Keys to Keeping Project Delivery on Schedule

Project timeliness issue.  Are we on the next deliverable that is due going to happen as expected?  Your customer wants to know that.  Sometimes – if it's a really big project – your C-level execs may want to know that, too.  I worked the largest contract ever at one company I worked for and every month my CFO (Chief Financial Officer) wanted to know this every time he saw me in the hall.  

We need to take measures during the course of the project so that we can have a much better chance to say “yes” to the CEO should we run into him in the hallway – or get called into his office.  If you haven’t had this happen to you, then maybe you haven’t managed a large enough or visible enough project yet.  Don’t worry though, if you’re a successful project manager, you’ll get your chance eventually.  Good times!

Extreme Attention to Detail

This is an easy one – at least it sounds easy.  Put together a nice, tight project schedule that isn’t unrealistically easy to meet and not unrealistically hard to meet.  Start with the Statement of Work, the draft information you received from Sales when the project was originally ‘sold’ to the customer (if that’s how your organization runs things), any assumptions made by Sales or the customer and include updates necessary from discussions that took place during the Kickoff sessions on the project.  This is your opportunity to ‘fine tune’ the schedule and make it real, workable, and accurate. 

Present the revised schedule to the customer and get their agreement or even signed approval, if necessary.  This revised schedule will be what you manage go going forward.  It will be the document that drives every weekly status meeting from here on out and what you check against when managing the resources, the tasks, the budget and when trying to incorporate any change requests by the customer or as necessitated by the ever-changing requirements for the project.

Above all else, keep it accurate and up-to-date.  Critical milestones for the project are identified in the schedule and every milestone that slides or is missed is something that the customer will NEVER forget.  Missed dates will work against you at every negotiating point in the project – especially when scope issues arise and you’re trying to convince the customer that they need to pay for these ‘out-of-scope’ issues. 

Manage Scope Carefully

That brings us to scope.  I covered this already in Part 1 so I won’t go too far here.  Suffice it to say that you and your delivery team members must always be watching scope.  Scope creep is the number 1 cause of projects falling out of budget and failing to deliver on time.  If you don’t note something is out of scope, then it’s in scope to the customer, but it’s still working against you because it’s not in YOUR schedule and it’s not in YOUR budget.  You’ll end up eating it and looking bad to either the customer, your executive management, or both.  Either way, you lose.

Keep Resources Engaged and Aware

As the PM in charge, it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that you must keep your skilled resources engaged and aware of where the project stands at any given time and what their current responsibilities are.  If you assume they know just because they have a copy of your latest project schedule, then you’ll be finding yourself escorted out the door of your company by HR.  

Make sure they’re attending the weekly status calls with the customer and that they are participating.  Engage them in at least one weekly team call to check status.  Make sure they’re copied on the latest resource forecast info so they know what’s expected of them now and two months from now.  

Remember, these are busy, highly skilled resources who are already in demand on other projects.  Yours is not likely their only assignment, so keep your tasks in their head so they know what they should be working on.  We all trip up and call our very own kids by the wrong names at times, how can we expect that these pros always have their 20 different tasks they are currently juggling straight and in-line with your expectations.  The squeaky wheel gets the grease and the most communicative PM gets his or her delivery teams’ resources attention the most.

Summary / call for input

Many people – many stakeholders – care daily about whether or not your project is on time in terms of project schedule and the next key deliverables.  And your project client certainly cares.  Use these suggestions and steps to help keep that project on track and on time.

How about our readers – what are your strategies for staying on track?  What I've mentioned here is just the tip of the iceberg.  What would you change or add to this to help ensure project success in terms of timely delivery.


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