Project managers discuss a project execution plan
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Most projects fail and companies struggle to understand the real reasons behind these failures. Here's why using a project execution plan (PEP) is a viable way to reverse this trend while satisfying the many stakeholders involved in your projects.


Why Do Projects Fail?

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In their blog post, "31 Pivotal Project Management Statistics for 2021," TeamStage, a project management think tank composed of project managers, reports that 70% of all projects fail.

They go on to list another set of alarming statistics:

  • 42% of companies do not understand the need or importance of project management
  • 55% of project managers cite budget overrun as the top reason for project failures
  • the project management profession was set to grow by more than 6 trillion USD by the end of 2020
  • 62% of successful projects had supportive sponsors

In my opinion, the top reason for most of the failures that I have encountered on projects is the lack of a robust project execution plan. No matter the school of thought used to manage a project, it is highly important to use a project execution plan (or PEP) in order to cover all of the work and contextual elements that are part of a project. In some industries, it is actually a requirement for customers to do business with you.

The Sections Of The Project Execution Plan

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PEPs need to be thorough yet easy enough to navigate or people will not use them. I typically divide mine into four top-level sections:

1. Scope and Purpose

These plans give the top-level view as to the purpose of the project, as well as the list of scoped deliverables, key delivery dates, and a procedure on processing changes that always seem to occur on projects, even the ones with so-called mature part numbers. This is the one section where you normally must have sign-off to not only green-light the project, but also agreed scope and delivery targets which then become the baseline for management by the project team.

2. Financials

In this section, the detailed project budget (or P&L) will be included along with the detailed costs which were calculated prior to project green-lighting. Guidance regarding the ways in which scope items or component parts thereof will be provided in accordance with corporate directives, industry norms, and regulatory requirements. Customer financial milestones or progress billings will be listed along with the supporting documentation required for invoicing and payment so as to allow for proper calculation and monitoring of the project cash flow.

3. Communications

The human aspects of the project will be covered in this section and will endeavor to list all of the stakeholders (internal and external) who will have a potential impact on the project. This will include an organizational chart of the project team. Marketing and IT plans are an integral part of this as they contribute to the project's visibility as well as required IT infrastructure to manage the project.

4. Risk and Quality

I group the risk and quality sections in the same category as they cover all elements of the project scope while also reporting important information regarding project progress which will have a direct impact on the project's organization. They will also provide valuable information for project reporting even though project reports are issued for each of the plans in the PEP.

4 Benefits From Creating And Following A Robust PEP

Project managers go through a project execution plan

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The most successful projects I have worked on have all contained a robust project execution plan which our teams followed. By structuring the projects in this way, we found many obvious and not so obvious direct benefits:

1. Facilitates More Effective Meetings

We found that the PEP actually provided us with a structured guideline of areas for which meetings were naturally scheduled and more efficiently conducted as they specifically targeted sections of the project that needed to be updated on a periodic basis. Project reports were then issued on the agreed templates which saved us time when presenting to stakeholders.

2. Reference Document for the Current Project

At any given time during the life of the project, the PEP provided thorough information and detailed instructions on each part of the project. This made consultations by project team members, on-boarding of new project team members, as well as consultations by stakeholders much easier.

3. Provides Information to the Project Governance Authorities

Projects with higher risk profiles or with greater levels of visibility tend to have a project governance structure composed of top management as well as other select stakeholders. Although they require and also receive periodic updates in the form of project reports and stage gate reviews, the PEP is the comprehensive document which will store all of this data in one place. In this way, it is possible to reduce the amount of time the governance board spends on reviewing each project.

4. Lessons Learned

There are many benefits of conducting lessons learned events and I highly recommend that they are performed several times during the execution of the project. This not only helps the current project team to better understand issues in execution or risk events that manifested themselves, but also provides an important asset for future project teams to consider when bidding new/like projects or when analyzing ways to better budget their organizational structures.

Conclusion

Project managers discuss a project in a meeting

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Project execution plans are still fighting for their just place in the project management universe and I can see the many ways that they can help companies achieve better results on their project portfolios.

If we subscribe to the notion that project failures are the norm, then we need to find a common way to meet this challenge head on as a definite way to legitimize the importance of the project management profession.

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