5 Tactics to Avoid Missing Project Deadlines

Proactive Action to Employ Time Resource Effectively

Recently I published an article outlining “7 Symptoms of Faltering Projects”. In this article, you’ll learn how to combat the first of those symptoms: missing project milestones.

Who Is at Fault When Project Deadlines Are Missed?

Ever heard the phrase ‘The buck stops here’? It aptly describes who is at fault if project deadlines are missed. No matter why they are missed (for example, poor weather halts a project’s progress for weeks), it is the project manager’s responsibility to ensure that deadlines are not missed.

Employing PRINCE2 methodology should ensure that a project manager considers all possibilities and allows for them in project planning. Still, slippage can still happen. So how do we avoid this?

Here are five tactics that will help ensure no project deadline is ever missed.

1.      Over-Allocate Time

Assume that a task or project stage will take longer than it should – because it almost always does.

If you calculate the time each task will take down to the nth degree, and then only allocate that time, a minor miss on a single task will multiply throughout the project and develop into a major deadline miss. You’ll be forced to reassess scope, cost and quality to get the project back on track – or force people to work heaps of overtime, adding more costs.

Always allow a time buffer on all tasks and stages, just as you would with your financial budget. Just like dollars, time is a resource.

2.      Set Mini Deadlines Internally

Give someone a day to do a job, and they will take a day. Give them two, and they will take two. That’s Parkinson’s Law – work expands to fill the time it is given. That’s why so many projects get completed because of a last-minute rush.

To avoid this, set internal deadlines for tasks. The client sees the deadline as 10 days from now, the project team has eight days in which to complete the project stage. Immediately, you have provided an internal buffer against unforeseen circumstances.

3.      Don’t Multitask

Never multitask – it doesn’t work. Shifting between tasks takes time, energy, and mental power that we can’t afford to waste. It destroys productivity.

To avoid all this waste, make sure that project team members are focused on one task at a time, and that they see that task through to completion.

4.      Employ the Power of Mini Projects

If you are working toward a large project goal, focus can be lost. Complexity increases and project team members lose sight of what they are doing to achieve the big goal.

It’s far better to break each project into smaller projects (project stages) and then each of these into a series of tasks. People are motivated to complete each smaller task without the distraction of completing the whole project.

5.      Stay in Touch

You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and you can’t measure what you don’t know. In PRINCE2, actual progress is measured against expected progress, through a system of control:

  • Management by exception
  • Management by stages
  • Management by tolerance

Each work package is authorised by the project manager, and team managers produce regular checkpoint reports at predefined intervals. Thus, the project manager not only knows what he is measuring, he also has the data to do so. If slippage occurs, this staying in touch gives early warning so that the project manager can take remedial action to get the project back on track.

In Summary

There is little excuse for missing deadlines, and experienced project managers rarely do. That’s because they understand how to manage deadlines effectively and how to manage their teams equally effectively.

Project management tools help project managers to remain connected and informed. They help project team members to understand what their roles and responsibilities are. And they help to prioritise tasks. But it is the project framework and methodology – plus experience – that ensures projects don’t miss deadlines, and that they deliver to expectations of cost and quality.

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