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What To Do if Your Project Falls Behind Schedule: A 5-Point Plan
By Jennifer Kentmere

Sometimes no matter how well you plan, estimate and schedule, a project can fall behind schedule. It may be because of something out of your control, lack of experience in that particular field or just plain old life getting in the way.

So once you have found yourself in this situation, what should you do?

1 – Don’t Panic!

The first thing to remember is not to panic. You are behind schedule, but this is why you have a project plan: so that you recognise situations before they become problems and do something about them.

2 – Assess the situation

Take a look at your project plan and ask yourself:

  • What is the new finish date of your project if everything continues on this track?
  • What resources would be needed to bring your project back on schedule?

3 – Communication, communication, communication

It might be tempting to stick your head in the sand and hope that everything works out okay, but you will probably need to communicate with your client at this point to make some decisions.

This is why you have already assessed the situation: you can go to your client with solutions, not problems. You may have already agreed project priorities with your client, which should help you make decisions about how to proceed, but if not the questions you need to be asking at this point are how to prioritise.

4 – Prioritize

There are three variables to a project:

  • Time
  • Quality
  • Cost

At this point, the time frame has slipped. You need to decide which is the most important variable at this point, if you haven’t already done so.

  • Time

    How important is the time frame?

    If the project isn’t time critical, your client may appreciate an update about the new deadline but decide not to act.

    If the deadline is key and cannot be moved, you and your client may choose to prioritize this over quality or cost.

  • Quality

    The client may choose to let the quality slip in order to get the project completed on time.

    An example of this might be a project to create decorations for a launch party. Clearly the date of the party cannot be moved, but the client may choose to have fewer banners or to use pre-printed posters rather than custom-made ones in order to complete on schedule. (Of course, you may have to take a reduced fee to compensate for the loss in quality).

  • Cost

    Your client may decide to allocate a higher budget in order to complete the project by the deadline. This is why you went through the assessment stage: you are now able to go to your client with an idea of what resources you will need to complete on time. This may be anything from extra hours to hiring extra staff, more equipment or other resources.

5 – Consequences

If you are working on multiple projects, you now need to assess what the knock-on effects are for your other projects. Are you allocating more hours to get this project completed on time, and what does that mean for your other project plans?

Remember: Don’t Panic!

Jennifer Kentmere is a freelance writer and entrepreneur. She trained in public sector project management in the UK and left in 2008 to go it alone as a freelance project manager working with small-to-medium sized businesses. She now lives in the US and is passionate about using her experience to help other freelancers.

You can read more from Jennifer on her blog, which is aimed at freelancers who haven’t had project management training but who would like advice on organizing their work.

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