6 Ways to Avoid Project Delays (and 4 Ways to Handle Them When They Happen)

Melissa Sutton-Seng

Melissa Sutton-Seng

Project Management

Unexpected delays are one of the most common problems in project management. In one survey, less than 50 percent of companies said they complete projects on schedule.

Nearly half of project managers (46 percent) who responded to another survey said that meeting project deadlines were among their biggest challenges. Project delays seem to happen more often than not.

The cost of project delays

If so many companies and project managers experience project delays, it can’t be that big a deal, right? Wrong. Project delays cause a whole host of issues, some of which might not be obvious right away. Delays add to project costs. Every day you’re late is another day paying for personnel and other resources that weren’t factored into the budget. Time is money, after all. But there are other costs to consider.

Your company’s reputation with the customer and other stakeholders could be damaged, not to mention your reputation with your bosses. If your project is late, you may cause delays in other projects by tying up resources that are needed elsewhere. If the delay is extreme enough, the entire project may be deemed a failure.

How to prevent project delays

Clearly, delays are best avoided, but is that even possible? To a wide extent, yes. While you can’t prevent every delay, you can certainly take steps to keep your project on track and to mitigate the damage from delays that do occur.

Set realistic goals for your projects

Setting realistic goals is possibly the biggest factor in determining whether you’ll complete your project on time. Sometimes it’s tempting to set extremely ambitious goals, either to make a good impression or because the client expects it.

Remember that it’s far better to underpromise and overdeliver than to overpromise and underdeliver. Good goals are realistic, clear, and measurable.

  • Realistic– Can we accomplish this goal with the allotted time and resources available to us?
  • Clear– Do we know exactly what is being asked of us? Does everyone understand?
  • Measurable– Are there quantifiable indicators with which we can judge each goal?

Hold a team meeting

At the beginning of your project, gather your team to communicate the vision for the project. Make sure everyone understands their roles as well as the purpose of the project as a whole. Highlight the key milestones you’ve set in your project plan and explain the benchmarks for success.

Spend some time discussing the goals of the project and, if necessary, clarifying how they’ll be measured.

Gather the right resources

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of gathering the right resources. When it comes to financial resources, you’ve almost certainly been given a limited budget; evaluate whether the amount budgeted can truly cover the project costs and then make adjustments or secure additional funding at the outset.

Your most important resources are the people working with you on the project. Assess the composition of your team to see if you have enough people to get the project done on schedule and whether all those people have the necessary skills. If not, you’ll need to update your project plan to factor in how much time and money it will cost to add team members, provide training, or outsource to cover the gaps.

Don’t neglect the material resources required for your project. Things like office space, computers, printers, and software are vital, and you can’t take for granted that they’ll be available.

Schedule carefully

A project schedule is more than a timetable. It’s a comprehensive document that details the project timeline and the organizational resources required to complete each task. To create a project schedule, divide the phases of your project into individual tasks and activities, determine dependencies, sequence the activities, and then estimate the required resources and duration of each task.

The schedule should be readily available to every member of the project team.

Track and measure progress

Data collection is crucial to project success! It’s important to set good goals, but it does little good if you don’t collect data in order to track and measure your progress towards those goals. You must have systems for tracking task completion, quality, and budget. Take account regularly to see if your team is on target.

Forecast

Forecasting in project management consists of taking stock of the current status of the project at a given point and extrapolating from the available data to predict results at the end of the project.

At the beginning of the project, there’s not enough data to forecast with any accuracy, so forecasting should only be done once the project is at least 25% complete.

Forecasting takes project risks into account and can be cast in terms of time, cost, quality, or a combination of those factors. If your forecast shows you’re off target, you can often take the opportunity to course-correct before the project is delayed.

If you discover it’s too late to prevent a delay, there are steps you can take to mitigate the severity of the delay.

What to do when delays happen

No matter how well you plan and execute, unexpected delays will occasionally happen. Team members get sick, suppliers miss deadlines, and clients change project parameters. These things are beyond your control, but you determine how to respond to delays. Here’s what to do.

Hold a team meeting (again)

As soon as it becomes obvious your project will be delayed, gather your team to strategize. At this point, something has to be sacrificed: time, money, and/or deliverables. Establish how long it will take to complete the project with the delay and how much that will cost. Get a breakdown of what the delay will do to your budget.

Find out what your team is able to deliver by the original due date, staying in budget. Once the team has established what’s possible, you can update your client and present the new options.

Prioritize tasks

With your adjusted plan decided, you need to prioritize tasks. Reevaluate the original project plan you made and see what tasks have already been accomplished, which can be eliminated, and which may need to move up or down your team’s priority list.

Set new deadlines

If the best option for your project is to change the due date, set new deadlines for each of the tasks and benchmarks in your project plan. As discussed above, make sure the new deadlines are realistic given the delays you’ve experienced and the capacity of your team.

Communicate

Communicate, communicate, communicate! Keep your team informed of every delay, change of plans, and altered client expectations. Every member of the team should be able to see when tasks are due and what major deadlines are approaching. Don’t forget to communicate with your clients as well.

They’re surely stressed by the delay (even if they’re to blame for it), and clear, reassuring communication from you will help ease minds and preserve business relationships.

Avoid delays and fast-track your project with Kissflow Projects

If you’re a project manager relying on spreadsheets and calendar alerts to keep your schedule and avoid delays, you’re probably pretty stressed. Using a digital project management tool can streamline your project management process, give visibility to your whole team, and help avoid costly delays.

A good project management tool should have kanban boards, to-do lists, task management, and collaboration tools. Start using Kissflow Projects for free and see how it can help you avoid costly project delays.