Confronting Unexpected Project Delays All projects, regardless of size, scope or complexity, are burdened by deadlin es and uncertainty

. This phenomenon is best expressed in two well known, time t ested adages --- the laws of Parkinson and Murphy. Parkinson's Law, speaking to project deadlines, tells us that "work expands to f ill the space allotted". Murphy's Law, speaking to uncertainty, tells us that "whatever can go wrong will , and most likely at the worst possible time". This is the reality faced by all project managers. No matter how much time you have for a project, it will likely be consumed, and no matter how well you plan, you must always find a way to handle the unexpected. Such is the nature of pro jects and the purpose of project management.

Scheduling and project planning is an activity that continues throughout the lif etime of a project. As changes or discrepancies between the plan and the realiza tion occur, the project schedule and cost estimates should be modified and new s chedules devised. Too often, the schedule is devised once by a planner in the ce ntral office, and then revisions or modifications are done incompletely or only sporadically. The result is the lack of effective project monitoring and the pos sibility of eventual chaos on the project site. On "fast track" projects, initial construction activities are begun even before the facility design is finalized. In this case, special attention must be placed on the coordinated scheduling of design and construction activities. Even in pr ojects for which the design is finalized before construction begins, change orde rs representing changes in the "final" design are often issued to incorporate ch anges desired by the owner. Periodic updating of future activity durations and budgets is especially importa nt to avoid excessive optimism in projects experiencing problems. If one type of activity experiences delays on a project, then related activities are also like ly to be delayed unless managerial changes are made. Construction projects norma lly involve numerous activities which are closely related due to the use of simi lar materials, equipment, workers or site characteristics. Expected cost changes should also be propagated thoughout a project plan. In essence, duration and co st estimates for future activities should be revised in light of the actual expe rience on the job. Without this updating, project schedules slip more and more a s time progresses. To perform this type of updating, project managers need acces s to original estimates and estimating assumptions. Unfortunately, most project cost control and scheduling systems do not provide m any aids for such updating. What is required is a means of identifying discrepan cies, diagnosing the cause, forecasting the effect, and propagating this effect to all related activities. While these steps can be undertaken manually, compute rs aids to support interactive updating or even automatic updating would be help ful. Beyond the direct updating of activity durations and cost estimates, project man agers should have mechanisms available for evaluating any type of schedule chang e. Updating activity duration estimations, changing scheduled start times, modif ying the estimates of resources required for each activity, and even changing th e project network logic (by inserting new activities or other changes) should al

l be easily accomplished. In effect, scheduling aids should be directly availabl e to project managers. Fortunately, local computers are commonly available on si te for this purpose.

Whether mandated or self imposed, deadlines bring clarity to a project. For the customer, deadlines set expectations for product delivery. For the project tea m member, deadlines set expectations for work effort and performance. For the p roject manager, deadlines create a time bound framework for management, providin g working goals, benchmarks and milestones. But, deadlines are not goals in and of themselves. The value of a project is determined by the business need, and it is the project value that should drive the project. So, is it the worst of all situations if a deadline is missed and the project is delayed? Not necessarily. The impact of a missed deadline and delayed project will vary based on many factors. In some cases, delays can be fatal to a proje ct. But, in most cases, missed deadlines and delays can be managed and mitigate d, allowing the project to continue, even if in an altered state. The key, as u sual, is advance preparation. Advance preparation for unexpected events sounds like a contradiction of terms. After all, how can you prepare for the unexpected? Well, it all depends on how you define 'unexpected'. In project management terms, delays are not unexpecte d in and of themselves. In fact, delays are quite common in projects. The 'une xpected' nature of any project delay relates not to possibility, but to source, probability and timing. Certain types of delays are highly predictable (i.e. la te delivery from outside sources), and can be factored into the schedule before project work begins. Other delays can be foreseen, but cannot reasonably be fac tored into the schedule in advance. If every possible delay was factored in to a planned schedule, planning would take too long, projects would be deemed too l engthy and costly, and would never be approved. Predictable delays (those deemed likely by circumstance and experience) can be f actored into the project via a documented risk management plan. When the risk m anagement plan is prepared, risks are identified and evaluated to determine the source of likely project delays, and contingent responses are developed. If the predicted delays do come to fruition, the risk management plan provides a ready -to-use course of action. An unexpected delay is one that was not predicted as a likely event, and is ther efore not included in the schedule or risk management plan. To better handle un expected delays, four essential factors must be in place: Be Aware. Every project has it's own rhythm and flow. Using your knowledge of project goals, priorities, and project team dynamics, you can pick up on the wa rning signs of pending delays, and you will be in a better position to make the tough decisions. Schedule Wisely. Unexpected delays can be minimized through ealistic scheduling . Every project should begin with a reasoned, workable project schedule with id entified dependencies, benchmarks,and a manageable critical path. Follow a Process. Every project should be managed with established, tested proc edures for timely, meaningful status reporting. status reports , whether formal or informal, provide key information to identify missed deadlines and potential project delays. Communicate. Communication is a key element of project success, essential for m anaging customer expectations and related conflicts. When facing project delays

, every project manager must be able to communicate effectively with customers, relying on strong relationships to work through related issues and problems to s alvage the project. Once you suspect that a project deadline will be missed, and the project may be delayed, it is time to take action. The following five step plan takes you thr ough a complete process for managing unexpected project delays: Five Step Management Plan..... Acknowledge the missed deadline and resulting delay as soon as possible. When p roject problems first appear, you must act quickly to avoid project delays whene ver possible. But, once a deadline can't be met, and the delay seems inevitable , you must also act quickly to manage the consequences. Accept the facts, acce pt the responsibility, avoid blame, and get ready to respond. Gather the right resources. In order to properly manage a project delay, you mu st to bring all the necessary resources together in order to analyze the problem and make appropriate decisions. Depending on the project and the nature of the delay, these resources can include project team members, specialists, vendors, customers and other key decision makers. Consider the consequences. Delays and missed deadlines can be accepted as long a s the value of the project exceeds the consequences of the delay. When evaluati ng consequences, the current project must be considered, as well as any other pr ojects sharing the same resources. Depending upon the nature of the project and the timing of the delay, varied consequences will result. In all likelihood, d elays will impact project costs, resource availability, organizational prestige, customer relationships, legal requirements, and business requirements. On the other hand, delays also present opportunities for project refinement, to re-thin k decisions that may have led to problems, take advantage of changing business c ircumstances, and possibly improve project deliverables. These positive consequ ences must be identified along with the negatives, to create a full picture of t he delay, and to minimize negative impact, while maximizing opportunity. Identify and evaluate the alternatives. Once consequences are fully analyzed, al ternative remedies must be examined and vetted. Depending upon needs and circum stances, multiple solutions are possible, including extending project deadlines, modifying deliverables, retaining additional resources, or changing project sco pe. Communicate, negotiate and decide. Once alternative remedies have been identif ied, acceptance and approval must be obtained from all key project stakeholders. In order to ensure informed consent, a complete and revised project plan must be developed, incorporating the delayed timeline and all related contingencies. In addition, the delay must be explained and justified as needed, specifying c auses, repercussions, and benefits. Whenever a delay is requested, it is impor tant that the approving stakeholders maintain (or regain) confidence in the proj ect and the project team. Problems should not be sugar coated. It is best to a dmit to any errors in judgment or planning to show that lessons have been learne d, corrective action has been taken, and the project is still viable. Concluded Note: Every project manager strives for control over uncertainty. Control is achieved in degrees - through effective planning, realistic scheduling, and meaningful r isk management. And, while it may seem that unexpected delays are indicative o f a project that is 'out of control', that is not always the case. Yes, missed deadlines and project delays are often caused by poor performance, poor planning , or a lack of proper management. But, as projects play out, changing circumsta nces can also easily lead to project delays. In the end, project completion is the goal, and control can be regained with a balanced, flexible approach, design ed to resolve problems, and get the project back on track. GAUTAM KOPPALA,

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