Project Return

Understanding the Root Causes of a Project Delay



September 25th , 2018

A lady was complaining of a pain in her elbow. She put up with the pain for weeks before she finally decided to go see a doctor. She walked into the doctor’s office and said “Doc, it hurts when I do this”, bending her arm up and down in front of the doctor. The doctor instantly responds, “Well then, don’t do that!”

OK, that joke has been around for some time now yet it does illustrate something we come across time and again in our jobs as project managers. You need to treat more than just the symptoms if you want to solve the problem. There are times when you may come up with “workarounds” (for example, don’t bend your elbow) rather than get to the root of the problem.

As an example of treating the symptom and not the cause, I used to work at a software development where there was a time entry system in place that was developed specifically for this company. It wasn’t difficult to use, didn’t take up too much ‘time’ to enter time, and it produced outstanding reports. However, there was one group in the company that refused to use the application. Why? Because the manager of the department didn’t believe that his resources needed to report on their activity.

Workarounds needed to be put in place to manually enter these particular people’s time in order make sure the reports were accurate, yet this was just dealing with a symptom not treating the problem. Eventually, this problem was escalated to upper management and this particular manager agreed (albeit reluctantly) to have his team enter their time. This addressed the root of the problem and enabled the workarounds to disappear.

There is a number of things that can creep up into a project management plan and cause delays. You need to make sure you are addressing the root cause of the problem and not getting sidetracked dealing with symptoms. Here are a few suggestions of how a project can get behind schedule and cause a project delay.

Project Team Members Lack of Experience

A root cause for a project management plan that is running behind could be the level of experience of the people on the project. There is absolutely something to be said for experience, especially on a project that is very complicated and technical in nature. Sometimes a project manager will make an assumption that if it took one resource a certain number of hours to complete a task, it will take another resource the exact same time to complete the task. Experienced project managers understand that this is rarely the case and the variances could be by as much as 2 – 3 times!

What can be done to get to a real number that does not put your project management plan in danger of failing? Ideally, you can verify with the more experienced resource whether or not this is achievable by the newer resource although this may not always be possible if said person is no longer available. If this is the case, you can include some buffer in the original estimates and err on the side of caution until you get a better feel for the person capabilities, so as to prevent a delay in the project management plan.

Project Scope Creep

Another threat to a project management plan getting behind is project scope creep, as new elements are introduced into the project without the project manager knowing. It’s amazing how quickly this can happen. There may be a weekly project status meeting every Monday morning at 10 AM. This is the time you have all the managers responsible for delivering the project review their current status with you. You review the project management plan and everyone is on track for the project to be completed on schedule. You wrap up the meeting at 10:45 and everyone gets on with their work.

It’s now 11:00 Monday morning (15 minutes later) and someone from the Engineering Department figures it would be nice to include one minor feature that will really make things that much easier for everyone involved. They understand that it’s not in the original project management plan, but they also feel as if it won’t be that big of a deal to complete. So, at 11:01 AM on Monday morning they make the decision to move forward with their idea. It ends up not being as easy to implement as they originally thought. They now spend the remainder of the week trying to unravel the knot that they tied together. The end of the week comes and they finally get back to the original project management plan that was in place as of Monday morning. When do you find out about this debacle? Next Monday morning at 10 AM!

How can you treat this symptom of a project management plan delay and treat the root cause? Communication! Make sure that everyone is very clear on the fact that no changes are to be made unless cleared through the proper channels. Also, in the event that somebody makes a decision like the one above, it is essential that the project manager is made aware of the situation much earlier than the following Monday morning. This needs to be deeply ingrained into the team by the project manager that is responsible for delivering on the project management plan.

Tasks are Left Out

Another symptom that can wreak havoc on a project management plan is that critical tasks are left out of the plan. It may not be discovered until the project is well underway that a key activity or deliverable was missed on the plan. The team now needs to scramble play catch-up on this essential piece that was missed during the initial planning process. How can this symptom of a project management plan delay be treated? Get to the root cause. The root cause is most likely that there was not enough time spent in the planning phase. There need to be more conversations with the right people to make sure all the requirements and functionality that this project must have in order to be considered a success are included.

It is important that as a Project Manager you have a good understanding of the types of the root causes of project delays. These delays create unavoidable stress, upset clients, disgruntled project teams, blown budgets. Get to the root cause of the problem and make sure you have the right people involved, mitigate scope creep and have accounted for all critical tasks.


Hopefully, one could visualize the challenges associated with program management from the above pointers.

Now, it is not rocket science to understand that unless organizations invest in a top-class program management system, the chances of success are very bleak!

Fortunately, with the advancements in the software world, innovative and cost-effective solutions are available today that make program management relatively easy.

Try TouchBase® and explore the power of a real program management system!


Name of Author


This article was provided by Gulit Upadhyay, a digital marketing engineer at ProductDossier.com, a company dedicated to providing great project management software so that you achieve business excellence.
View his detailed profile on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/gulitupadhyay/



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