Project delays are frustrating. However, they are common. According to a 2020 article by the Project Management Institute, 50% of projects begun over the previous eight years experienced delays.
Projects often take place in dynamic environments with unpredictable factors, challenges, and unforeseen issues. Even with proper planning, delays are inevitable.
These stoppages can lead to problems, such as:
- The project budget may increase as the delay requires more employee and contractor hours.
- Operations in related areas may pause because they need the improvements brought about by the project for their operations.
- The delays could cause a loss of expected revenue.
With the right plan and preparation, managers can successfully adjust to delays and minimize their impact without disrupting the project.
What Causes Project Delays?
Project delays can come from internal and external issues.
In industries like construction or agriculture, weather events can lead to delays. Also, the availability of raw materials can slow down projects in manufacturing and other sectors relying on commodities. This issue could be due to a lack of production at the source or supply chain problems.
Finally, issues like changes to laws, taxes, or regulations can affect project plans.
Delays are often due to internal errors or poor planning. Problems can include:
- Inaccurate estimates for time frame or budget;
- Poor communication about expectations or requirements;
- A loss of skilled personnel needed to complete the project;
- Breakdown of key systems or equipment;
- Delays in procuring necessary materials or resources;
- Unexpected changes to the scope of the project;
- Delays to parallel projects in the company that produce resources or features you need to complete your tasks.
With careful planning and communication, project managers can avoid some potential delay-causing problems. However, techniques for minimizing the impact of unforeseen delays are still essential.
Minimizing the Impact of Project Delays
Operational delays are sometimes unavoidable. However, with the right strategies, project managers can adapt and overcome delays before they impact project outcomes.
A framework or problem-solving progression can help project leaders address and overcome roadblocks. For instance, Agile frameworks, popular for tech development projects, break projects into smaller increments. This timeline gives project managers a natural pause to adjust after each incremental step.
Ideally, these changes or corrections can account for any current or potential delays or problems that came up during the step.
Flexibility allows managers to make the necessary alterations to limit delays without shifting deadlines or goals.
Planning for Delay Management Proactively
Preparation is key to managing delays effectively. Projects require the talents and contributions of team members. Everyone involved in a project will play a role in overcoming delays. It is vital to prepare a project team to deal with delays even before they occur.
Here are two ways to proactively prepare for overcoming delays.
Project managers spend 90% of their time communicating and delegating tasks. As a leader, you can start optimizing communications before problems arise. This process includes developing channels for communicating with team members and methods for asking for clarification and expressing concerns and ideas to management.
For instance, in the transportation industry, a company can use communications gateways on vehicles to obtain specific data points about performance. This information provides insights allowing dispatchers to make very specific recommendations to drivers to improve efficiency and save time.
With optimized communication, you can make team members aware of changes and challenges and get feedback to help solve the problem causing the delay.
Creating a Contingency Plan
A contingency plan focuses on ensuring continuity of operations after an unexpected setback, disaster, or delay. Though it is impossible to know the exact nature of the issue causing the work stoppage, a general strategy can counteract most setbacks.
A contingency plan varies depending on the industry. Most strategies involve assigning specific tasks to employees with the skills or experience to accomplish them. You can make the team members aware of their troubleshooting responsibilities at the start of the project.
You can also reserve backup resources or equipment, find alternative materials sources, and define potential outsourcing opportunities to use if your team is unable to complete tasks. A risk assessment can define potential trouble spots and focus planning on the most likely delays.
Developing a Risk Assessment and Management Plan
A risk assessment defines potential problems and analyzes what would happen if an issue occurs during the project. A comprehensive assessment highlights the most likely problems and their possible effects on the project.
Once the team defines these potential problem areas, you can create a management plan. Risk management strategies either alter the project plan so that it eliminates a potential risk beforehand or defines how to overcome the issue if it occurs.
In some cases, you may not eliminate risks, but you can reduce the likelihood they occur. All risk management plans should include guidance on compliance and safety protocols. For instance, a transportation company can enhance safety protocols or deploy additional instruments to limit safety risks on the road and collect data to further improve operational efficiency and safety.
In today’s connected business world, every company can benefit from a cyberattack contingency plan. This helps companies secure data and systems from theft or ransomware attacks, and can also facilitate effective backup plans so that the operation can get back online and reconnect rapidly after an attack.
Enhancing the Efficiency of Your Operations
Efficiency brings multiple benefits to businesses. A company can reduce operating costs and increase effectiveness with more efficient processes.
On projects, efficiency means eliminating tasks or resource usage that do not add value to the project or lead to its completion. By eliminating certain tasks and processes, the team also eliminates the potential problems associated with the activities. Fewer moving parts make organization simpler and shorten project completion times.
Efficiency can also mean simplifying systems to perform the necessary tasks and provide the required data without adding unnecessary elements to operations. Some tools, such as electronic logging devices (ELDs) in the transportation industry, eliminate human error and automate data collection that would otherwise be tedious and time-consuming.
Such tech systems bring benefits like increased efficiency and accuracy. Delays may occur due to other problems, but employees will be free to deal with them because other aspects of the operation are fully automated.
Continuous Monitoring and Improvement
Previous delays hold valuable lessons for future planning. Digital tools collect data on performance and activity. Project managers and analysts can use these insights to assess the effectiveness of risk management strategies. They can then make improvements or retain ideas that worked well.
Devices also make it possible to monitor employee performance in real time and make adjustments. Managers can use this information for specific recommendations about performance. It may also help workers take steps to adhere closely to the existing risk management plan.
With careful planning, a complete risk management strategy, and contingency plans, companies can reduce the impact of operational delays and increase the chances of successful projects.