project behind scheduleA project being delayed may seem a reason to panic but schedule slippage is not as rare as some might expect. Depending on the project, there may be things that can be done to fix a delayed project. In some cases, however, there is no choice other than cancelling the project. Before listing any solutions,  there are things that should not be done, at least for most delayed projects.

Just Work Harder?

A simplistic solution for a delayed project is putting up more effort to catch up with the schedule. Some claim that this is as easy as estimating how behind you are and how faster you need to go to catch up. But doing more in less time is only possible if the team has not operated at their full productivity so far, or has not used the most efficient tools possible, and the project being delayed is only a question of improving efficiency or simply the work climate. Overtime work may be a solution but only for a limited amount of time and in the right environment. It actually creates a negative work climate, which has a detrimental effect on the schedule. So is there a way to fix a delayed project?

The Cause of “Evil”

As with all problems, minimizing or cancelling the symptoms does not eliminate the cause and the problem re-emerges. You need to identify the cause of the discrepancy between schedule and reality. You cannot tell that from analyzing the schedule unless there is a specific task that is causing delays or an artificial task dependency. In the first case, add expert resources to bring back on track the delayed task. In the second case, eliminate the artificial task dependency.

3 Ways to Fix a Delayed Project

If you find out that the project schedule is slipping because you have an unclear scope, or a scope creep, you have a serious problem and the project is likely a death march. However in many cases, the team is very good, all tasks were done efficiently, but the project schedule was very optimistic. If it is so, discuss with the management and project sponsor and look for solutions:

  • Increase the project duration (keeping in mind this will increase cost if scope is not altered)
  • Downsize scope
  • Crash the project (add more resources)

If the first two solutions are not possible, and fast-tracking is not an option, adding more resources to the project may be your next best choice. According to Brook’s law, it is possible that adding resources late in the project may actually delay the project because of the learning curve or because of the increase in communication channels, not to mention that the team regresses to the norming and storming phases. But Brook’s law is only a rule of thumb and not an immutable physical law. If you add expert resources, there will be only a minimal learning curve. Also, if you allocate the new resources to relatively independent tasks, the interference between the new and old resources will be minimal.

In all cases, the project manager needs to evaluate the risks before crashing the project. Importantly, the project manager should be honest with the stakeholders when it comes to the project’s status, be able to propose solutions, and be persuasive enough to get the right solution approved.

Cristina Neagu

Cristina Neagu, PhD, is a freelance editor and proofreader, and a Certified Associate in Project Management. She loves creative writing and managed a virtual team of writers for three years. When she's not working, she likes to read, spend time outdoors, and travel. Visit her website,, or contact her on LinkedIn.