The Secret of Project Delivery: Project Implementation Heartbeat

Whether you call it project delivery, execution, implementation, or roll-out, the Project Delivery stage is the beating heart of your project.

Project Implementation is where the rubber hits the road. After all your definition, scoping and planning, it’s time to make things happen.

It’s what you’re here to do.

Here’s where you implement your project, execute your plan, and deliver the benefits your sponsor commissioned. So, although I’d argue that this is the easy bit, you have to get it right.

Because it’s not the part that sets you up for success…
But, it is the stage where you harvest the seeds you have sown.
So, get this wrong, and all is lost.

In this article, we tackle project implementation. And we’ll look at all of the things you need to do during the Project Delivery stage.

And, in the process, we’ll also see how:

  • the PMI tackles it in the sixth edition of its Project Management Body of Knowledge (the PMBOK Guide)
  • PRINCE2 tackles it in the 2017 edition of Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2
PMI Talent Triangle - Technical Project Management

Our Agenda

In this guide, we’ll tell you.

  1. What is Project Delivery?
    And how does it fit into the Project management lifecycle?
  2. The ten critical ‘Project Heartbeat’ functions that you’ll need in any project.
    Keeping everything running smoothly during project delivery
  3. Then we’ll add in the more advanced thinking you’ll want if yours is a formal project.
  4. Finally, we’ll discuss how the two big methodologies of PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (the PMBOK Guide) and Axelos’s PRINCE2 approach project implementation.
    1. PMBOK calls this the ‘Executing Process Group’, and
    2. PRINCE2 calls it ‘Controlling a Stage’

A Note about Terminology

There are different names for what we are talking about here. None is ‘the best’. But it’s as well to be clear what we are talking about. And I will use all of these terms interchangeably.

  • Delivery
    This is my favored term because that’s the focus of what we do in this stage: we deliver the products, or deliverables. This is the term that PRINCE2 uses. The IPMA seems agnostic on terminology, but uses ‘delivery’ more often than either ‘execution’ or ‘implementation’.
  • Execution
    This one sounds a bit brutal. It’s far less common in the UK than it used to be in the 1980s. But PMI uses the related term, ‘Executing’ in the PMBOK Guide. The IAPM refers to Project Execution.
  • Implementation
    It’s a very common term in general use, except that none of the formal methodologies adopts it.
  • Deployment
    This is the least common of the terms, but is the one favored by the Association for Project Management, in its APM Body of Knowledge, the APMBoK.
  • Roll-out
    This one is really only used in the delivery (or roll-out) stage of a Rollo-out Project. That is one where a solution is rolled-out across a number of instances. Good examples are the refurbishment of a chain of retail stores or the refreshing of IT hardware across departments of a large organization.

What is Project Delivery?

There are as many lifecycle models as project managers! Whatever one you use, delivery sits between the planning stages and the close-down and review stages. It’s at the heart of the project. Here is the lifecycle model we use in our training.

The Project Lifecycle - focusing on the Implementation Stage
The Project Lifecycle – focusing on the Implementation Stage
Buy: How to Manage a Great Project

Project implementation is about managing your resources to deliver your products, or deliverables. Accordingly, your fundamental concern is to follow your plan and to monitor and control work, ensuring that delivery is:

  • to schedule
  • on budget
  • meeting your quality standards

If these three vital parameters don’t instantly ring a bell for you, you may like our video on the Iron Triangle:

Resource Demands

The Secret of Project Delivery: Project Implementation Heartbeat

The lifecycle model that we illustrated at the start of this section also represents resource utilization through the project. The area under the curve in each stage represents the resources the project needs, or its budget.

During the implementation stage, you will:

  • deploy the majority of your resource time,
  • use most of your consumable materials
  • and therefore, expend the bulk of your budget

As a result, changes to scope or specification will have an increasingly big effect on your ability to complete your project successfully. As each day passes, you will have a rapidly diminishing budget and capacity to implement those changes.

Notably, the consequence of this is that your change control process needs to be robust and well-managed.

If you need more information on Project Resource Management, check out our articles:

But now, let’s turn our attention to how to keep your project ticking over smoothly.

Project Heartbeat: The Fundamental Project Delivery Tasks

There is a rhythm to the implementation stage of a well-managed project. I call it the ‘Project Heartbeat’.

Project Implementation - The Ten Project Heartbeat Functions

The primary function is, without doubt, the Monitor and Control cycle.

Monitor and Control

Shift happens and things will constantly change in your project. Delays will emerge, issues will arise, people will encounter problems. You need to be constantly monitoring what’s going on, and intervening to regain control.

The essential question is…

Are you cycling around the Monitor and Control Loop frequently enough to catch problems early, so you can deal with them quickly and easily?

Are you cycling around the Monitor and Control Loop frequently enough to catch problems early, so you can deal with them quickly and easily? Click To Tweet

Measure and Manage Project Delivery Performance

After monitoring and controlling, the associated task is to keep your project’s performance under review. This is a vital part of governance, and also the means by which you know what controlling actions you need to take.

For most basic projects, you’ll be checking on:

  • product delivery against specifications and quality standards
  • resource utilization against plans
  • progress against schedule
  • expenditure against budget
  • morale and individual performance

The gold standard methodology for measuring progress and expenditure is Earned Value Management. We looked at EVM in detail in a recent article, but here’s a short introduction to what EVM is.

Reporting

You will need an effective process for collecting, analyzing, and documenting project status information. Consequently, you’ll and need to get it to the people who need it quickly and in an accessible format.

Therefore, take a look at our Giant Guide to Project Reporting [How to do it well]. You may also like our guest article from Ben Aston, ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Project Status Reporting‘.

Risk and Issue Review

Risk Management

Your risk management process will run throughout the implementation stage of your project. But, how frequently are you reviewing outstanding risks and issues?

And how effectively are you and your team dealing with them? In addition, you will need a regular process for identifying new, emerging risks and issues. Take a look at our article, How to Build a Robust Project Risk Culture [8 Steps].

And, if you are in any doubt about the value of good risk management, we recommend you read How Project Risk Management will Make You a Better PM.

Issue Management

Issues will arise throughout the delivery stage of your project. Happily, we also have a comprehensive article on Issue Management: All You Need to Know about PMBoK’s Missing Process.

Quality Assurance and Quality Control

Nobody else can take total project responsibility for the quality of your project’s products or deliverables. So you need to stay fully involved in the Quality Assurance and Quality Control processes.

And yes, if you need to know more about this, we have you covered here, too, with our article, Project Quality Management: All You Need to Know.

Team Meetings

Team working is an essential aspect of your project implementation stage. And a crucial part of this is to set up a regular cycle of team meetings and establish a suitable style, culture, and agenda for them. On a long project, review this from time-to-time, as your project’s needs are likely to change.

To help you with this, do take a look at our article: How to Run a Really Great Project Meeting

Other articles you may find helpful include:

Team Morale

Your project will cycle through its ups and downs and so will the morale of your team. For example, successes and meeting milestones will create a real boost, just as setbacks and problems will bring your team low.

Project implementation can be a roller-coaster. As the project manager, you need to work constantly to maintain morale and deal with any setbacks appropriately. That way, you can be sure your team remains resourceful when you most need it. Here are some articles that will give you plenty of ideas:

Lessons Learned

Don’t wait to the end of your project to learn its lessons. Set up a regular meeting to harvest new lessons and plan how to act on them throughout the implementation of your project. Our feature article on this topic is How to Get Your Next Lessons Learned Meeting Right.

You might also like this article: Ten Project Management Lessons I’ve Learned over the Years.

Stakeholder Engagement

Your stakeholders will determine the success, of failure, of your project

One of my 12 Project Management Rules You’d be Wise to Note

So, never let up on your focus on your stakeholders. Keep engaging with them in a positive, respectful way, to:

  • build their trust
  • win their confidence
  • benefit from their insights
  • influence their perceptions of your project.

We have lots of articles on stakeholders, but the ones most valuable during the delivery stage of your project are:

Change Control

We alluded above to the importance of a good change control process during project implementation. You need to be able to:

  • document each request for change
  • create an analysis of the pros and cons
  • get a decision from the right people
  • document that decision

You will need Change Request documentation and a Change Log, or Change Register. Lucky for you, we cover everything you need to know about the change control process in OnlinePMCourses Guide to Project Change Control.

The Next Bend

Project implementation is a busy, sometimes frenetic, time. It can be hard to stay on top of everything that is going on – let alone to get out ahead of events.

But that is exactly what you need to do – especially if you want to consider yourself a project leader, as well as a project manager.

So, carve out time in your busy week to do some quiet reflective thinking on your own. These are the times when you are most likely to notice the things no one has yet spotted… the opportunities or issues that are coming around the next bend.

Additional Project Delivery Tasks in Formal Projects

The ten project heartbeat functions I’ve listed above are fundamental to managing any project through the implementation stage. But more formal projects have additional requirements.

The bigger, more complex, more structured your project becomes, the more likely you are to need to put some attention into some or all of these.

Decision-making and Good Governance

If your project goes smoothly, all your governance needs will be accommodated by an effective reporting process and robust change control procedures.

However, your project may be complex and needs to accommodate changes in direction or possible choices in, for example, technology. Then, you will need to put a corresponding effort into serving good decision-making and governance. Maybe you are wondering: ‘What has Project Governance Ever Done for Us? [Ans: A Lot]‘.

To learn more about good decision-making, take a look at our twin articles:

Ongoing Scope Management

Likewise, simple projects will see little in the way of scope changes, once planning is complete. And the small changes – largely to specifications – will come under change control.

But, for long and complex projects, you may need to manage significant changes in scope throughout delivery. The article you’ll need for this is Scope Management Plan: Everything You Need to Know.

Supplier Management

If your project needs to procure goods or services, then you will need to manage both the procurement processes around this and the supplier relationships.

We have you covered on this, too: Project Procurement Management [All the basics you need to know].

We talked above about Change Control. If you create a change request within the project and the change authority confirms it, this may need a change to contractual terms with one of your suppliers. For this, you’ll need a Variation Order. We have a video, explaining Variation Orders.

Cost Management

Managing the finances of your project is critical, and we have a comprehensive article and some videos:

Benefits Management

Benefits management is a process used in more formal projects to ensure that you don’t just deliver the products you promised, to specification. Rather, what matters is that those products lead to the benefits you anticipated when you wrote your Business Case. Keep an eye out for a full article on benefits management, in the near future.

Information and Document Management

During project implementation, you will create and collect a lot of information. You’ll need to store this, make it accessible, maintain its integrity with version control, and (after project completion) archive it and make arrangements for its eventual safe destruction.

For formal projects, you’ll need an information management process to handle this. A special example is…

Knowledge Management 

This is the need to make knowledge available and ensure it gets used. Your lessons learned, reporting, and information management process will contribute to knowledge management. There are plenty of excellent tools that facilitate it, but the real challenges are behavioral:

  • getting people to recognize and record valuable information
  • ensuring people access and learn from knowledge repositories
  • leading people from learning from to using the knowledge that is available

Configuration Management 

This is largely a factor in either technology or product development projects. As the complexity of the product you are creating grows, so does the importance of actively recording and managing the configuration. This means that any changes the project team makes to the project are fully recorded.

The reasons are simple. The audit trail means:

  • You can undo changes, if they prove detrimental
  • There is a data trail that can aid with fault diagnosis, problem-solving, and learning lessons
  • Everyone can be aware of the current state of the product
  • You have the basis for the final user documentation

Project Management Deliverables

When you run a project you’ll have to create a whole load of project management deliverables. This is the project documentation you need, so you can control your project, manage it efficiently, and deliver it in an accountable way.

In the video below, I look at what I consider to be the key Project Management deliverables. And I’ve ranked them into three groups of 5:

  • Top-tier
    I consider these just about mandatory project documentation on any project.
  • Second-tier
    You’ll need these once your project gains any substantial scale or complexity.
  • Tertiary
    Five more key project deliverables that I’d expect bigger projects to need.

The Project Delivery Processes: The PMBOK Guide’s approach to Project Execution

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) is the PMI‘s primary resource for project management methodology. It is currently in its 6th Edition, with the 7th edition due in late 2021.

The PMBOK Guide is divided into 10 Knowledge Areas (KAs) and five Process Groups…

The PMBOK 6th Ed Process Groups
The PMBOK 6th Ed Process Groups. There is a full-size version in our PMP Exam Prep Guide

The project implementation process is covered by the ‘Executing’ and ‘Monitoring and Controlling’ process groups. The way the PMBOK Guide documents these process groups is little more than a series of call-backs to the processes that it covers fully in the Knowledge Area sections.

You will only be interested in these sections if you are studying for your PMP or CAPM exams. We have a guide that compares the two, as well as a training program that will prepare you for either.

As a result, the most useful thing we can do is summarize these two PMBoK chapters with simple diagrams…

The Executing Process Group

PMBOK Representation of Project Implementation: Part 1 - Executing Processes

The Monitoring and Controlling Process Group

PMBOK Representation of Project Implementation: Part 2 - Monitoring and Controlling

Learn More about the PMBOK Guide and the PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP) Program

You may be interested in pursuing a qualification with PMI – either PMP or its qualification for less experienced PMs, CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management). If so, we have a roadmap that sets out the outlining process and links to all of our free and paid resources: ‘I Want to Study for Project Management Professional ‘.

The Project Delivery Processes: PRINCE2’s approach to Project Implementation

Just as with PMBoK, PRINCE2 spreads your project implementation responsibilities across more than one of its seven processes. In this case, four are involved:

  1. Directing a Project
  2. Controlling a Stage
  3. Managing Project Delivery
  4. Managing a Stage Boundary

The diagram below illustrates how these fit together.

PRINCE2TM Representation of Project Implementation

The PRINCE2 Controlling a Stage Process

Most of the content relevant to project delivery within PRINCE2 falls in the process, Controlling a Stage. In particular, you’ll find:

  • Review the Management Stage Status
  • Take Corrective Action
    • I included these under Monitoring and Control
  • Capture and Assess Issues and Risks
  • Escalate Issues and Risks
    • I included this under Risk and Issue Management
  • Report Highlights
    • I included this under Reporting
  • Authorize a Work Package
  • Review Work Package Status
  • Receive Completed Work Packages
    • Work Packages are the chunks in which products/deliverables are delivered. There is a short video below.

In addition, there is more about Work Packages in the Managing Product Delivery Process:

  • Accept a Work Package
  • Execute a Work Package
  • Deliver a Work Package

What is a Work Package?

This short video will answer this question…

Learn More about PRINCE2

To learn more about PRINCE2, we have an article, PRINCE2 Certification: Everything You Need to Know.

If you are really interested in PRINCE2, we have a roadmap that will guide you through the study process, and point you to all of our free and paid PRINCE2 resources: ‘I Want to Study for PRINCE2’.

These include two full courses that will prepare you for certification at:

PMP or PRINCE2

A question I get a lot is ‘PMP or PRINCE2?’

I don’t think it should be an ‘either/or’ question. But, as an answer, I recently wrote a full article comparing the methodologies and who each one is best suited to. See PMP or PRINCE2? Unraveling the Knot.

What would you add to this article?

If you have any questions or suggestions for what we should have included in this article, please do let us know, in the comments below. I’ll respond to every contribution.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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