The best project managers deliver cost-efficient, results-effective and client-responsive results within schedule. But for even the best project managers, the failure to deliver the expected results at the expected time can increase the sense of dissatisfaction among the clients, stakeholders and team members about the team’s overall performance.
Fortunately the risks for tardiness in project delivery can be minimised with strategic steps, such as increased coordination between the players, for example product suppliers, service providers, and team members, effective progress monitoring, and quick responses to critical issues, among others. But it is important to know the causes behind the delays so as to understand the methods to avoid them.
Delays happen at any stage
The project can be delayed at any time during the five phases of project management. These phases are:
- Conception and initiation
- Definition and planning
- Launch and execution
- Performance and control
- Close (that is, the client may be dissatisfied with the results so re-execution may be necessary)
As a project manager, you should be well aware of the possible causes of delay as well as their appropriate preventive and remedial measures at each phase. Your team members should also actively participate in the identification, resolution and prevention of the causes of delays.
Delays have many causes
Regular progress monitoring is one of the crucial tasks that project managers should take charge of instead of delegating its bulk to the mid-level supervisors. Keep in mind that regular monitoring results in earlier detection and identification of delays and, thus, in better actions to counteract the impact of these delays.
The causes of delays can be categorised as follows, although it must be emphasised that placing the blame on any single group will be counterproductive. The best way to address delays regardless of who and what caused them is to tackle the issues head-on first before making the persons responsible for them be accountable for their actions.
1. Delays caused by subcontractors, product suppliers, and service providers
Third-party entities to the project are usually not privy to the project management plans except for their relevant responsibilities in its execution, such as the delivery of products and services at the right time, in the right place, and with the right quality.
But subcontractors, suppliers, and service providers become the cause of delays when they take on too many projects at once, or they fail to anticipate your project requirements as agreed, or they have been overtaken by outside factors out of their control, among other reasons.
For example, a supplier of materials may have been affected by an employees’ strike, thus preventing on-time delivery of the products to your end. A subcontractor may also have taken on several projects including yours, thus spreading his staff too thinly and compromising their delivery to your end, too.
2. Delays caused by changes in climate
Natural disasters, weather disruptions, and other elements of nature will cause disruptions in the project’s schedule because of their uncontrollable nature. Even the best laid project management plans will be delayed when Mother Nature decides to wreak havoc in the locality where the project is being implemented or where the subcontractors, suppliers, and service providers are located.
But it is not just weather changes that can cause disruptions in project delivery. Keep in mind that changes in the investment climate, for example global recession, which affected many construction projects in Dubai, and in the political climate, including civil war or radical changes in leadership.
3. Delays caused by the client
Let’s face it, the client may well be the most common cause of delays for many reasons. The client may change their mind about the project’s parameters, or express their dissatisfaction with the project’s progress, or withhold their funding for the project for various reasons including a failure to plan for it.
The client may also request alterations, which means adding to the risk of delays to the project; one single alteration request can result in changes to the entire plan from the present point.
The importance of agreeing to an iron-clad contract with specific terms and conditions cannot be overemphasised to minimise the risks of delays caused by the client.
4. Delays caused by team members
And then there are delays caused by the below par performance of the team members and the project manager. The delays can be caused by a wide range of factors including but not limited to:
- People spending less time on activities than agreed upon.
- People with less experience than required spending more time on the activities than planned.
- People being less productive than you expected them to be.
- People not allowed to learn the tasks beforehand, resulting in repeated mistakes.
- Activities requiring more steps than originally identified in the plan.
- Activities requiring more time than planned.
All of these causes of delays can be attributed to poor planning, implementation, and evaluation. You, as the project manager, should be always on the lookout for these causes of delays at any stage of the project, from planning to evaluation, not only because it is part of your job but because the jobs of your team members depend on it.
Addressing project delays
Fortunately the causes of project delays can be minimised, if not prevented, so that the project finishes on schedule, by adopting the following measures.
Set realistic goals, activities and deadlines. Keep in mind that being realistic about the possible causes for delays means greater awareness of the best ways to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Expect the unexpected. In a certain way, delays in projects are to be expected since there is always the possibility that these will occur, no thanks to uncontrollable factors. But you must expect the unexpected aspect of delays, namely, in terms of their type, source and timing.
Adopt a proactive approach in minimising the unexpected aspect of the delays. Be aware that each project has its unique rhythm such that you should be on the lookout for warning signs of possible delays.
Of course, since people are the main source of delays, you must communicate in an effective, efficient and regular manner with all of the project stakeholders.