Business leaders have expressed deep disappointment that Stormont's roadmap out of lockdown provides no target dates and little detail.
However, Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill defended the Executive's cautious and vague plan amid sustained criticism that it fell some distance short of what was needed.
Unlike Boris Johnson's exit blueprint for England, the Executive's 'Pathway Out of Restrictions' includes no timetable.
DUP MP Carla Lockhart branded it as "clear as mud", highlighting the continuing divisions within her party over the Covid-19 pandemic.
Belfast Chamber chief executive and former DUP minister Simon Hamilton was also scathing of the plan.
"The Executive may have published a 'roadmap' to reopen the economy, but none of us know when this journey will actually start or how long it will take," he tweeted.
"Each step will be subject to Executive wrangling, with firms unable to plan properly.
"As a plan, this falls far short. Not only are there (no) dates, but there are no clear health targets to move us through the steps."
Mr Hamilton warned that with no timetable, there was a "real risk" that some businesses would call it a day.
"After talking about hope, ministers have extinguished it for many," he said.
"With Northern having its lowest infection rates since September, a hugely successful vaccine rollout and real-life data showing its impact on hospitalisation, people will be bemused at this grossly underwhelming effort from the Executive, which stands in stark contrast to other governments".
With no target dates in the blueprint, ministers said that decisions on moving between the five stages would be based on scientific and medical evidence, not the calendar.
But Retail Northern Ireland chief executive Glyn Roberts said the plan was too woolly. "Sadly, this falls far short of what is needed for a viable roadmap," he added.
"It lacks detail, contains vague criteria for moving between the steps and gives no certainty for retailers to plan ahead for reopening.
"Accepting that exact dates were not going to be in the document, the very least that could have been included (were) broad timelines to give retailers some idea of the next steps."
In the Assembly, TUV leader Jim Allister said: "While other regions of the UK have been given hope and dates, Northern Ireland has got a cliche-ridden algorithm for dither.
"Some have claimed this is a sat-nav for the way ahead. In truth, it's not much of a sat-nav that can't tell you your route or when you'll get there."
Green MLA Rachel Woods also heaped criticism on Stormont's roadmap.
"The document itself looks like a copy-and-paste job of what was published last May, and that plan wasn't worth the paper it was written on," she said.
Mrs Foster, however, appealed to the public to work with the Executive.
"What we've set out is a pathway. It's not perfect - nobody is pretending it is - but I think it gives the direction of travel in terms of where we hope to get to because people do need to have optimism," she said.
"We're asking people to work with us so we can make this the last lockdown.
"That's what I'm focused on, because we certainly cannot go back into a lockdown again."
Ms O'Neill said: "We must do everything we can to try to make this one the last lockdown, with the underpinning insurance policy that this Executive will take the steps needed to protect the health service.
"Taking all these factors together, we can take some tentative preparatory steps towards the lifting of restrictions, but great care is still needed." She added that ministers recognised that Covid-19 still posed a "huge risk", particularly given the potential for new variants.
"Each week, departments will meet as a collective to discuss the available information and to proactively consider which next steps can be proposed to the Executive," Ms O'Neill said.
"After each step we take, we will pause and reflect, look at the data and the impacts, engage with key sectors and enable them to reopen only if it is the right thing to do."
The blueprint foresees that premises where customers cannot drink alcohol and outdoor sports facilities will be among the first to open as Northern Ireland moves out of lockdown.
Click-and-collect for non-essential retail, driving lessons and tests and church services will be permitted under the first step.
According to the Executive document, by the end of the cautious first stage, people will be allowed to meet up with friends from one other household in the park or host a small barbecue in their garden with one other household.
The stay-at-home message will be relaxed and outdoor training, golf and tennis will also be permitted by the end of this stage.
Moving into the gradual easing phase, family and friends will be allowed to meet indoors once again.
By the end of this phase, up to six people from two households will be able to meet inside, while there will also be a full return to the classroom for all pupils.
Leisure centres, indoor sports facilities, soft play centres, caravan sites, hotels, guest houses and B&Bs will also have reopened by the end of this phase.
During the next phase, the further easing step, wet pubs will be allowed to reopen, but only with table service.
Celebrating a birthday with friends, attending a music festival or nightclub, live music and dancing at wedding receptions will only be allowed once Northern Ireland moves into the final phase of the plan.
Even then, the plan warns that some restrictions will remain in place, including mitigations for close-contact services and the retail sector and risk assessments for outdoor gatherings, while plans will be under way for the full return of leisure travel.