Unexpected delays are an all too common problem in project management.In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review, at least one in six IT projects turn into a "black swan" with a cost overrun of 200% and a schedule overrun of 70%.
There are a multitude of reasons why, from a disconnect between the project manager and the development team, to not having the right product management software that keeps the project accountable, regardless of complexity.
Finding success in project management involves complex project pipelines, with a multitude of responsibilities, accountabilities, and subtasks that need to be clearly defined, measured, and managed. If your software doesn’t do this, then it’s time to find the right solution to mitigate the inevitable delays, and deliver a completed project on time and within scope.
What Causes Project Delays?
There are a multitude of reasons why a project could find itself behind schedule; both human and software/hardware reasons can be the culprit. While we can’t really outline every single permutation of problems that lead to delays, there are generally 10 or so delay factors that every project manager has faced head-on and been forced to find a solution or a work-around. These are:
- The requirements of the project are unclear.
- The requirements of the project keep on changing.
- The dreaded scope creep.
- There’s an inability to track progress.
- There’s a failure to account for all project tasks and events.
- The final product is of poor quality.
- There’s discontinuity somewhere in the pipeline.
- There are external dependencies.
- There are insufficient resources
- There’s a failure to work to schedule
While any of these can cause a severe delay in a project’s completion, none of them are all that insurmountable—not really. Barring an Act of God or natural disaster that you can’t avoid, navigating these delay factors is a matter of having the right project management tools in hand; specifically a software solution that integrates a custom mix and match of project management, task management, and workflow management.
In a recently published blog, we took a look at what specific tools, grouped by related areas of functionality, you’d need to successfully manage a complex project timeline. Whether you’ve found an all-in-one solution with the functionality you’re looking for, or if you’ve got multiple tools that you’ve integrated (or are hoping to integrate), the umbrella categories of Planning and Scheduling, Tracking Tools, Analytics Tools, Collaborative Tools, Single Source of Truth, and Automation Integration are pertinent here too.
Planning and Scheduling
The first step to building out your pipeline, as obvious as it may seem, is understanding the requirements of the project. The more you know at the onset, the better you can develop your workflows, schedule every step of the project, and ensure that you maximize the utilization of your resources. Your pipeline’s efficacy is only as good as the information you put into it. This is the herculean task of every project manager, not only to plan and allocate, but to also have the ability to foresee the challenges that might hamper the progress of the overall project. The right pipeline software should make this job easier.
Depending on your project management methodology and the software you have on hand, you may be faced with something that doesn’t natively come with planning and scheduling functionality. Yes, a visual overview of what’s in progress such as a Kanban board is helpful, just as having defined goals and a scheduled cadence in Scrum meetings keeps things flowing smoothly, but they’re not specific plans with enough scheduled touchpoints at an interval that may allow you to curtail a problem before it snowballs out of control. Otherwise, it’ll only be at the end of a sprint, let’s say, when a problem may be flagged by a stakeholder. Or your team is working through the defined steps listed on your pipeline, but they’re not accountable to a specific timeline. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to find yourself relying on software that lacks the functionality to actually track how long processes have been going on and doesn’t benchmark things against your SLAs. Yes, the work gets done, but not in a timely manner, and it’s the software that’s not holding them accountable.
As well, there may not be a holistic overview of the entire project, where a project manager can see the entire picture early enough to prevent delays. To really gain efficiency in your project management, there are two features you really must have:
An Integrated Individual Task & Pipeline View
Ideally, to avoid delays, the most effective planning software would be one that could help you to break down a large project, such as a cloud migration or software refactoring, into smaller, distinct workflows that are composed of a series of tasks and tickets, that can then feed into the larger pipeline. This will offer you visibility at a granular and macro level of the entire project, and help you to track your progress as you work through the pertinent tasks in your project pipeline. Having insight into each task, as it pertains to the whole, as well as visualizing the entirety of your pipeline will mitigate any slowdowns in production. This way, no one has to wade through thousands of tasks and tickets to find a particular piece of the project, nor can anything be overlooked or a critical date/function missed due to far too much data for one project manager to wade through.
Then, after you’ve done it once, you can transform it into a project pipeline template. At the very least a project management software shouldn’t require you to start from scratch every time. You should only need to develop and connect your workflows once, and program your dependencies that very same amount. Regardless of the complexity of your workflows, your software should be intelligent enough to allow you to hit the ground running the next time a project of this scope and focus comes around. You should be spending a lot of your time in planning and scheduling, but with the right software, you’ll spend less time in administrivia developing your project deliverables, and leaving you with actionable steps and more time for execution. As well, having to repetitively set up the same workflows from scratch will lead to high costs. This additional sum wouldn’t be necessary if you had used a template. If your software doesn’t allow you to do this, you’re using the wrong tools.
The Tracking Tools
We touched on this above when talking about tasks and tickets as a part of a larger pipeline, but it’s critical that you successfully track your project through every step of production. There should be no surprises that derail your progress. Unfortunately, not every piece of software used for managing projects can offer that visibility. For example:
- Some task/ticket management tools might give you an insight into how an individual task is going, and into how the entire pipeline is being managed, but they don’t situate a specific task within the entire framework of the project’s timeline. Multiply that by the hundreds to thousands of tasks to be done, and you’re stuck manually checking up on things, rather than a visibility into both the macro and the micro. This isn’t an efficient use of anyone’s time, and not a useful way to avoid a delay before it happens.
- Your tools need to be tied into your SLAs. It’s too easy for workflows to get behind schedule when there’s no ticking clock keeping you accountable. By time-tracking tasks, processes, and deliverables, you’re holding the team and the project accountable to the deadlines that align with your agreement. Comparing your progress against a ticking clock is the route to accountability. Matching tasks with hard deadlines, with a clearly defined timeline and due date, will keep things moving in a timely manner.
This would require a dashboard/interface that makes it easy to visualize your progress, and how it matches to the timeline and deliverables outlined in your SLA. There’s no time to waste in trying to find the right task in a sea of tasks. Your software should enable multiple levels of visibility and granularity. You should be able to have a quick, high-level overview of key details such as the project name, type, location, start date, status, and target completion date, as well as an insight into the percentage of workflows that have been completed. From there, you drill down to specific tasks that are within the pipeline that warrant your attention. Then, you can identify problems and resolve them before they derail more of your project.
There’s really no need to oversell how important automation can be. Teams that can integrate and automate are more efficient. Managing projects, tasks, pipelines, and workflows can be labor-intensive and cumbersome. Any tool that doesn’t offer a team a way to make a team more effective and time-efficient via automated tasks, is a key factor in what causes your projects to get delayed and off track. A tool, which can tackle automation in many different ways, should empower you to automatically trigger new pipelines and processes as needed, create templates for commonly repeated processes such as cloud migration, and integrate with your entire toolkit and task management systems. Why do the same setup work over and over again, when you can automate it and focus your time on the task at hand?
If your project management tools aren’t providing you with detailed and customized KPIs with minimal effort, then it’s most certainly a cause of delays. Every project, regardless of its nature and origin, can benefit from a post-mortem analysis of what went wrong and what went right. Then, you do it differently the next time; continuously adapting, finding more efficiencies, and refining your process. There’s immeasurable value in tracking the progression of your pipeline from start to finish, as well as the performance of all of your project timelines over time as a company. Most modern pipeline and project management software providers should have this capability as a default. If they don’t, you should find one that will help you save time and keep your pipeline moving.
We’ve already highlighted the key pieces of analytics you should be able to pull out of your dashboard, but they bear repeating again:
- What is the average time to completion from a specific task or workflow type?
- How does your time to completion vary across your different developers/development teams for different types of tasks?
- What is your average performance against your SLAs, and how has it changed over time?
- How many tasks, tickets, workflows, and processes are you completing in an average day? What about a week? Or a month? YTD?
And most importantly:
- Which stages of a particular project and repeatable timeline are the most common sources of blockages and/or delays?
This is just a brief overview of the trackable analytics, but it’s enough to surmise how well you’re managing a project, how your teams and talents are being utilized, and if you’re consistently delivering over-budget and schedule, under, or right on your scope of time and budget. Then, you can spin these metrics, and the learnings gained from them, into repeatable processes you can perfect over time, and offer clients a better ROI, and cut down on delays. These analytics, however, shouldn’t take too long to generate, or be too complex to put together. The right software there can offer you any combination of these metrics at the click of a button, without losing any time trying to make it into a cohesive report.
Collaboration and Visibility
A complex project relies on a lot of input, and requires different developers, project managers, and other stakeholders to be able to collaborate at any and all points of the pipeline. This visibility is crucial to a positive outcome for a project. Thus, you should have a tool that allows for that without disrupting the workflow or requiring someone to take time away from development to give access, walk a stakeholder through a particular task, or deal with any other disruption from the key figures on the project. Oversight along the way prevents any rework, and assures the stakeholders that the project is moving according to schedule and the agreed scope.
While this oversight offers value, it shouldn’t give any one person too much access or control, if it’s not entirely necessary. Both are important to be able to collaborate effectively. There are shared resources that require access and visibility that will assure quality. That said, however, you also should be able to actively manage who can see what, where, and when, so that you can keep things streamlined and clean for different categories of stakeholders. You should also streamline your communications. The right tool will allow for concise collaboration and communication within the platform, with no barriers between various touchpoints. Person A should be able to offer insight to person B, without having to leave the software for an internal direct messaging service or email. It might take a second or two, but those seconds add up.
Your Single Source of Truth
This might be the last point, but it’s also the most important. Many workflow delays come from a disconnect between pipelines and tasks. When teams are using different solutions to track the various workflows, tasks, and responsibilities, it’s hard for anyone to discern a single source of truth (SST). There’s no complete picture of the entire project. As a result, mistakes and delays happen. This can create misalignment and misunderstandings if various teammates’ understanding of a touchpoint, timeline, or due date is up for debate due to a discontinuity of sources. The resulting confusion and need for rework leads to poor-time management and less efficient workflows.
Therefore, you need a tool that will be your SST. It should be compatible with all of your technologies, ingest data that’s entered at different points of your IT stack, and manage status updates, tickets, and completed tasks to give live updates via a singular interface. Then, when you understand the entire project status at one glance, you can ensure that the project has the required amount of cohesion to manage delays and disruptions before they get out of hand.
To manage a complex project and keep it on track, you need to be able to visualize every component of your pipeline—without having to take excess time to dig through individual tickets and status updates. Most tools don’t offer that type of functionality, but if you were able to find a coverall that could address all of the above, you’d have an invaluable software tool that could help you deliver your project smoothly and without delay.