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16 Common Causes of Project Delays and How to Avoid Them

Photo by Iwan Shimko on Unsplash

Project delays are inevitable; it’s a plain and simple fact. Period! To add to the effect, imagine the dilemma of a project manager who has to get the work done within a deadline-oriented fashion. In such situations, either the project isn’t delivered on time, or if by some miracle, it does make its way to the table, the deliverables aren’t in the perfect form.

The best way to deal with project delays is by foreseeing risks, issues, and any possible reasons leading to possible hindrances. That way, PMs can squash the delays on time and fall back on a contingency plan that works all the time.

Long before Agile project management hit the big picture, project managers from conventional industries; such as construction, also had to deal with risk mitigation and delays in project management. They dealt with such issues in such a way that neither the workflow nor the long-term goals were affected.

That’s how you should be planning your projects and executing them.

This post highlights common causes of project delays, and how to deal with them accordingly.

Common Causes of Project Delays

How does a bunch of delays creep up during any number of simultaneous projects? More often, these incidents happen due to the following common issues.

  • Sudden change in project plan when the process is halfway through. The same logic applies to the project scope as well.
  • Unrealistic objectives and goals that set the stakeholders’ expectation too high.
  • Not having an efficient way of getting things done fast.
  • Sticking to outdated technology, especially in an Agile project management environment, where the sole objective is to run processes in a clutter-free manner.
  • Teams are slacking for whatever reasons.
  • Unforeseen circumstances.
  • Poor communication.

A survey conducted by Project Management Institute revealed some more causes of project delays:

Project delays have a severe effect on the project financials. After all, resources are finite; no matter how abundant they are. That’s one of the stark realities of multi-project management these days.

Other than that, project delays cause a whole lot of issues that may impact the timeline when the milestones are nearly achieved.

The biggest issue in any number of delays is stakeholders’ disapproval. Once a project’s expectations are not met, chances are that the stakeholder will tank the entire project one way or another. However, project shutdowns rarely happen. When they do, it is usually because of a high influence vs high-interest stakeholder.

For instance, in government building projects where legalities are not met or the contractor isn’t able to deliver on time, the project gets delayed intermittently.

5 Most Effective Ways to Deal with Project Delays

Delays are best dealt with when they are avoided. We have highlighted some of the most effective ways to deal with project management delays. However, do bear in mind that these strategies are not a means to an end.

Depending on the industry you are working in, feel free to improvise. After all, innovation is the bane of success.

1. Setting realistic and achievable goals

Not only does it matter for project managers to set realistic goals, but it is also equally important to devise deadlines that are centered around maximum achievability.

The two variables help to avoid any setbacks that are bound to affect the entire team. For instance, if the goal isn’t realistic, you may succeed in setting up stakeholders’ expectations too high. That’s a good thing, but what about actually meeting those expectations?

The best way to deal with goal-related delays is by under-promising and overdelivering. It works all the time.

To that end, make sure that there are quantifiable indicators that can help you to measure your performance alongside team progress. In the end, you’d want a standard performance benchmark that can enable team members to work at their optimal levels.

2. Daily standups vs. accountability issues

Daily standup meetings have an intimidating effect because everyone has to fill PMs in on the achieved vs. deliverables theory.

However, these meetings are a great way of helping everyone to stay on the same page. When we look at project management delays, especially from an Agile workflow perspective, standups and scrum master meetings are essential to ensure maximum productivity.

These meetings also eliminate any performance blockers and productivity issues that might be holding certain team members from performing at their best.

While doing so, make sure that everyone has pre-defined roles and delegate activities accordingly. Although standups are not meant for assigning new tasks/ projects, there are times when dependencies have to be created.

Don’t forget to highlight what everyone has done so far, and whatever needs to be achieved for any given day.

3. Resource management 101

This isn’t a crash course on how to manage your project resources. It’s all about having an accurate estimate of your reserve resources and the current resource consumption rate.

If a project manager has an estimate about resources running dry, he can mitigate any issues before they show up. Likewise, project costs can be adjusted by deprioritizing low-status activities until later.

On that note, we also cannot ignore the importance of human resource management — and hiring the right resources for the job. They are indispensable, given that your team is blessed with a remarkable talent pool that has a knack for productivity.

The rest is all about allocating resources to different aspects of the projects and creating a fallback plan, in case anything happens out of the blue, where not only the budget but also, the human element of the resources has to be reallocated.

There is also the issue of managing material resources that cover office and work-related equipment. These resources are vital as they either help to ensure smooth workflow, or they can result in impediments for stretched throughout an entire project’s lifetime.

4. Schedule carefully and schedule often

Schedules are not definite; they change from time to time.

Although project schedules make up for all the activities that have to be followed; there are special cases where activities have to be moved around. Determine dependencies, high priority tasks, and CPM dependent workflow for a sequential approach to uninterrupted process management.

It is better to have a schedule, instead of relying on dealing with activities as they come up. For instance, many managers deal with projects based on the ‘Just in Time’ methodology. Well, it worked well for old-school projects, but since most of the industry’s workforce transitioned to Agile methodologies, J.I.T usually leads to creating more issues than resolving them on time.

More so, this schedule should be easily accessible and available to team members. As a project manager, you can obscure confidential details, or create an entirely new schedule for the workforce. But, do make sure that it’s delegated across all the teams. This way, everyone has an idea of the roadmap and their current progress at any given time.

5. Performance measurement and time tracking

Data collection is important for future retrospectives as it eliminates any performance blockers.

Likewise, PMs don’t have to go through the extensive challenge of creating new performance metrics if they are working on similar projects in the future.

As far as the issue of managing timesheets is concerned, that is crucial for ensuring that everyone is putting in their hours. It comes with a bit of an accountability factor, but if you are managing team member timesheets, you have a better understanding of rewards and incentives at the end of the day.

The latter also tends to motivate key players as they usually go the extra mile.

Data maintenance regarding ongoing projects is essential for ensuring task completion, quality of work, and budget requirements are met accordingly.

What to Do If Project Delays Happen Regardless?

The problem with projects is their tenacity to get delayed despite the best possible planning and execution.

As we mentioned earlier, delays are inevitable. They are part of the game and serve to groom a project manager’s skills in the long run. Therefore, take adversity with a grain of salt and determine how to respond to delays categorically.

If a delay becomes imminent, here’s what you can do to minimize the risks:

  • Hold an immediate team meeting and identity the reasons for delays. Avoid playing the blame game; whatever’s done is done. There’s no point in who caused the delay or how it occurred in the first place.
  • If the said delay is caused due to monetary concern, run it along the food chain. The sooner it is rectified by board members or any concerned authorities, the better it is.
  • Learn to deescalate tasks if a crucial deadline-oriented process is suffering. While it is okay to complete project activities with dependencies, first, there’s no harm in deprioritizing those tasks for the greater good. If you are responsible for creating an MVP in a given timeframe, task prioritization and reprioritization should be part of the plan from the beginning.
  • Never fail to admit to your fallacies. If don’t have a full grasp over how the latest technology or a particular tool works, go ahead and consult with your subordinates. Hubris often leads to an early demise; make sure it doesn’t happen more often!

How to Prevent Project Delays?

If you aren’t using project management software, now might be the perfect time to make the switch. Did you know that modern-day PM tools are known for enhancing team productivity by tenfold — and that too for any number of simultaneous processes?

Project management tools are a great way of managing calendar activities, setting up tasks, delegating last-minute activities to concerned team members, and pretty much dealing with the aforementioned dilemmas in this post.

Above all, these programs are a great way of getting things done in a stress-free manner. Our best advice is to list down your project requirements before setting up your very first PM software.

Make sure that the program comes with an evaluation version so that you can scale up your team’s performance according to the tool’s feature set.

The post is written for actitime.com by Fred Wilson, an Agile and Software Consultant at nTask with 15+ years of experience working with Agile teams.

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