Updated: February 9, 2022
Delays in IT projects cause a cascade of other problems, creating serious headaches in project management.
When a team misses a deadline for an IT project, it’s more likely to go over budget – regardless of whether the project uses a waterfall or iterative development model. A delay on one project might, in turn, delay others in the pipeline, throwing off multiple project management schedules.
Since sticking to the schedule is a key performance indicator for any IT project, missed deadlines damage the performance evaluation of the entire project team. This casts doubt on the project manager’s skills and could even limit his or her likelihood to get future projects.
For all of these reasons, it’s critical that IT projects are completed on schedule and hit every deadline along the way.
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There are five factors that are common causes for missed deadlines in IT project management:
- Lack of proper planning
- Improper estimation
- Uncommitted stakeholders
- Ineptness with technology
- Shifting project requirements
By recognizing these factors, you can master strategies for avoiding missed deadlines and preventable delays.
1. Lack of Proper Planning
No IT project should embark on development without a proper plan.
The planning phase is a critical part of all software projects because it allows the team to properly process what needs to be done.
A strong plan:
- Irons out all the business and technical requirements of the project
- Converts requirements into development items
- Designs the architecture the development team will use
- Provides estimates for development items
- Assigning tasks to various developers
- Creates a concrete schedule with project deadlines
In agile projects, planning should actually take place at the start of every sprint, using project management tools to simplify each task can prevent missed deadlines.
Without these planning activities, an IT project can easily falter. In his article, Ala Elbeheri, information security advisor at CN, notes that poor project planning is one of the leading causes of project failure because it leads to important considerations being overlooked. Proper project planning is necessary to ensure a project’s success.
Successful projects allow adequate time for designing software architecture, creating a project control plan, and making sure that the development items correctly match the business requirements. With these factors in place, project managers can properly distribute tasks and establish a reasonable yet firm timeline.
2. Improper Estimation
Estimation is a critical part of project planning because it determines the schedule of the entire project, including deadlines for milestones.
Once all development items are identified, project managers should focus on estimation. For each item, developers agree on a reasonable estimate of how long the task will take to complete. This requires developers who understand the effort each development item involves, both from their technical know-how and their development experience.
It’s quite easy to underestimate development items, especially when developers overlook some of the details of the work involved in completing them. Improper estimation is a common challenge when working with inexperienced developers or developers who are pressured to quickly give estimates.
A case study by Callean Consulting shows how inaccurate estimates led to the significant delay of the completion of the Baggage Handling System of Denver International Airport during the 1990s.
The inaccurate estimates were off by 16 months, costing the city of Denver a total added cost of $560 million. Just two decades later, the system has been decommissioned.
To avoid missed deadlines, special care must ensure that all estimates are accurate. If a client wants features that your team has never been developed in previous projects, experienced developers should examine the features down to the finest details to ensure all possible complications are factored in.
Even the best estimations can fall victim to unexpected risks. Project managers should always add padding to development item estimates to account for developer testing, which is usually taken for granted during estimation.
3. Uncommitted Stakeholders
The importance of gaining support from a project’s stakeholders cannot be stressed enough.
To avoid missed deadlines, project managers should establish regular checkpoints during which stakeholders inspect the project’s progress to determine whether the project aligns with its intended business function.
Without such checkpoints, stakeholders will only be able to see the finished product – at which point any changes caused by misaligned business and development objectives will take a substantial amount of time and resources to correct.
Healthcare.gov represents a classic example of this mistake. The website was a project of the U.S. government, built so citizens could purchase discounted health insurance. Healthcare.gov’s launch was plagued by technical issues, and ultimately, the website wasn’t able to handle the millions of people who attempted to register on its first day.
This led to delays in processing their applications for health insurance. A study published in Issues in Information Systems revealed that the largest contributing factor to these problems was the lack of support from the project’s stakeholders.
To avoid this mistake, the stakeholders of any IT project should clearly communicate their ideas and approaches. You should schedule regular meetings with project members across the entire project team structure so they can present the project’s progress, estimate project deadlines, and raise any issues or concerns they may have. This way, any misunderstanding between the developers and the stakeholders will immediately be detected and fixed.
4. Ineptness With Technology
In any IT project, new and unfamiliar technologies present a huge risk.
While it’s not healthy to stick to a fixed set of technologies and refuse to expand your capabilities, using a technology for the first time in a big project isn’t wise either.
Unfamiliar technology presents a learning curve for developers, who will experience many issues for the first time without knowing how to resolve them.
When developers research and investigate an unfamiliar technology’s features, a significant amount of time must be built into the project’s timeline. Otherwise, it’s very likely that unfamiliar technology will result in delays due to unexpected issues.
Before building a schedule for a project that requires new technology, allocate time for developers to study the technology, explore its features, and actually try out the technology on small practice projects before applying them to a commercial project. This allows developers to build competency before they begin a project, increasing the likelihood that all deadlines will be met.
5. Shifting Project Requirements
When a software project’s requirements change during the development process, delays will inevitably occur. Deadlines are always based on the assumption of a set of requirements, so changing these requirements requires moving deadlines to account for additional development effort.
Too many changes or poorly communicated changes, however, can lead to frustration, missed deadlines, and even project abandonment.
One good example of this is Virtual Case Files, a software project by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Started in 2000, Virtual Case Files was meant to automate and modernize FBI systems. It was officially abandoned in 2005 due to a plethora of problems. A statement of Glenn A. Fine, the US Department of Justice inspector general, blamed repeatedly changing specifications as one of the major reasons the project was abandoned.
To avoid this, one of the most straightforward approaches is to use a development framework that’s suitable for changing requirements. Agile project management is ideal for this: It divides a project into sprints, or periods ranging from two weeks to a month.
Each sprint is focused on delivering a usable fragment of the product, with an opportunity to define or redefine the project’s requirements and scope at the beginning of each sprint.
When using an agile framework, the same best practices in estimation, communication, and keeping stakeholders aligned still apply.
If you are working with an offshore development partner, be sure to factor time zones into your planning.
An agile framework permits changes in requirements for features that are to be delivered in future sprints.
Deadlines Are Essential to Any Project’s Success
Meeting deadlines in a software project can be tough because of a number of factors. It is key to stay on target and plan ahead for any mishaps that can lead to not meeting deadlines.
Avoiding these project delays requires careful planning, realistic estimation, and excellent communication between a project manager, stakeholders, and the development team. By focusing on these factors, you can avoid falling victim to missed deadlines.
Use these tips in your company’s next IT project to hit your deadlines and maximize your project’s success.
About the Author
Currently, Myron is working at Mobilunity as a marketing assistant. He often interviews programmers to get a better understanding of what they do and how they do it. This gives him the ability to learn about new technologies directly from the experts. Also, Myron is interested in management and keeps improving these skills too. Writing helps him to share the experience and get some feedback from people around the globe.