Getting Projects Done On Time and Faster

Posted on December 3, 2009 by

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Completing a project on-schedule (or even before schedule) is a fundamental goal of project management. Unexpected delays, poor planning, and scope creep are just some of the enemies of a project’s timely completion. According to a survey by the Project Management Institute®, about 55% of projects are completed on-time, which is an improvement from the prior survey (http://www.pmitoday-digital.com/pmitoday/200905open/#pg1).

The classic methods of getting a project done faster are crashing and fast-tracking, with fast-tracking being the preferred method. Crashing burns through your resources, such as your budget, as a sacrifice to get things done faster. Fast-tracking performs activities in parallel that were not originally planned that way.

Although these methods are good options when one is already behind schedule, keeping a project on schedule should start from the beginning. First of all, the schedule needs to be realistic. Are the duration estimates for your activities realistic or more wishful thinking? Does your schedule assume that everything will go as planned? One should plan that everything will not go as planned. Identifying risks and having risk plans in place early in the project can help protect your schedule. Also, based on known and unknown risks, you may wish to add buffers to your schedule. Adding a certain percentage of time, say 10%, to your overall schedule will give you some flexibility in handling delays. Project scheduling is a skill. In fact, one may even earn a certification from the Project Management Institute as a project scheduling professional (http://www.pmi.org/PDF/PMI-SP_Handbook.pdf).

Project managers should be vigilant from day one of their project about keeping their project tightly on-schedule. I appreciate the quote by Fred Brooks: “How does a project get to be a year behind schedule? One day at a time.” Even small delays should be taken seriously. If all the little deadlines of the activities and milestones are met, the project completion deadline will naturally be met as well.

Look at the details of the project to discover what at the moment is slowing things down or represents a bottleneck. Is it a particularly slow worker? A contractor who hasn’t returned your call? What can be done about this? One of my biggest delays on a project was scheduling meetings with a group of busy key stakeholders. These meetings had to occur before the next phase of the project could begin. The solution was to schedule these meetings far in advance before their personal schedules were filled.

Look at the big picture of the project. Are some of the scheduled activities even necessary? Are they redundant? Lean methodology can be useful here to eliminate waste. Are there better ways to perform the activities? I have used technology to complete activities much faster that were being done by hand simply because that is the way they had always been done. Guard against unnecessary and unapproved scope creep that gives you more to complete in the same amount of time. In fact, if your deadline is critical, you may need to consider reducing the original project scope.

Be creative in combating the obstacles to getting work done faster. Imagine if money and resources were unlimited to help jump start your thinking towards innovative solutions. Remember your project team and encourage behavior that supports your project goals, such as considering a bonus for completing the project on-time.

Please share with us what methods you have used to keep control of your project schedule and meet your deadlines. We at TAPUniversity would like to hear from you!