Project Management Institute

Dealing with delays

no matter the cause of the delay, the project manager has to get things back on track


“When project sponsors don't want to extend the end date, one alternative is crashing [or compressing] the schedule. Crashing can help you get back on track, but you must consider the availability and cost of resources. One of the deciding factors to move forward with a schedule compression technique is cost—whether you have the money needed to make crashing feasible. A major risk of crashing is the cost and availability of specific, required resources, such as a skilled engineer for a certain technology.”

—Aayush Sharma, CAPM, business systems analyst, Ciber, Washington, D.C., USA


“You'll have to reprioritize the original requirements so they can be completed within the approved time frame. To do that, you must identify which components are most critical to deliver. These are the non-negotiable must-have factors that the stakeholder can't live without.

A helpful technique in this scenario is timeboxing, which is based on the premise that it's better to have a working system with limited functionality than waiting for more time to have a complete system. With this technique, you can guarantee the delivery of the most important requirements on specific dates, with other requirements scheduled for release on successive dates or phases. This has been my favorite method—but it's a challenging one, because it requires full explanation to and approval from the stakeholders. And that's a project in itself!”

—Gopal Sahai, senior manager, strategic development, MSSL, New Delhi, India


“When a project is behind schedule or at risk of a critical delay, turning to an agile approach is a good way to accelerate the timeline. First, analyze the scope that is at risk and divide it into smaller, tangible parts. Set a very short daily meeting or call with the key leaders of the delivery team to closely monitor progress. Also, I recommend tracking your progress using a dashboard that identifies the state of each part of the scope or each life cycle phase of the deliverables: not initialized, in progress or completed.”

—Elsa Mangione, delivery project manager, Microsoft, Santiago, Chile


“Make a list of the causes of the delay, then identify which causes are internal and which are external. Internal items are within your group's control. We encourage internal team members to coordinate closely with each other to complete these action items, communicating face-to-face or over the phone. Email is not enough during a delay, because messages can just be stacked in the inbox and left unread.

The internal actions get resolved faster because we prioritize and are able to break down problems into smaller parts, so we can complete each item faster. Tasks that require external actions are passed on to the client, vendor or supplier. The client now can see what they need to do—and that we are doing our part to get back on schedule.”

—Winifredo “Yong” Cipres Jr., engineering management, Fluor Philippines, Manila, Philippines


“When project managers detect a deviation in the project schedule, they must act quickly and decisively. Determine whether the damage occurs at the critical path of the project. If not, can we work simultaneously on several tasks in order to bridge the gap? If our problem is in the critical path, we can try adding more human resources to increase the pace of work while trying to minimize damage to the budget. If our problem stems from a lack of cooperation from the client, we will present possible solutions. Typically, this solution is either a change request to confirm completion of the missing items and time, or to reduce the project scope to meet deadlines.”

—Etgar Fishel, professional services organization projects manager, VMware Inc., Herzliya, Israel

Still Room for Improvement

Project managers know that the schedule is only one of the three major project constraints: Scope and cost are the others. Despite their primacy, many organizations struggle to complete projects according to plan.

Organizations can improve outcomes by focusing on the three components of PMI's Talent Triangle™: technical project management, leadership, and strategic and business management skills.

Around the world, organizations report better business outcomes when they prioritize Talent Triangle skills (in blue) compared to organizations that do not (in black).


Source: Pulse of the Profession, PMI, 2016


“In my two decades of experience in the field, I have never encountered a construction project that moved forward exactly along schedule. To resolve a delay, it is necessary to bring all the involved parties to the table. The participants, timing and duration of these meetings depend on the root cause of the delay. It may take one meeting, a series of meetings or even bringing everyone to the site to get the project back on track.

When a recent project was experiencing delays, I had a variety of team members visit the site, including the supplier's technical manager, the designer, planner, construction workers and the end users. Getting everyone on-site allowed us to have a long discussion, exchange ideas and ultimately recover the delay.”

—Elmer Ganayo, construction manager, Sta. Clara International Co., Doha, Qatar

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