Managing client projects requires specific attention to detail and exceptional delivery to provide the best result possible. Ironically, these projects have a tendency to run behind schedule. While you may think this is solely due to the team’s productivity or poor planning, there are quite a few reasons why your projects may suffer from chronic lateness.
I have explored and summarized the main reasons for running behind schedule in this handy list. Let’s shed some light on what may need adjustment in your processes.
Things you should consider are – insufficient planning, over-optimistic estimations, scope changes, poor resource utilization, too many meetings, limited feedback, and poor organization. Now, let’s dive into the details.
Running behind schedule
All projects out there operate under the 3 main constraints – time, cost, and scope. According to Project Management Works, 43% of all projects are actually challenged by those same constraints. This means that in 43% of the cases, delivery of the end result is somewhat hindered.
When digging deeper into the metrics of the affected projects we find that 74% of the projects run overtime. So, if you were still feeling alone in the struggle of delivering on time, you shouldn’t. This is far more widespread than you may think.
However, it does not have to stay this way. Understanding the reasons why your projects constantly run behind schedule will help you make the necessary adjustments to remove them.
Without further ado, here is the full list.
This list is focused on the internal processes and how they may be adjusted to avoid falling behind schedule. External reasons, such as supply chain interruptions, personnel changes, and others are not featured in this list
Now, let’s look at each of these points in more detail.
1. Shadow work
Planning is a key stage in running your project, laying the foundation for what is to come. Having said that, when planning a project, many fail to evaluate the shadow work that the team is doing already. This includes the already ongoing initiatives, unplanned work, task debt, and any potential challenges.
Imagine, for example, that you are in the late stage of a project. Everything was going according to schedule so far, but another project (that was planned prior) resumes and you have to share resources. This means you will not have the full capacity of the team and in case that was not considered in the planning stages, will put you behind schedule.
To get the best results, make sure to clear up:
- Other work the team members are responsible for
- Which projects you will have to share resources with
- Potential challenges
- What type of work will have to be done?
It is impossible to know everything before you start working on a project. However, taking the time to consider
2. Uneducated and biased estimations
Another planning-related issue teams face is poor or insufficient estimations. When setting out on a project, we want to believe in the best possible performance by the team. However, we all know life does not happen that way, and you should always leave some slack time in the schedule.
Let’s say you are using previous performance metrics to estimate how long your next project will take. Relying on your team metrics is great, and you set the schedule accordingly. After a month, you realize that this project is much more complex than the previous one. Thus putting you effectively behind schedule.
To make your estimations accurate:
- Consider project complexity
- Evaluate workload from other initiatives
- Leave additional slack time for those unexpected situations
In such a way, you will remove the guesswork as much as possible and leave some time for potential hurdles. Another approach to consider is using forecasting instead of estimates. Relying on a more probabilistic way of planning your project timeline.
3. Scope creeping
Another big culprit in running behind schedule is the scope changes. No matter how well you plan out the project, allowing frequent and big scope changes will inevitably have a result on your schedule. In most cases, not for the better.
Image you are developing an app for your client. You have agreed upon a set of features, designs, and platforms. But your client keeps coming back to you with more small requests and adjustments. If you are not careful, these small additions will pile up and affect your timeline.
In case you need to change the scope of your project:
- Ensure you have the time needed to accomplish the additional work
- Or see if you have the option to pull in more resources
- Or see if the project deadline can be pushed back as needed
- Or see then which of the planned items can be removed from the project plan
Ideally, once the project has started, no scope changes would appear. In reality, this happens so much, that it is actually best to learn how to deal with them.
4. Resource overutilization
While maximizing your resources in terms of the workload may be what you immediately think should be done, it is not quite true. Instead of overutilizing your resources, you should aim to use them in the most effective manner as well as giving some time for them to stop and think about what they are working on.
Imagine you run a project with two types of tasks – type A and type B. You know that John can complete a type A task in 4 hours, while Peter takes 8 hours. Completion time for the type B tasks is more or less the same. If you keep giving Peter the type A tasks, you are not utilizing the resources in the best possible way. Which will negatively affect your schedule.
At the same time, if you overload John with tasks without any breathing room, you will soon face a team member who is overworked and unmotivated to perform anymore.
Ensure your resources are divided in the best way by:
- Getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of the team
- Observing how the team works
- Tracking dependencies between all your projects to see which tasks are the main blockers for others
- Leaving slack time for reflection
By knowing your team and their capabilities, you will be able to deliver faster and with more certainty of not falling behind schedule.
5. Meeting hell
Well, this is a big one; I am sure it struck a chord with you. No matter the business or the team, having too many meetings is one of the most common complaints out there. While there is a need to stay connected and updated on the progress, there must be time in a day for actual work to be done as well.
Let’s say you are currently working on 5 client projects. And need to deliver results, as well as communicate progress, gather feedback, and collaborate with the team. You commit to daily check-ins on all accounts, leaving you hoping from meeting to meeting all day without actual time to complete the work. Sooner or later, this will result in falling behind schedule.
Instead of just setting another meeting, consider:
- Can it be an email instead?
- What exactly do you want to talk about?
- Who can contribute?
- How long should it last?
Having a clear criterion of what a meeting should and should not be will allow you to reduce the number and focus more on the work instead. Learn more about virtual meeting fatigue.
6. Missing or noisy feedback
Another common culprit of projects falling behind is insufficient or overdetailed client feedback. Without timely review and check-ins, you cannot guarantee the team is moving in the right direction and can end up having to correct the course at a very late stage of the project.
For example, you have been working on a client project and now reached its midpoint. You have not had recurring communication with that client since the beginning of the project. Now, you have a review and suddenly learn all work has to be adjusted since a criterion was missed. This will put you effectively behind schedule.
Gather regular feedback from clients:
- Set up a recurring review after each increment of work has been completed
- Share your project workspace for them to see what is being done
- Explain what is being done and why
With regular feedback loops, you will be able to check your work and ensure it is moving in the right direction. Thus, allowing you to keep to the set schedule more easily.
7. Poor organization & tooling
Lastly, any client project requires quite an effort from the team. At the same time, it carries a lot of necessary information for the job. If this information is not handled correctly, it can quickly become a burden and hinder your progress.
Let’s say you run a project for a client building a wind plant. This entails various plans, permissions, and other documentation. All of this information is sent back and forth between the team members via email. This means, if you need to find something specific you either have to know where it is or sit there digging through your threads. This is a burden for any small project and becomes exponentially worse with complicated projects putting you behind schedule.
Organize your process and tools by:
- Ensuring the team can find all they need in one place
- Creating a system for keeping important documentation
- Selecting project management software that fits your needs
By understanding and catering to the process your team uses, you will be able to improve productivity and avoid delays due to missing documents.
You may feel like always running behind schedule is an inevitable part of dealing with client projects. And in some cases, it is truly out of your hands. However, you should strive to control the factors that depend on you.
By looking at your process, ensuring open communication, and thoughtful planning, you can minimize the internal reasons for such lateness. Thus, ensuring you and your team have the best chance at project success.
Continue improving your time management skills by learning how to eliminate the most notorious time thieves from your office.
Passionate content marketer looking to bring better solutions to the project management space.
2020 - Present Marketing specialist at Teamhood.
2014 - 2020 Marketing manager for Eylean.