Tips on ensuring your project doesn’t go off task and over budget
Deadlines are a critical component to any project – and a major source of stress if not set and managed correctly. I recently listened to a colleague share about how her company’s deadline to launch a new software system was pushed up – again – for the fourth time, and it’s nearly 10 months behind schedule. Their entire department was literally scrambling to make changes to make it all work. A delay at this level causes blocks in the production system, extreme pressure on the project team, and ultimately increases the cost of the project substantially.
This situation made me think about how many times we don’t set realistic project deadlines. Although setting deadlines is only one component of an overall project management plan, there are ways to prevent major deadline disasters with proper planning and anticipation of what may come ahead. Below are a few ways to ensure your plan starts off right and finishes on time.
- At the start of every project, the project manager should outline the project, and engage the project team, allowing them to feel that they can honestly report where an activity is even if it goes against the deadline in the plan. Without honesty, deadlines will slip. It is the main responsibility of the project manager to check that whatever is due actually gets delivered. Be sure to hold review meetings and accountability for each project team member.
- Do not underestimate the amount of time a project will take. Be sure that you allow plenty of time for the people, departments, and additional resources involved in the project to reach their deadlines. Others’ responsibilities and circumstances can be out of your control at times. Build cushion in your timetables for this. “You need to think real-world strategy,” expresses Michael S. Dobson, the author of numerous project management books. “The challenge is adding essential flex time, which often lowers people’s sense of urgency for completion.”
- Be cautious and realistic if upper management or project stakeholders attempt to set impossible deadlines. If they insist, be solution oriented, organized, and factual. Put a full strategic plan in place to present your case for the need for a deadline extension.
Going to Miss a Deadline? Be proactive.
From time to time, it’s inevitable that a project will not hit every deadline. What if you have a deadline that will be missed? It’s time to be proactive.
- Admit that the project is not going to meet the deadline and fully analyze the issues that are causing the delay.
- Make realistic recommendations, adjustments and time frames for these issues and have a good understanding of the entire process.
- Put these findings into a solid solution plan and timetable. Be sure to include additional resources required in the plan.
- Hold all resources accountable for reaching their deadlines as well. Talk with each resource individually to make sure they understand the plan.
Once the project is finally completed, learn from the missed deadline experience. Take time to analyze what went wrong and what went right – so that you learn from the experience and adjust your next project plan to be focused…and on time.
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