Learn about three ways to pull a delayed project timeline back on track, enabling you to finish the project on-time, make your customer happy, avoid scheduling conflicts, avoid opportunity costs, avoid cash flow issues, and avoid late delivery penalties.


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Project delays can cause a number of problems for the Project Manager to deal with, including:

  • Scheduling conflicts
  • Cascading impacts to other projects
  • Opportunity costs
  • Delayed payments
  • Late delivery penalties

There are several reasons why a project may be delayed, including:

  • Bad weather
  • Late material deliveries
  • Personnel availability
  • Equipment problems
  • Troubleshooting

There are three techniques that you can use to resolve project timeline delays:

  • Crashing
  • Fast-tracking
  • De-scoping

Each of these techniques has its pros and cons, and there are several things to consider when using any or all of these techniques. However, you should be able to utilize one or more of these techniques on a delayed project to pull its timeline back on track, enabling you to:

  • Finish the project on-time
  • Make your customer happy
  • Avoid scheduling conflicts
  • Avoid opportunity costs
  • Avoid cash flow issues
  • Avoid late delivery penalties






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Full Transcript:

(The following is the full transcript of this episode of ‘The Project Guide with Tony Zink’, where Project Management author and trainer Tony Zink shares his insights on how to use tools and techniques to get better results on projects.)

Hi, folks. Tony Zink here, project management author and trainer and creator of the project manifesto. I show people how to use tools and techniques to get better results on their projects, whether that means saving time, saving money, reducing risks or providing a more stress-free and pleasant experience for everyone involved in the project. If you’re new here, please consider subscribing or following me on this channel. And, if you’re not tuning in directly on my website, TonyZink.com, then you can go there to access the video for this episode, the audio podcast for this episode, the entire written transcript and other goodies too.

Now, we’ve all worked on projects from time to time that were delayed for some reason. This can cause a number of problems for us as a project manager. For example, there could be employee or contractor scheduling conflicts that we would need to deal with. If those folks are scheduled for a certain period of time to work on our project, chances are they’re going to have other things that they’re going to be scheduled to work on after they’re done working on our project. But if our project is delayed and we need to utilize their time for longer than planned, then this may conflict with the other things that they had scheduled to work on.

There may be other types of cascading effects to other projects, for example. So, if at the end of our project, we’re expected to produce an end product of some sort and other teams or projects are waiting for that end project to use it on their projects, then that can cause a delay to their projects as well if we’re late producing that end product, or that end deliverable.

There may be opportunity costs as well for not implementing the end product that we’re supposed to be producing at the end of our project. So, if that end product isn’t available then of course, we’re not able to reap the benefits of having that thing that we’re producing in service and doing something good for us.

If we’re being paid on a deliverables basis, in other words at the end of our project we get paid for the end product versus just getting paid throughout the project for the time that we’re spending, then obviously a delay in the delivery of that end product will delay our final payment at the end of the project, which that could also affect our cash flow in a bad way.

Finally, one more example would be if you have contractual, late delivery penalties that you’ve agreed to at the beginning of the project, then obviously at the end of the project if you are late delivering the end product, then there may be monetary costs or penalties that you have to incur. Therefore, that’s going to hurt your pocket book or it’s going to hurt your profitability of your project when you’re late.

Now, unfortunately projects run behind all the time. There are a number of reasons why this happens, such as bad weather delays or material delivery delays on a construction project or some sort of a fabrication project, where we’re physically building something. You may have personnel delays when people become unexpectedly unavailable to work. You may have delays because equipment breaks down, or troubleshooting delays when computer software doesn’t work as expected. We can go on and on with the reasons why it happens but there are a few ways that we can remedy the situation.

I’m going to show you three ways that you can pull your project timeline back on-track when things like this happen. Now, there may be other ways that you can think of to pull a project timeline back on-track, but chances are any of these other techniques that you might think of, you can probably file them under one of these three categories that I’m going to tell you.

One technique that you can use for pulling time out of a project schedule, we in the project management community refer to that as crashing. This is a technique that you can use where you’re adding more people to a project or to a task in a project in order to get that task done more quickly.

One example of that could be painting a house. Perhaps one of the last tasks in your project in order to prepare a house for an open house event that you have scheduled at some future date is painting the house. Well, unfortunately maybe the weather doesn’t cooperate and you experience a rainstorm near the end of your project, which is going to delay the painting of that house in preparation for the open house event. Well, we can use this technique of crashing to bring in more people, bring in more painters to get that house painted more quickly and still have it freshly painted and looking good in time for the open house event.

One thing to keep in mind is that not all tasks can be shortened by adding more people to them. Some types of tasks, it doesn’t matter how many people you assign to those tasks, they’re going to take the same amount of time, so keep that in mind.

Also, keep in mind that not all people work at the same rate. Some people are more experienced, some people are less experienced, some people just for whatever reason, don’t work at the same rate as others that you might have working on your project. So, you shouldn’t just assume that, for example, doubling the number of people working on a task is going to cut that task duration in half because not everybody works at the same rate.

Finally, another thing to keep in mind is when you’re considering using this crashing method to pull time out of your project schedule, you may want to discuss that with your customer, especially if it’s going to involve incurring more costs because you’re bringing in more people to work on your project. So, keep that in mind as well. If this all seems a little bit overwhelming to you, especially if you have many tasks on your project that you’d want to use this crashing technique on, keep in mind that there are some really nice project scheduling tools available to you that you can use to automatically shorten tasks on a project when you assign more people to them.

A second technique that you can use to pull time out of your project schedule is a term that we call fast-tracking, and this involves starting a task earlier than planned, or overlapping it with its predecessor.

As an example, maybe we’re working on a project where we’re designing some automated assembly line equipment, and then once the designs are all complete we start building the automated assembly line equipment that we’ve just designed. Well, if the designs are taking longer than planned but we still have the same launch deadline, then we may need to overlap the design and the build task. But, we’re starting the building before all of the designs are complete.

Something to keep in mind here if you’re considering using this technique is, you’re introducing risk into your project. There’s a chance that if you start building the equipment before the designs are all complete, that you may need to re-work the equipment that you’ve already built if the designs change.

Another thing to keep in mind is, I recommend that if you’re going to use this technique, you do check this with your customer and get their approval before you’re going to use this technique because this is introducing risk into your project. It’s a good idea to get their approval before going ahead with overlapping tasks like this. And again, if you’re going to do this track this in your change request log, that you’ve gotten your customer’s approval to use this technique.

Keep in mind also that there could also be a scheduling conflict if you have the same people working on those two tasks that you’ve now chosen to overlap on the timeline. If you get the same people working on two tasks that are not overlapping, then you’re going to have a conflict because the same people can’t possibly do two things at once.

Again, to make your life easier I would recommend that you consider taking a look at some of these sophisticated project scheduling tools that we have available to us, especially ones that allow you to introduce negative lag time in-between any two tasks in your project schedule to represent a fast-tracking scenario in your project schedule.

A third technique that you can use to pull time out of a project schedule is a term we call de-scoping, and this involves simply not delivering as much scope as you originally agreed to at the beginning of your project with your customer. In other words, you’re not delivering as much as you originally agreed to.

As an example, perhaps we work at a hydroelectric dam and each year we go through a two-week shut-down where we’re replacing and refurbishing several pieces of equipment in that facility. Well, in this situation we found out that one of the turbines that we were going to replace during the shut-down, it arrived damaged and we didn’t have enough time to order and receive replacement parts for that turbine and still fire up the facility in the timeframe that we wanted to. This could be a case where we may want to just remove that from the scope of the project and not replace that turbine the way we originally planned to.

A couple of things to keep in mind here though, this is definitely a case where you want to discuss this with your customer before you go through with it. You have agreed with your customer to deliver a certain amount of scope at the very beginning of your project and if you’re considering not delivering that same amount of scope then you should definitely get their approval before you go through with that. As I’ve said before with the other techniques, this is something that you should definitely track in a change control or a change request log so that when your customer approves it you have a record of it.

Another thing to keep in mind here is, if you’re tracking against a baseline in a project schedule you should decide how you’re going to handle this de-scoping activity in your project schedule. If you have tasks in your project schedule that you’re no longer going to complete, then you should think about how you’re going to handle those tasks in your project schedule and how you’re going to update your baseline to reflect that changed scope in your project.

I would recommend, especially if you’re using a sophisticated project scheduling tool, I would recommend that you not delete these scoped tasks from your project schedule. This would help you to retain the history and allow you to look back and see what the original scope was for your project before you went through the de-scoping exercise. And, there is a chance that at some point later, the decisions may be made later to add that scope back into your project, so if you’re using one of the most sophisticated project scheduling tools out there, then you can simply deactivate tasks if they’ve been de-scoped from your project. If the scope has been added back into your project you can simply reactivate those tasks and save yourself a bunch of time and effort.

To wrap this up, if your project is running behind schedule then you should be able to use one or more of these three techniques, crashing, fast-tracking, or de-scoping, to pull your project back on-track. Therefore, then you’ll be much more likely to finish your project on-time, make your customer happy, avoid potential scheduling conflicts, avoid opportunity costs of not having your end-product delivered and in-place and in-use, avoid cash flow issues and avoid possible late-delivery penalties, all of which are things that could happen when you have a delayed project.

Thanks for tuning in and spending this time with me. I hope that you’ve enjoyed these tips and you find them useful. I’d like to take a quick moment though, and remind you of two things.

Number one, if you’re not tuning in directly on my website, then you can visit my site at TonyZink.com. Watch this video and others like it, read the entire written transcript, download the audio podcast, and find other goodies there, too.

Number two, please post your thoughts in the comments section. Do you have any questions, tips or recommendations that you’d like to share? How do you handle situations like this? Some of the best questions and tips come from the folks like you, the project management community, the people who are out there in the trenches working on projects every day. So, definitely connect with everybody in the comments section.

Until I see you next time, go back out there and keep building great things.