Project delays cost money, waste time, dent stakeholder confidence and can even scupper entire projects.

The reasons for project delays are many and include too many projects for the available project managers to manage; focusing on wrong projects; lack of buy in from senior stakeholders; and technological and legislative delays. But the primary reason – and, ironically, often the one that can directly be managed and influenced by the project manager – is lack of planning.

Delays often occur because of the conflict between reality and expectations. The PM might start off knowing that in an ideal world – with all the knowledge, experience and resources on hand – delivery is possible by a certain date. But, if the expectation is based solely on that, the project is doomed even before it starts. It’s important to realistically calculate the percentage confidence in the plan and add the missing percentage to provide a risk buffer.

According to Tony McManus, MD of McManus Consulting, building in a degree of uncertainty is critical to delivering a project within expectations.

“Once expectations are set you’ve made a commitment you may not be able to meet. Rather than working backwards from the deadline date, work forward and set a date by looking at the project schedule with brutal objectivity (not to mention a healthy dose of cynicism),” says Tony.

Tony shares his top tips for making sure projects are delivered on time:

  • Always build a reasonable risk buffer into the project schedule – no matter how prepared you are, challenges will unfold along the way. So be sure that you have made allowance for the unknown from the start.
  • Manage expectations and keep stakeholders informed along the way – it’s dangerous to try and please stakeholders at all costs.
  • Never lose sight of the interdependence of time/quality/cost – any shift in one of these impacts on the other.
  • A structured planning process is invaluable – make sure that all activities are broken down to the point of individual accountability.
  • If possible, no activity should be longer than the reporting period to allow early detection of task slippage.
  • Once identified, the go live milestone should appear on weekly project reports.

“At the end of the day good project management is simple: it’s all set out in The PMBOK and Prince2®. And PMs that think they can skip any of the mechanisms set out in these methodologies do themselves, and their projects, a grave disservice,” says Tony.

No one has ever been fired for delivering a project early…so make sure that your project planning is, above all, realistic. That way, if all goes according to plan, you could come in early and, if you have unexpected (but accounted for) glitches you can still deliver on time. Either way, you win!

©Tony McManus, McManus Consulting

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