How to Deliver Projects on Time, Part 2
How to deliver projects on time? In this second part of the series I will cover strategies to avoid delay.
How to Deliver Projects on Time Introduction
Tomes have been written on the topic of project management their successful implementation. Often in these books, project management is often described as a balancing act between project cost, schedule and scope. In this series of articles I will deal specifically on the topic of delivering projects on schedule.
In the first part of the series on how to deliver projects on time I dealt with the topic of the critical path which lists the series of tasks that ultimately determine the end date of the project. This article will cover strategies to help maintain the project schedule. The next article will deal with the topic of monitoring of the project schedule and the final article will cover actions that can be taken for distressed projects that are running late.
So, lets now kick off with three strategies to improve the chances of schedule adherence.
Improve Risk Determination and Contingencies
No matter the nature of the project, unaccounted for risks and the consequences of those risks can blow a hole in a PM’s schedule. A proper risk identification and mitigation strategy can help minimize the impact of these problems cropping up and thus deliver the project on schedule. The two key elements to risk identification is having the knowledge to forecast problems and the method to prioritize the perceived risks to that mitigation steps can be put in place. Let’s take each in turn.
Risk identification is best done within a team setting as the project manager alone cannot hope to think of every conceivable problem. So, this is the time to rustle up the troops for a team meeting with the defined purpose of identifying potential risks to the project. Those risks can take any form such as technical, resource related, safety related or risk to schedule. The categories will vary a little depending on the nature of the project as will their potential impact. For this meeting, do not hesitate to invite experts who may not be in the core project team. All expertise is welcome when it comes to forecasting the future!
Risk Prioritization and mitigation
Having gathered the troops, you now need to apply the method. The usual method for risk prioritization and mitigation that I have used is the Failure modes and Effects Analysis. That sounds a bit technical, but in practice it provides a standardized method to identify the risk, score the risk and to determine what steps can be taken to avoid or mitigate those risks. Let’s take a simple example to show how it is done – in this case, the planning of a kids birthday party.
|Problem||Effects||Severity Score (1=no impact, 10=unhappy campers)||Probability (1=rare, 10=certain)||Detection (1=certain, 10=unknown)||Priority (severity x probability x detection)||Recommended action|
|Food allergies||Allergic reaction leads to hospital visit!||8||1||1||8||Check with invitees about allergy, have choice of food|
|Bored parents||People counting the minutes until they can go||10||3||3||90||Have beer on hand!|
|Child accident||Injury||5||10||1||50||Have first aid on hand and toys for bribes|
The example above is rather simple and omits a few columns – but is sufficient to illustrate the concept. If you wish to see a fully fledged FMEA in all it’s glory you can have a look at this example over at Quality One, who also include a brief video introduction to the topic.
One hint for going through the scoring process. It is very helpful to have a predefined template for scoring the likelihood of detection, severity to the user and frequency of occurrence. This ensures that irrespective of the people doing the assessment or the project being assessed, that the same scores should result. This template would simply define the scores from 0 to 10 and define the impact for each score. So, for example a 0 would mean that there is no delay for that risk whereas a score of 10 could mean a 3 year delay. Intermediate scoring would occupy the intervening time period.
Ensure Resources are in Place
One commonly cited reason for project delay is resource constraints. Not having the people or materials on hand when you need them is not conducive to getting work done on time.
At the start of a long project, expect full cooperation from all stake holders and people who will have tasks to complete during the course of the project. Normally people do not have objections to tasks that will not start for months or even years in the future. Resources tend to become a problem in the shorter term when the task is imminent and people realize there are other ongoing or competing tasks. This is never a good time to realize such problems but it is often the case in life that people react when the issue is right in front of them -burning their eyebrows so to speak. One countermeasure for this “out of sight, out of mind”, problem is to consistently reiterate the resource requirements and confirm stakeholder commitment to that requirement. Two of the ways this can be done,
- State the resource requirements at each primary project milestone review for the following stage. If you think any particular area will be a bottleneck, raise this point and get the commitment at that meeting. This is a fairly high level commitment from people who may be a safe distance from executing the task.
- The second confirmation should be with the people actually executing the task. Having those guys engaged, enthusiastic and proactive can go a long way to ensure the task gets done.
Create “Sprints” Within Your Project Phases
Depending on what project management project Philosophy you follow, how long your projects are and how big they are, you may break down your project into smaller stages. Normally this is done for projects than last months or years. These stages normally run sequentially with a milestone or deliverable at the end of each stage. To give you some idea of project stages, here is a sample 5 stage project and the activities that are usually undertaken in each of the project stages.
- Definition & Initiation. Define the project goals, scope, risks, timescale etc. these points should be aligned with and have the buy in from stakeholders.
- Planning. “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. This is where the Project Manager does the ground work for future project success. Outputs typically include not only the timetable but also considers the cost, resources, risk management and so on.
- Execution. After acceptance of the planning, work can commence – usually with a kick off meeting with the relevant parties.
- Monitoring & Control. The PM will typically do the tracking to ensure project adherence and manage stakeholder communication.
- Closure. The formal end point of the project and every project should have such a clean ending. It should be agreed that the project meets the defined goals, release the resources for other activities and importantly also communicate areas for future improvement. The last item is to enable lessons learned to be passed down to new projects.
This is all well and good and looks very logical – but there can be some problems here. I will only cover one such problem and solution in this article with the objective being project adherence – the goal of this article!
The problem that I allude to is that with such long project stages – months or years, cumulative project delay can happen. This can be because the milestone seems so far away and a few days delay here and there can’t hurt, can it? These delays can accumulate over months and ultimately cause a late rush before the milestone which may or may not be successful in bringing the project back on schedule.
One countermeasure that I propose here is to break those long, long project stages down into a series of “Sprints”. A “Sprint”, borrowed from the Agile Project approach involves having a rather short burst of activity to complete a defined number of tasks in a given timeframe. The timeframe is usually around one month and the tasks are defined and agreed with the team at the start of the Sprint. So, what are the advantages of this and how can it help with project adherence? I see the following benefits,
- Team members have a defined set of tasks to complete in a short time. This helps with focus and motivation.
- Communication with the team is key at the start of the Sprint. This clarifies the requirements of the Sprint and makes the team active participants in delivering the project on schedule.
- With focus on the short term, tempo is often higher in a Sprint that a prolonged project stage. With a high tempo over successive Sprints, overall delivery over the project stage is improved.
How to Deliver Projects on Schedule, Part 2 Summary
So, that’s three strategies to help improve the chances of delivering the project on time. No doubt there are a myriad of other ideas and if there are any particular ones that have helped you with project schedule adherence, feel free to drop them in the comments section below.
If you found this article helpful then feel free to check out other articles of mine in this area. “Task Management for Project Managers“, and “How to deliver projects on time, Part 1“, might be right up your street.