The on-deck project. It’s there, waiting in the wings, ready to go as soon as your team wraps up its current efforts. You and your stakeholders are probably excited to get going on it. It may be a garden-variety project, or it could be a one-time, strategically important initiative that will catapult the company forward. Either way, if its start date hinges on completing other tasks, it’s in a precarious position, because if something—anything—goes wrong with your present schedule, that on-deck project will almost surely be bumped.
Businesses face serious problems when project delays become systemic. Costs go up while the value delivered from each project drops. New product development might be impacted, leading to diminished market share and a compromised competitive position. If regulatory deadlines are missed because a project is delayed, the financial penalties could be staggering. The company may discover it’s unable to pursue new revenue streams or take full advantage of existing assets until the project is finally completed. Investors, customers, business partners, creditors might all reconsider their relationship with the organization if project management troubles aren’t brought under control.
Unfortunately, this cycle of project delays is difficult to break. One activity slips, and downstream tasks must be pushed back. Entire initiatives suffer as a result. Sometimes the project team gets a big injection of resources, usually in the form of staff or funding, to get things back on track. Occasionally, everyone—from top management to the project team, its stakeholders and end users—agrees to reshuffle the timetable across the entire project portfolio to accommodate later start and completion dates. But these are short-term measures. Project managers won’t be able to truly catch up and stay on schedule until the organization adopts a project management methodology that continually ensures progress is aligned with the target completion date throughout the entire project lifecycle.
It takes several key components working together to drive a project to a successful and timely completion. First among them is a workable schedule. Businesses want to begin reaping the benefits of their projects as quickly as possible, but PMs typically know if the timetable the leadership team wants is or isn’t achievable. To avoid one delay piling on top of another, it’s critical that everyone begin the process with realistic expectations about what can be achieved and when.
From there, the team must identify the potential risk areas that exist within the project. Is adverse weather likely to delay the schedule? Will unique specifications extend the lead times of key equipment? Are there activity conflicts the team should plan around? If shutdown activities are scheduled to occur at the same time a high-value manufacturing effort gets underway, the team can expect to encounter delays.
Once those risks have been pinpointed and investigated, PMs should then work to develop contingency plans to mitigate any potential delays that could result. It may be prudent to select an alternate vendor for important materials, for example, or the timing of weather-dependent work may be shifted earlier or later in the season to ensure timing isn’t impacted unexpectedly. Contingency plans could also include adding temporary staffing support to maintain the necessary levels or building in additional funding to cover expedited shipping costs for critical materials.
As the project gets underway, PMs must constantly monitor current progress against the project plan. A strong project management methodology includes project controls to proactively identify potential delays. This gives the team sufficient time to either resequence activities to maintain alignment with the target completion date, or to implement a previously crafted contingency plan that keeps the schedule on track.