Dealing with Project Delays: Deadlines are Closer than they Appear

If you are a project manager (PM) in any industry, you know the pressure that an approaching deadline can create and the headache that project delays can create. When I have a big deadline coming up for a work package or a sprint, in my mind it is like a train is approaching. If you have ever stood near a set of railroad tracks, you know what I am talking about — there is a rumble that builds until the train has passed you and gone a distance down the tracks. When you are relying on your project team members to hit their deadlines, it adds a new element to the equation.

Project manager deadlinesWhen implementing a project that has several tracks running at the same time you can have multiple elements that come due at the same time. The great thing about our profession is software has made due dates easier to monitor, even when we are talking about hundreds of work packages in a very complex project.

On your end, you should find a software package that can help you manage deadlines. You need to use a software all your project team members will have access to and that has a small learning curve. I like the accountability that being open and public about the project provides — team members don’t want to be that person who does not hit their deadlines. They also don’t want the rest of the team knowing that they are the reason the project is held up. It is amazing how motivating a team can be. It would be cliche for me to say that you shouldn’t procrastinate. As a PM I think you should know that already. I like both Microsoft Project for complex projects and for simpler implementations.

But what should you do when you are going to miss a deadline? Even worse, what happens when that task has several dependencies and your project completion will probably extend beyond the planned due date? Here is where you can earn your stripes as a PM. But remember, you gotta take emotion out of your response and stay objective. There is no reason to get upset and start chewing people out — your response could make or break the person on your team. There are two reasons people don’t complete a task: 1. They don’t have the resources (time or tools) or 2. They don’t have the skills. Rarely do people miss deadlines because they are lazy.

If my team is going to miss a deadline my response is dependent on how significant that task is. If the task will delay the project, you have the responsibility to inform your stakeholders and the client. But when you are doing so, here are my tips of how to best communicate with everyone involved:

  1. Stay objective. Don’t let your emotions start with name calling and the blame game. Keep your mouth in check — don’t ever bad mouth any team member to anyone else. If your project sponsor asks for feedback about your team member, keep it objective and performance related.
  2. Clearly Identify the Problem. If you want to build trust with your team, stakeholders, and client, clearly explain the reason why you missed your deadline. Make sure you tell the whole truth — don’t leave out the details that make you look bad. You are the PM and while this may not be your fault, it is definitely your responsibility.
  3. Clearly Define the Solution: Don’t present a problem without a solution. If you and your team haven’t come up with one yet, say so and identify a timetable when you will present either a solution or options.

The only thing worse that missing a deadline is trying to cover it up. It is unlikely that everyone involved in the project won’t find out, so it really isn’t worth trying to cover up. The sooner you let your project team, the stakeholders, and your client know that you will be missing a deadline, the higher the probability that someone will be able to identify a solution.

Related Topics:
Agile Project Management
Waterfall Project Management
IT Project Management Common Pitfalls


About the Author

I am the author of this site, and what I say goes. I love talking about the benefits of formalized and professional project management and getting stuff done.