Why are projects often delivered late?
Missed deadlines or missing deadlines – both can challenge your project and cause late delivery
I recently undertook a complex journey by car involving six locations, a number of people, and finally the drive back home.
It was over a long distance and took most of one day to complete – but I completed it, and, in fact, I arrived home a few minutes earlier than expected. All collections and deliveries were made to the right people at the right time and so, I would humbly suggest this particular project was ‘project complete’.
Now there were certainly many risks, and it could have all gone wrong.
I could have been late for one of four reasons:
- I did not plan my schedule and just ‘hoped for the best’ without any real understanding of times and distances involved (add in rest breaks and refueling)
- I departed too late, or lingered too long at each individual destination
- The traffic was against me – a major accident or another unexpected incident was on my route
- The people I was meeting, and transporting, were not ready when I arrived
You will note that 1 and 2 are within my control – only myself to blame if this was the situation – whilst 3 and 4 are outside my control but where, wise project manager that I try to be, I added in contingency to cover the unexpected.
As it turned out the traffic was in my favour allowing me longer rest periods (never a bad thing on a long journey) and all other people involved in my journey were ready and waiting for me (thank you) – result being arrival at home a little earlier (and without undue stress).
A ‘project’ success and all deadlines met.
Missed deadlines vs. Missing deadlines
Work projects are not so different when you think of it.
There are matters that you can control and matters that you cannot control, but you must prepare and mitigate for both the best that you can. I have found that when it comes to ‘deadlines,’ the fault, when there is one, comes down to two separate categories:
- Missed deadlines
- Missing deadlines
Missed deadlines are a commonplace occurrence for most project professionals. A plan is produced, specifying checkpoints or deliverables. The project manager oversees progress against milestones, but over-focuses on the one big deadline at the end of the project as the most critical. In this case, project delivery is the driving factor for project success – as long as it meets the true business need of course.
Missing deadlines occur where the plan is faulty and there are actual gaps in the schedule, unknowns, unexpecteds, and/or an incomplete statement of project delivery. It is where the project manager, and team, do not have a full picture of the project, and thus fail to recognize important checkpoints along the way. In the absence of such ‘data,’ only bad decisions can be made.
Managing Missing Deadlines
In the case of missing deadlines, there is a real and present danger the project will go ‘off the rails’ without anyone immediately being aware simply because there is a lack of information and intent. It is somewhat similar to the ‘I did not plan my schedule and just ‘hoped for the best’ approach’, which is not a good place to start any project. I am all for optimism but not delusion. In this case, if not a wilful disregard for logic and preparation, but a blind faith in that it will all be OK and ‘let’s just keep moving forward’. A missing deadline is like a hidden mine that will likely blow the project up completely. At the very least it will be messy and create a lot of extra work.
To remedy the problem of missing deadlines, you’ll need to implement measures that bolster your ability to forecast the needs of your project. It’s imperative that your team has the information they need to succeed, and nothing can hinder that more than getting started too quickly. It’s natural to jump ahead when there is pressure to deliver. Marketplaces move quickly and so do stakeholders’ decisions. Getting a project off the ground before it’s killed or deprioritized is important, but it won’t matter if it quickly crashes and burns due to poor planning. There are a few things you can do to make sure you’ll have all the info you need before you start your project:
- Budget more time up front for detailed planning and strategy
- Get more input from your team to identify requirements
- Use project management software with advanced scheduling features to forecast timelines and checkpoints
Make sure to cover these bases. It will do wonders for your project and your team down the road and eliminate the presence of missing deadlines in your project.
Now, back to missed deadlines. A potential missed deadline can be managed if you approach it correctly and have the right data available. So, what if your project is looking like it is going to be delivered late – what can you do?
Missed Deadline at work: Can you recover and finish your project on time?
All project managers want to record that ‘project complete’ status. But, when it becomes clear that a deadline will be missed, it is wise to consider the following:
- Impact and consequences
- Options and decisions
- Plan adjustment
What are the ramifications of a missed deadline? Invest time in understanding the impact and likely consequences as a result. If the issue is a critical path, will a miss trigger a domino effect by causing other (or more) deadlines to slip?
Based on that thought process, what are the practical options open to the project team from which an informed decision can be made?
From this decision point, the plan can be appropriately amended and rapidly followed by clear communication to all stakeholders about the cause, the impact, the action taken, and the resultant effect on the project delivery.
All the above are naturally important, but the critical stage is the last one. The learning.
How can you manage this better in the future, how can you better prepare, how can you mitigate more effectively and what can you do to make yourself a better project manager for the next project deadline, the next project delivery, the next project completed?
Project management software available in today’s marketplace can make all the difference in establishing plans that can be trusted and upon which you can confidently set and convey promises on delivery dates. The best such software enables scenario modeling and can accommodate frequent changes in priority, resource deployment or last minute additions with real-time updates and a dynamic scheduling engine. With such tools, you can invest in scenario modeling and extract insights that will significantly reduce uncertainty that plagues projects today, then make predictions and promises given the confidence you can achieve about outcomes.
About the Author
Keynote speaker and coach, Peter is the author of the number 1 bestselling project management book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, along with many other books on Project Management, PMO development, Executive Sponsorship, Transformation Leadership, and Speaking Skills.
He has built and led some of the largest PMOs in the world with organisations such as Siemens, IBM, UKG, and now Ceridian, where he is the VP Global PMO.
He has also delivered over 500 lectures around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.