What to Do When a Project Is Behind Schedule

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What If Your Project Falls Behind?

written by: Ada Stoy • edited by: Ginny Edwards • updated: 8/5/2013

When a project is behind schedule, not everything is lost and there are many steps you can take to fix things. You need to know what to do when a project is behind schedule but first you need to identify the reason(s) why a project is behind schedule.

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    Identify the Reasons

    What to Do When a Project is Behind Schedule Sometimes the reasons why a project is behind schedule are more than obvious but this is not always the case. If you don't identify correctly why the project is behind schedule, then the steps you take to get back on track might be the wrong ones and the result could be really devastating.

    In a sense, if the patient has gastritis, you don't give him an aspirin because this will only make his situation worse. It is the same in project management – you can't treat a problem when you don't know what you are treating.

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    Possible Options

    Depending on the reasons why the project is behind schedule, your options vary. The options listed here are in no particular order, and in many cases you can use one or more of them. Also, very often many or all of them are possible but the results differ and in this case your task is to find the best solution, which in fact could be simply the least objectionable choice. Here is what you can resort to:

    • Do overtime. Very often, especially when the delay is minor, overtime is what you need in order to get back on track. If overtime for a short period of time will fix things and won't cost much, start with this measure. Overtime could be all you need.
    • Extend the deadline. If the delay isn't minor and/or overtime is not an option, you could try to extend the deadline. In many cases this is possible, especially when the delay is the result of a force major nobody could have predicted. No client or boss likes when the deadline is extended but if this is the least painful option, they will accept it.
    • Change the scope. Even with best planning, it is not possible to identify in advance the scope to the last detail. But even if you somehow manage to get such a detailed breakout before you start, things can always change while the project is in progress. For instance, if it turns out that a particular task requires much more effort than what you have initially estimated, or if the task is not as vital as it was originally deemed to be, then you can exclude this task and the deliverables associated with it from the project scope and still make it on time. However, don't forget to get the approval of the client for the scope change before you make the rescheduling.
    • Include more resources. Another alternative is to put more resources in the project. For instance, if the project permits it, you can ask other departments for help. You can also assign more people to the project but always bear in mind that when new people come into the project, they need to be trained first and get acquainted with the project – you can't use them right away. Moreover, the risk to make "the mess thicker" increases when you put new, untrained people and put them under time constraints, so carefully weigh your choices before including more resources in the project.

    Very often it is acceptable for a project to be behind schedule because some delay can be built into project schedules. In most cases you can adjust the schedule to accommodate the delay. Otherwise you can resort to the tactics listed above.

    Image Credit: ppdigital/morgueFile.com

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