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How to execute a project successfully

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What is project execution? 

Getting on with it. In the simplest terms, executing a project (alternatively called project deployment in the Body of Knowledge 7th edition), is about completing the project plan. Once we have a plan, we can begin doing the project: completing the tasks, deliverables and milestones to achieve the planned outcomes and benefits. This can often be the most daunting and challenging part of the project life cycle.  

As project managers, when we manage projects, we say what we’re going to do (plan) and then do what we said we would (execute or deploy the plan) in a controlled way. The way we do this differs from project to project, a project using a linear life cycle will have sequential phases to achieve the end result. If the project is more suitable to an iterative life cycle, planning and deployment/execution happens many times before the final solution is in place. Many projects now use a hybrid, linear/iterative approach that enables iterative development and deployment within an overall sequential structure, to enable effective decision-making to justify/re-justify the investment and ensure project management is working as intended. 

Here are some tips on doing project execution/deployment well. 

1. Always know which activities are on the critical path and which have float 

Flawless execution depends on prioritising scarce resources and doing work in the best possible order. As things change during execution – issues arise, risks materialise, changes are requested – the logic for what work is done next may change. Always work to an up-to-date schedule. 

2. Keep stakeholders engaged 

Communication is vital to keep stakeholders engaged throughout the life cycle, and particularly when it’s a large project with long timescales. Never take anything for granted. Validate assumptions. Communicate – communicate – communicate. 

3. Keep the team focused and inspired 

The team does the work – whether team members are employees or part of your supply chain. Does everyone know what’s to be done – why, when and how, where they fit, how they can provide feedback?  Monitor how the team talks and work to their strengths and preferences wherever possible. 

4. Know the real status 

Track progress vs detailed plans and provide realistic forecasts– are things really ‘green’ or are there risks about to happen that might derail things? No-one wants a ‘watermelon’ project – green on the outside, red on the inside! Make it safe for people to report the ‘real’ progress, not fiction. 

5. Celebrate progress 

Projects are challenging and progress is often hard-won. Let your team know you appreciate them. Celebrate, learn and keep up the energy. 

So, what skills and attributes does a project professional need to do this?  

The capabilities and skills project professionals need are many and varied. Aside from knowing the ‘brilliant basics’, it’s important for project professionals to be: 

  • Purpose driven 

  • Self-aware 

  • Resilient 

  • Influential 

We must build trust with our teams, and this can be particularly challenging when more and more people are working remotely. Building trust relies on being open, reliable and a willingness to serve others rather than self. It’s important that we can ask great questions that encourage team members to contribute, to highlight risks, to help the team to learn. And we need to look after one-another – to sustain our energy and to prevent burn out or bad behaviours triggered by sustained stress levels. 

Delivering projects is challenging, but it can also hugely rewarding. 

If you have questions or challenges relating to the project execution, APM has lots of resources to help. You can 



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