“The thing that keeps a business ahead of the competition is excellence in execution”—Tom Peters.
Executing a plan is one of the most fundamental actions a leader can take. Project execution is also (arguably) the trickiest phase of the entire project lifecycle. That is because we are talking about a project, after all. And in projects, things rarely—if ever—go according to plan.
That being said, today, we will break down the Project Execution into small steps you can take to go through this phase as smoothly as possible. But you will not walk alone—the BigPicture app will be there to help you throughout the entire execution process.
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What is Project Execution?
Execution means carrying out a plan, order, or course of action. Therefore, when we talk about project execution (or project implementation), we really mean carrying out the plan.
Project Execution is the third phase in the project management lifecycle that comes after Project Initiation and Project Planning. You can think of it as a “Go!” phase where you put everything in motion and thoroughly track your tasks and deliverables to ensure your project succeeds. During this phase, your product teams will create deliverables and present them to your client and key stakeholders.
The main purpose of this phase is to complete the work (i.e., produce deliverables according to the plan) and meet project objectives. Therefore, as a project leader, you will focus on such activities as schedule management, budget, and risks.
Executing a project could take weeks, months, or even years. That is why this phase is usually the longest and also the most demanding.
During the Project Execution phase, a lot of activities are going on. You will produce most of the deliverables, engage most of the resources, and keep your teams on track. On top of those, you will balance the needs of various stakeholders, project team members, and executives. You will also be dealing with the inevitable project changes and risks and negotiating compromises.
Why is Project Execution required?
Once the project is up and running, keeping track of and monitoring every aspect of it can make a difference in whether it succeeds or fails. Remaining on budget, completing work on time, and avoiding scope creep on criteria determining whether the project will be successful are not set in stone. In other words, no matter how well you plan your projects and how much time you spend in pre-launch meetings, always expect things to go wrong.
If you do, you will be in a better position to manage and fix it. This is where Project Execution comes into play. It keeps track of your project in real time so you can address problems immediately. Furthermore, during this phase, you will maintain regular communication with your client by holding regular status meetings. These meetings will also help you ensure that your team members are on the same page. And finally, it helps to assure that you will deliver the project on time and within budget.
Steps in the Project Execution phase
The steps, or elements of the Project Execution phase depend on the project requirements and how your organization works. Therefore, there is no single universal set of steps the leader can take when executing a plan. Still, it is possible to identify some common elements you are likely to find in most of the projects in relation to the three key management activities: people, processes, and communication.
1. Execute the project scope
You collected the requirements from the stakeholders, defined the project scope, and shaped it using a work breakdown structure. A list of project goals, deliverables, tasks, costs, and deadlines is also in place. Once it is validated, it is time to put it in motion.
Define what needs to be done
Creating tasks according to your WBS hierarchy is the fundamental step in project execution. For this, you can use a Scope module in BigPicture. It will let you create a structure of your project manually or by importing your tasks from either Jira or a spreadsheet (using BigTemplate).
Please note: In the example above, the Scope module was renamed to the WBS. (BigPicture Enterprise allows you to customize module names.)
If you ever need to make changes to your structure, you can manually move your tasks up and down with a drag-and-drop feature. And while you are at your tasks, do not forget to assign task owners for clarity and accountability.
Customize columns and views
You can customize your scope view with a wide selection of columns depending on what you want to see and track. For instance, you could create one view with time-related columns, such as Original Estimate, Remaining Estimate, and Time tracking. Then, create another view that would fit your team’s needs. In such a case, they could use such columns as Assignee, Reporter, and Skills.
You can easily switch between the scope views with only two clicks.
When you select the columns you need, set the aggregation values and how you want to display them.
2. Visualize tasks and schedule
You defined a project schedule in the previous phases. Now, it is time to visualize it along with the project tasks and activities in chronological order. The visualization will let you see the whole project in one place and determine what needs to be done and when. And, more importantly, timely react to changes in your project environment. In classic projects, you typically visualize your tasks against the schedule in the form of a horizontal bar chart where each task has a corresponding start and end date.
A Gantt chart (or a bar chart) is a popular timelining tool that allows placing WBS items according to their periods. You can also add a baseline and critical path to monitor whether your project is moving according to the schedule or lagging somewhere. By utilizing dependencies, you can establish meaningful connections between tasks and enable BigPicture to auto-schedule interdependent tasks if you make any changes to them.
With the Gantt chart, you can also visualize milestones. Along with dependencies and overdue tasks, you can look them up in Infobar. If you need a more comprehensive overview, you will find a wide selection of reports in the Reports module.
3. Manage your resources
By now, you have created tasks and assigned them to respective team members. But this is only the beginning. Over the course of the Project Execution phase, you will be monitoring your resources’ workload and availability and making sure they are working at the optimal capacity.
In this stage, BigPicture’s Resources module will come extremely handy.
Effort and workload capacity
The effort modes allow you to allocate workload (in different units such as hours or story points) to individual persons or teams. Thanks to the color-coded capacity thresholds and workload contouring, you will know if one has some space for more work or if they cannot take anymore. Consequently, you will be able to overcome workload imbalances which, in the long run, could cause dissatisfaction in your team members.
The skills panel displays a list of skills that are currently in need. This way, you can match the required skills with the right resources. Plus, thanks to the effort unit aggregation, you will know how much skill-related effort is required to complete all the tasks you planned for a particular period.
See also: Skill-Based Planning in Jira with BigPicture (video)
Holiday plan and workload plan
Bank holidays, individual vacations, sudden events—your resources’ schedules can be hectic and make task scheduling and skills allocation a nightmare. Unless you know in advance what to expect and let your team members update their availability themselves.
The Holiday plans and Workload plans will help you plan for non-working days and follow your resources’ availability. In the Holidays plan, you customize non-working days, which would be valid for the resources you assign to it. You can have an unlimited number of holiday plans.
Whereas the Workload plan is for planning the working hours of individual project members. Depending on the duration of your project, you may want to assign multiple Workload plans to accommodate for holidays or more labor-intense seasons. And since your project team members can individually mark their full or part-day absences, you can always keep the plans up-to-date.
4. Track progress
Monitoring and controlling the progress of tasks is a critical part of the execution phase. It determines whether you can deliver the project on time. For this purpose, you can:
- Track task progress with percentage progress bars.
- Generate regular reports (e.g., Delays; Milestones).
- Utilize baselines and milestones on your Gantt chart to monitor how the baseline plan deviates from the current version of your schedule.
- Keep an eye on the Sprint progress with the Agile board.
- Use a Calendar to follow current and upcoming tasks.
5. Communicate with stakeholders
Communication plays an important role in the Project Execution phase. You can ensure that your internal and external stakeholders are on the same page by holding regular meetings. Or by communicating with them individually. Naturally, there might be some hiccups or bottlenecks you would like to discuss, and the best would be if you present them visually.
Your stakeholders can follow you better if they can see what you see. Apart from the wide selection of pre-set and custom reports you can generate and present, you can share a view of what you want to discuss. Simply send them a direct URL link to share the view of your choice.
Alternatively, if your stakeholders do not have access to Jira or BigPicture, you can export your Jira issues or Gant chart view to an image, text, or spreadsheet file with the help of BigTemplate. Or, use the Export manager to export your view to one of the available formats.
6. React to changes
Changes in the project, be it additional requests from the client, lack of manpower or alterations of the project schedule, are inevitable. The key is to work out how best to accommodate and adapt to these changes.
If the factor you need to consider is significant, you must assess its impact on the project. Whether the change concerns resources or schedule, you can check how it would affect the rest of your project by running simulations using the Scenario mode.
7. Visualize project risks
It is not only your resources, progress, and time that you need to keep an eye on. Risks are also an important part of the project and they could occur at any point of the Project Execution phase.
Risk matrix (risk heatmap)
Using the risk module, you can place risks (as well as tasks as risks) on a color-coded risk matrix. It let you instantly see which risks require your utmost care and which ones have the lowest risk rate. You can easily update your matrix by adding, deleting, and editing each risk with just a few clicks. And if you need to change the impact and/or the probability of any risk, simply drag and drop it into the respective matrix quadrant.
Furthermore, you can generate a custom risk matrix report to get an instant overview of all of your high-, medium-, and low-priority risks.