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4 Reasons for Missed Project Deadlines and How to Get Back on Track - Part 1

~ By Brad Egeland

Man pointing at an alarm clock he's holding

Have you ever managed the perfect project? One where you've not missed one single deadline along the way? How about a project that went through its entire lifecycle without moving a milestone or sliding a few tasks or phases here and there?

Not likely.

The concept of being able to deliver everything – and I mean everything – on time on any given project is fairly fictional. Sometimes we manage projects with several hundred – or even several thousand – tasks.

Staying exactly on track is almost never in the cards.

So many things are out of our control. There are always dates that have to be pushed for one reason or another-though they may not have any significant impact on the final solution implementation date.

What about critical project dates and deadlines? Most projects experience one or more delays that impact the project – dates and deadlines that will raise some sort of a red flag with some or all stakeholders.

Those are the ones we worry or care the most about. I'll lay out four scenarios that often cause missed project deadlines and possible ways to work around those issues and keep or get the project back on track.

From my experience, when missed task deadlines start to become a real problem, it is often due to one or more of these reasons. I'll detail the first two below.

Different People Skills Are Needed Than What You Have Available Right Now

Perhaps the people assigned to the project are lacking some key skills. Meet with the individuals that are responsible for the slipping tasks. See where they stand on this:

  • Do they need help?
  • Do they need different tools to complete their work?
  • Do you need to bring in a different key person?

You may need to go to their direct supervisor to get the full answer. But you must take swift action.

If you need to replace people, then the budget will likely take a hit as the new people get up to speed. Ensure you make the appropriate adjustments to the budget forecast.

Unreasonable Deadlines Have Been Forced Upon the Project for Whatever Reason

The project schedule was probably drafted by sales or an account manager. Then it was handed off to the project manager. It was then moulded into the very detailed schedule that the project is now being managed against.

There may have been some unreasonable deadlines that either were overlooked or just not changeable. The project manager and team knew they were unreasonable. The deadline, however, was mandated by something beyond their control – possibly the customer, an industry requirement, or senior management.

Sometimes change orders, pressure from above, or misunderstood requirements leave you with a project schedule that's no longer doable. If it's not adjusted, then it's going to move further and further off track.

Talk to your project sponsor about increasing the people that are available for the project. Adding new individuals will increase the cost, but will help you hit the deadline specified. Again, ensure you make the appropriate adjustments to the budget forecast.

These are just two of the limitless reasons projects get off track. I realise there are hundreds upon hundreds of specific reasons. But I have to limit my list to some main – and fairly resource-related – reasons to not let this become a twenty-part novel.

In Part 2 of this two-part series, we will look at two more "main" reasons project deadlines are often missed.


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