28/10/2012 14:20 GMT | Updated 28/12/2012 05:12 GMT

Why Your Projects Will Always Be Late

Far too often we hear in the news of high profile projects being delivered over budget or late, or more commonly both.

I have been lucky enough to witness firsthand how projects are managed at multi-national car manufacturers, Formula 1 teams, construction contractors, software developers large and small and they all consistently struggled to deliver on time.

Poor project delivery is so common, that if I ever read of a project coming in on time and under budget I am instantly suspicious of what actually got delivered. Was the original scope sacrificed and what got thrown out along the way?

The organisations I have worked with are packed some of the smartest people you can imagine so why do they find it so difficult to deliver projects on time?

The complaints I commonly hear from project managers are things like there are too many changes to the scope, people or equipment are not available when required and there are always fights over priorities. Probably sounds familiar to you.

I am about to let you in on a secret that will have a bigger impact on your project delivery success than just about everything else you could do put together. It is so brilliantly simple you won't believe it will work.


That's right, it's as simple as that. Look at your project portfolio right now and put all the projects you are currently working on in priority order. Freeze the bottom 25%-50% of the total work load.

Now focus everyone on what is left and get it delivered as quickly as possible.

Think about it. All of common complaints of project managers we just described are instantly halved.

I can tell you with absolute certainty however that you won't take this action. Not because it is complicated. Precisely because it is so simple; you don't believe it will work, do you? "If it were that straight forward we would have done it by now" you might be thinking.

Why haven't you done it before? I imagine it's precisely because of the pressure of your current situation that you haven't tried this tactic. When you are in the position that your projects are being delivered late, or over budget, you will feel enormous pressure to start everything as soon as possible.

Like most project managers, you believe the sooner you start, the sooner you'll finish. Unfortunately for you when it comes to project management this is most certainly not true. In fact by trying to show progress across many projects at the same time everything is slowed down enormously.

Many people working on projects are constantly waiting for decision, perhaps at a weekly or monthly project review. They are forced to multi-task massively, wasting enormous amounts of capacity.

With so much going on project mangers find it impossible to focus their efforts to help improve progress. If project managers cannot help to improve the progress of the project why even have them?

It is this factor that is really key. It is project managers and their focus that is the real constraining factor in project management. If you accept this is the case then who cares that some recourses will not be the 'quickest' on certain tasks or may be stood idle at times? I know that's what you were thinking.

Still don't believe me? Here is what I always ask my clients. If cutting the number of projects will deliver them slower then how would you feel about taking on more projects right now? Most of you will feel a little sick at that prospect and would agree that would definitely make things much worse. So which is it to be because you can't have your logic both ways, it doesn't stack up.

Think about this. If you did cut back and it was too much what would you expect to see?

You would have some resources stood idle and project managers leaving work on time, looking relaxed. Well when that horrible vision of the future comes to pass you can always unfreeze a project. It is all within your power.

Stop looking for a clever answer and just FOCUS!