In our first two installments of this series we focused on the phases of project initiation and planning. From the point of view of the project team, the Execution Phase is where the fun starts. It is in this phase that all of the work previously done—evaluation of alternatives, decisions regarding practicability and affordability, resource planning, stakeholder identification, scope definition, and other activities that went into the initiation and planning phases—comes to fruition. Work actually starts on the building the new program, the business re-engineering, or whatever the end result of the project is.
During the first two phases of a well-managed project, the project sponsor, manager, key team members, and stakeholders collect and analyze all relevant information to decide if the project is not only necessary, but, among all other alternatives, is the best use of financial and human resources. By the time we arrive at the Execution Phase, we can consider that the project proposalhas been deemed worthwhile and the required steps of the previous two project phases have been completed, including the all-important documentation.
If this is indeed the case, you can consider yourself and your organization in one of the elite, top-performing project management organizations on the planet. The sad fact is that there are as many excuses for not adequately initiating and planning a project as there are organizations that run projects. It seems that, while there is frequently insufficient time and resources to properly initiate and plan a project, somehow there is always time to re-think, re-plan, and re-do those parts that have gone sideways. Normally, the reason for the sideways movement is rooted in poor planning.
Now that we’ve made and re-made the case for proper initiation and planning, let’s take care of one important definition before we dive into Project Execution.
All project managers hearthe constant refrain, “But we can’t do it that way here. That might work in other organizations, but we’re different.” As it stands, every organization is different, and that is precisely why, in all the sub-processes listed below, we include as an input Enterprise Environmental Factors.
Enterprise Environmental Factors are the culture, structure, political climate, current economic conditions, staff strengths and weaknesses, and all other factors that define and constrain each unique organization. They are internal and external and influence directly or indirectly every decision and activity of the enterprise. Moreover, they not only determine the day-to-day operations, but strongly influence how projects are managed. Considering Enterprise Environmental Factors is how we tailor the guidelines of any project management methodology to the specific organization.
Enterprise Environmental Factors are so important, and this is precisely why we go to such pains to identify all stakeholders of the project as they will bring to the initiation and planning phases, all factors that need to be considered when defining, designing, and executing the project.
We will break the Project Execution Phase into eight sub-sections for purposes of management. During the course of executing the project, these will overlap and are not to be taken as independent, stand-alone processes.
In this group of work, the project manager will ensure that the tasks in the schedule are being executed. The schedule is part of the Project Plan, that grand document that includes all the answers to not only when and who, contained in the schedule, but the what, how, and why of the project. If the project manager, (PM) was dealing with computers and entered the right command, pressed enter, then the process would start and complete on schedule. However, this is not the case when you’re dealing with a project management team. In Project Execution, a PM spends much of the dealing with personnel challenges, misunderstandings, change requests, and conflicting work requirements that inevitably arise in any organization. Therefore, a vital input to this process group isOrganizational Process Assets—those humans, machines, and systems that make the organization run.
In this part of the PM’s job, the ability to fully understand the relationships between all the tasks in the scheduleand how all those team members fit into the project becomes vital. As an example, in a data processing system development project, a database subject matter expert may be called off the project for a time to manage a critical production problem. Deciding whether tasks can be rearranged and the schedule maintained, orif indeed the project will be delayed is part of the PM’s job. That decision will not be made solely based on the PM’s knowledge, but also in discussing the issues involved with the project team’s subject matter experts.
During the Planning Phase of the project, the team developed criteria concerning acceptable quality for the project and specifically how quality would be measured. The Quality Plan was designed to ensure that the end result of the project could fulfil the needs of the enterprise in a cost effective manner. As they say in engineering, “Anyone can build a bridge that stands; it takes an engineer to build a bridge that barely stands.” In other words, we don’t want to over-design whatever the output of the project is because that normally results in higher costs. We want the quality of the project and its output to meet the needs of the organization, but nothing additional, as other projects and needs of the organization are vying for those same scarce resources. Spending time, capital, and human resources unnecessarily means that some other vital project goes unfunded. By conforming to the quality plan, the project team ensures that the end result satisfies its objectives and adheres to budget. Auditing the project for quality includes not only the product of the project, but the project’s management, as this is where the work becomes valuable and practical. During Project Execution the PM, or in some cases, a separate Quality Assurance group, will periodically review the deliverables and other outputs and compare them against acceptable standards, as defined by the planning team.
During the planning process,a core team,being the key subject matter experts, was assembled for purposes of adequately planning what would be required to produce the desired output of the project. It is during the Project Execution phase that all of the personnel required to complete the tasks of the project will actually be acquired, and when they will be required to perform work and complete deliverables. Each organization has its own procedures for assigning people to tasks, and that is when Enterprise Environmental Factors come into play. The PM may have a great deal of involvement or even very little, in the assignment of individuals to the project. Whatever the case, the PM must work with the company’s processes to ensure that the project team includes all skills necessary to complete the tasks, and that they are availablefor therequired duration.
Project staff assignments and resource calendars are extremely significant and of great consequence to the success of the project. (Did we adequately express that you really need this information?) The more complex the project, and the more people involved, the greater the importance of documenting and publicizing exactly what personnel is required and the period of time they would be required. A line manager who says, “Just let me know when you need someone and I’ll make sure I assign someone on my team when the time comes,” should be cause for alarm for the PM.
It’s not at all unusual for members of the project team to undergo additional training before the launch of the new product or process, since this is new to the organization; it may even be entirely new to the world! Project team members will frequently be the lead personnel in running the new product or will be key in a new process. The importance of education and development is a normal part of a project plan and should not be undervalued.
It may also be the case that people on project teams are not skilled in working on projects, and the PM should ensure thatthe project team understands the basics of whichever project methodology is being used,howthey fit into the overall plan, and their role in the project’s success.
Once the team is assembled, the PM has the unenviable task of dealing with all the intricacies of human relations.The ability to manage project personnel is, to a great extent, a function of the type and amount of authoritythe PM has to directly resolve issues. That authority is at least partially determined by the organizational structure the PM works within. With relation to projects, organizational structure can be roughly defined as functional or projectized. Between these two extremes lies the matrix organization which can be somewhere on a continuum between weak and strong.
In a purely functional organization, where staff is organized under functional managers, where the project manager has a coordinating role external to the organizations from which the team members are drawn, the PM relies predominantly on force of personality and “tribal knowledge” of the organization to ensure that goals are accomplished. The organizations supplying the personnel have their own day-to-day business to attend to, so this type of structure normally results in projecthuman resource allocation as a low-priority issue. In a purely functional organization, planning can be difficult and maintaining a schedule can be virtually impossible.
On the other side of the scale is the projectized organization. In this type of structure, employees within the organization are either assigned to business maintenance or project work; an employee from one side of the house rarely works for the other. In a projectized organization the PM has high, to almost completecontrol overassigned personnel during the period of the project. In this environment, the PM has budgetary responsibility, is a full-time project manager with administrative staff, and considered part of the organization’s leadership.
There are intermediate structures between these two, called matrix organizations; defined as weak, balanced, and strong depending on the PM’s mix of project control, personnel authority, and control over budget. Depending on where the organization falls within that spectrum, the PM has more or less direct authority over his or her project team. Those whose talents lie in the realm of human relations work well in a strong matrix organization where they can work directly with the individual members of the project team. Others who are less inclined to this particular section of project management might appreciate being part of a weak matrix, or even a functional organization, where all interpersonal relationship challenges can be handed over to the line managers to whom the individual team members report.
In the last installment of this series, Project Planning, we stressed the importance of planning communication. Now it’s time to actually put that plan into practice and communicate the project progress to the project stakeholders. As with virtually every other sub-process within Project Execution, an input to this is the Project Management Plan because that’s where we’ve placed the Communication Plan. All project performance information that anyone might need will be contained somewhere in one of the reports to stakeholders. The “report” may be anything ranging from an emailto a formal standup presentation, including the requisite PowerPoint charts and graphs. The important point, though, is that the information and its format has been planned and accepted as adequate by the stakeholders in the previous project phase.
But don’t be alarmed. In fact, if you don’t find in the early stages of the project that someone was left off a report distribution list, better check again. It’s a very rare project plan that covers ALL the bases without error, and it’s for exactly this reason that an agenda item, in all early team meetings, and on occasion throughout the project, is a review of stakeholders and of the Report Distribution Matrix. When the project team actually begins the work of the project,oversightsin who needs to receive which communication will be noticed. Distribution lists of reports are easy to update—and the earlier the better.
The PM must work within the organization’s preferred methods of communication. Whether it be emails, broadcast phone messages, paper reports, PowerPoint presentations, or whatever, the project manager is responsible for being able to manage the medium properly and effectivelyThe PM is also responsible for ensuring that all communication needs are met, and if there is a gap in communication channels, or if the preferred communication methods are inadequate for the needs of the project, it is the PM’s responsibility to rectify this.
Manage Stakeholder Expectations
Sometimes this can be more difficult than managing the work of one hundred team members over eighteen months with a thousand-line schedule. Earlier, in the Project Planning Phase, we stressed how important it is to firmly establish the project scope. This is not only a specific statement of the exact output of the project, but what resources will be required to produce that output. These can both be pits of quicksand if not properly handled in the planning phase and are directly related to stakeholder expectations.
Resources—people, equipment, financing, etc.—will be required at specific times throughout the project life. If the concerned managers responsible for these resources do not have these requirements in their organization plans, the PM will experience some unexpected obstacles; this is why part of the PM’s role job is to secure the required resources, whilst reminding those responsible ahead of schedule that they will be needed.
Also useful in Managing Stakeholder Expectations is periodic reviews of the project scope. Change requests will normally affect the scope of the project, so whatever the outcome of a request, the scope of the project should be republished so that everyone interested in the project is reminded of exactly what they may expect from it.
Last but not least, we get to buy things. This can be another pit of quicksand if not properly planned. In many projects the purchase process has the longest lead time of any activity on the schedule. The inputs to this sub-process are numerous and complex—procurement documents, source selection criteria, qualified vendor list, vendor proposals, make or buy decisions, teaming agreements, and more. If the project includes purchasing, this activity may have to begin before any other part of the project. In fact, as soon as the project and funding are approved, procurement should be high on the list of activities to begin immediately. Even if there is sufficient lead time in the schedule, a prudent project manager will make the purchase decisions as soon as possible. Anything the PM can do to ensure the equipment is on site and ready to use at the right time will benefit the project.
So, there we have the basic outline of Project Execution, with emphasis on “basic.” During this phase, a PM will be handling many duties that didn’t make it into the process definitions. To compound the difficulty, many organizations don’t consider a project manager to be actually working until he or she has at least four or five projects on their plate. For someone who does the job well, the PM moniker actually stands for Performer of Miracles.
As has been stated many times, though the execution phase is greatly aided by proper initiation and planning, initially, it is the project sponsor’s, and subsequently the PM’s, to ensure that those two phases are completed before Project Execution begin commences. Without spending sufficient time and resources on the first two vital stages of any project, the Project Execution Phase can be unmanageable even by the most experienced and knowledgeable PM and will truly require more miracle worker than project manager.