Execution – the Least Appreciated Process Group?
Here is a quick quiz.
Question one. Out of the following process groups, which one has the least number of processes?
A.Planning process group
B.Executing process group
C.Monitoring and controlling process group
Question two. Out of the above process groups, which one has the highest proportion of questions in the PMP® certification examination?
The answer for both the questions is the same. “B. Executing process group”. There are only eight (8) processes in Execution as compared to twenty-four (24) in Planning and eleven (11) in Monitoring and Controlling. However, in the PMP® exam, there are thirty-one percent (31%) questions on Executing. The percentages for Planning and Monitoring and Controlling are twenty –four (24%) and twenty-five (25%) respectively.
So what’s the point? Executing is the least described or most difficult to describe but still the most important process group. It is a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. (with apology to Winston Churchill).
The processes in Planning are techniques and tools intensive. For example, you would use Critical Path Method to create the project schedule. The processes in Monitoring and Controlling are largely based on the feedback principle. You find a variance (say schedule variance) with reference to baseline (say schedule baseline). Based on the intensity of the variance you may request for a change.
But when it comes to the processes in Executing process group, there are no sure shot tools and techniques or mathematical models. Along with executing the project and creating project deliverables, you have to also manage external stakeholders, project team, vendors and communications, in general. And there are no formulaic prescriptions available. You might not have planned for all situations. You have to act on the spur of the moment.
Here are some tips on Execution. Of course, one can only give tips. As said before, it is difficult to get your arms around the entire story of Execution.
A good project manager would not keep his / her hands off while the project is being executed by the team. He or she would roll up sleeves and be along with team. There are many minor and major issues happening which need real time decisions. The project manager needs to act as a facilitator between project team members and make connections to resolve issues in real time.
A good project manager would help create a team culture where realism is respected. No team member is afraid of raising issues. None is unduly worried about treading on soft toes. For the team to respect realism, the project manager has to welcome bad news. He or she should not shoot the messenger. A good project manager will not create a culture of false harmony, but rather welcome conflicts.
But it will not suffice just to hear out issues from team members and other stakeholders. Project manager’s job does not stop at counselling. These issues have to be prioritised and resolved. This would require the project manager to relentlessly chase issues to closure. This can at times turn tiresome if not frustrating.
When it comes to managing external stakeholders, one plus one may not make it two always. Sometimes it may add up to eleven, sometimes to zero. This is to say that negotiating is not always a rational process. A good project manager will not take a strong position while dealing with external stakeholders although that may be the best position logically. Instead the project manager will look at interests. Instead of providing a single complete solution, he or she would present a bouquet of options. Or if a project manager makes a concession, he or she would not underplay it.
A good project manager would also understand that email, although always at one’s service, is not the only means of communication. Email conveys only words and words are woefully inadequate to communicate. Beyond words, communication also happens with intonation, body language and emotions. So when needed, a good project manager would pick up the phone or pick oneself up and meet face to face.
What would some of your favourite tips for executing a project? Eager to hear from you.
Mukund Toro is an independent Project Management Consultant who has worked with more than 1000 project managers. His 20+ years’ industry experience in software and telecommunication includes working in various capacities from project manager to director across multinationals, product and service companies and government research organisations.