder teams, undermining successful execution in project management.
PMOs and project managers must support how teams work today. For example, teams following agile principles need the autonomy to experiment, fail fast, and learn from mistakes.
If the PMO doesn’t support flexible governance that keeps teams and projects on track, it may be difficult to deliver outcomes on strategy.
Stakeholder communications is another common challenge. Communicating too slowly, too little, or giving the wrong information creates misunderstandings and strains trust. Similar issues arise from using the wrong medium to communicate with customers and stakeholders.
Poor team support can also lead to communication issues.
For instance, agile teams have daily stand-up meetings to address blockers or dependencies in the work team members are delivering. When project managers and PMOs don’t support rituals like this, they may lose credibility among their teams.
Inadequate project management tools
Execution in project management entails coordinating an extraordinary number of factors, rendering basic tools ineffective.
It’s difficult to manage a complex, cross-functional project on static spreadsheets, presentation software, and other office productivity solutions. And without a single source of truth, the data becomes out of date as soon as something changes.
These basic tools limit visibility into how the work and overall project are progressing. Project managers are blind to the data required for effective execution. Timely reports to stakeholders take too much time and effort, leading to further bottlenecks.
Project managers and teams need one place to plan, manage, and visualize their work. These collaborative solutions enable project managers to monitor progress and spot potential obstacles. This is especially important today, as more teams are a mixture of remote and co-located.
8 Tips for Successful Project Execution
Now that we’ve covered the basics of execution in project management, here are eight tips for supporting teams more effectively.
1. Make sure everyone’s on the same page
Use kickoff meetings to ensure team alignment from the start by covering:
- Project goals
- Communication plans
- Change management procedures and anything else teams need to know
Don’t assume everyone understands how the project ties to organizational strategies and the PMO’s programs and portfolios. Make it a point to explain this to teams and keep them updated throughout the project.
2. Assign responsibilities
Project managers should delegate tasks that improve execution in project management – even when working with self-governing teams. Holding team members accountable for specific work is critical for minimizing confusion and enhancing productivity.
Consider taking a page from the hybrid and agile handbook by managing role-based teams or shared and cross-functional teams rather than individuals.
This can help mitigate bottlenecks due to resources and unclear responsibilities.
- Role-based teams: Managing role-based teams makes predicting resource requirements for your work delivered easier – even when you don’t know which resources will be allocated to upcoming projects
- Cross-functional teams: Teams comprised of members from different functions with different specialties, roles, and skillsets
Cross-functional teams often align on a common area, and the project leader focuses on supporting the team, not the individuals.
The benefit of this approach is that teams can:
- Share skills and collaborate around common areas of focus
- Build domain expertise
- Manage their workload directly
When higher functioning teams deliver work effectively, the project manager always knows who’s supposed to be working on what. This makes it easier to quickly identify and resolve issues when reports are due, resource conflicts happen, or when deadlines aren’t met.
3. Stay in the loop
Create an environment of open communication, where teams feel comfortable voicing any issues. This is an important element of good execution in project management.
Things change quickly in dynamic organizations, and project leaders must ensure that projects and project portfolios stay aligned. That’s why it’s important to stay in the loop with company goals, objectives, and priorities.
4. Prepare for handoffs
Teams need frequent updates, especially cross-functional teams.
Successful handoffs require coordination with the team(s) receiving the project. Having clear visibility into work and resources enables project managers to schedule handoffs at the right time.
Once teams are managing their own workloads, your capacity planning can be centered around enabling and empowering these teams. PMOs and project managers can do this by focusing on shared resources and complex dependencies across teams (and teams-of-teams).
5. Be open to team feedback
Good execution in project management means listening to team suggestions. Building complex products and services requires specialized knowledge and skills.
Team feedback on how the work is prioritized and executed is important.
Hold regular retrospective ceremonies at the end of the project to understand what did and didn’t work, and if there are any suggestions for changing processes. Be receptive to any input that can keep the project aligned with company goals and objectives.
6. Support different delivery methods
It’s a hybrid world out there – and PMOs must embrace it. Teams are using all sorts of different work methodologies, tools, processes, and frameworks – even in the same program.
From waterfall to iterative to lean-agile delivery, PMOs and project managers should support the combinations that best support the team and project. This empowers teams to do their best work.
7. Ensure your project plans are up to date
Planning does not stop once execution begins. You’ll be expected to revise plans when pivoting in response to change.
Continuous planning and iterative work make it easier to adapt to these changes, but that requires frequently reassessing your plans and work. According to The State of Strategy Execution Benchmark Report, leaders in strategy execution conduct planning continuously, either weekly or monthly.
This type of planning helps ensure the project stays in line with changing customer demands, market developments, and business strategy. Continuous planning also increases speed and agility when enacting changes.
8. Have acceptance criteria for your deliverables
Develop acceptance criteria that establish the quality and standards of deliverables, as agreed upon and codified in the project plan. This provides an objective measure of whether deliverables are satisfactory or not.
Ensure stakeholders are aware of and agree with the criteria.
Above and Beyond Successful Execution in Project Management
Good project execution is about supporting the many work methods and tools teams use today.
It’s also steeped in solid project management principles. Good project managers strike a balance between what helps project execution today and what impedes it.
The usual benefits of ensuring projects run smoothly and staying on time and on budget apply. However, good work management and delivery don’t stop there. The focus for project portfolio management professionals is to drive business value.
Project leaders have an opportunity to take a more strategic role. Creating a partnership between the PMO and project managers can facilitate team independence and innovation.
Learn how to become the value driver of your organization. Access the “Elevating the PMO Role from Project Execution to Driving Business Impact” whitepaper.