How can you optimise project duration to get back on track again?
There are supposed to be projects that do not go exactly according to plan. Since this happens so rarely (caution: slight understatement!) I have put together a few points to help the few unfortunate project managers whose project is affected by this to optimise and work on their project duration.
The project plan has been drawn up in detail, the people involved give their nod to the planning – and then real life happens. Employees fall ill, suppliers work imprecisely, misunderstandings work negatively on mood and motivation. The first delays occur in the work packages, the project seems to become more expensive, the target date is in danger and then you also discover the little monster “scope creep”.
How could this have happened?
There are quite a few things which could be twisted to improve this situation. In this article I aim to help you to optimise project duration for your project.
However you arrived at your schedule, there will be a critical path hidden somewhere in it. What the critical path is, how to recognise it and how to deal with it, this I have described in a separate article. As a very brief explanation, a sentence about the critical path:
The critical path is the sequence of those activities that add up to the longest project duration and thus have a direct impact on the project end date if delayed.
Now look at all the activities on this critical path in detail. It is important that you really examine each individual activity on the critical path carefully – because a change to one of these work packages will have a direct impact on the project duration and thus the project end date.
Optimising project duration – a few tips
What can you do if your project is facing a time delay? A few suggestions to optimise project duration:
1. Review the estimated duration of each activity
This sounds almost too trivial to be successful. However, go through all activities with your experts and consider which durations are really absolutely necessary in their current form or can be shortened if necessary. Get second and third opinions to validate the original assumption.
2. Make sure that the dependencies identified are definitely required dependencies
Be it planning tunnel vision, new findings or other reasons: once you determine that a dependency is not mandatory, the subsequent activity can start earlier.
3. Move resources to activities on the critical path
Activities beyond the critical path have some buffer. Use this buffer time to support the critical activities. Also, try to use the most experienced staff available for this.
4. Mix up the activities
Not randomly, but purposefully and in a structured way. A slightly different order can provide a new perspective on dependencies and thus the starting point of each activity. If restructuring is successful, you can additionally consider what went wrong in the original planning.
5. All hands on deck!
On which activities can more than the planned resources work at the same time? However, do not put extra resources in at random, because more people means more communication means more misunderstandings means loss of time. A slightly enlarged team, however, can develop a whole new resounding dynamic.
6. Downsize and parallelise activities
Check which of the (larger) activities can be divided into smaller ones and whether the timing of these smaller activities can be optimised. Please do not overdo this, because you will lose the overview if there are too many activities going on in parallel.
7. Change your release strategy
Instead of one big shot at the end of the project, deliver in smaller bites. This will not shorten the project duration, but it can (and usually will) satisfy upset stakeholders.
Not all of the options listed are suitable for every project, project manager or organisation. But if even one of these recommendations might be able to help, it was worth writing the article.
Activities that are not on the critical path
With all the attention you give to the activities on the critical path – please do not forget all the other activities. If you neglect them too much, they can very quickly become the critical path themselves.
Even if no delay has yet occurred on this new critical path, you can already start with the optimisation measures described above. Why? The time quality of these activities was in free fall. Even if you focus your attention on them now, the fall must first be stopped.
And then there was that: With all the attention you pay to the activities on this now new critical path – please do not forget all the other activities…
Things are not going well for you?
Your project is not progressing as you had imagined?
Whatever the reasons and whatever the current status is: You see a need for action?
Not doing anything is not an option.