A checklist for staying on schedule

Project management software helps you see when your team is going off schedule. Getting back on track is the true measure of your management skills. Here's how:

Focus on the critical path. Remember that changes in the overall plan occur almost daily. This can alter the elements in the critical path. Because this is where you must make changes to shorten the length of the project, reviewing the critical-path elements is the first place to look when you fall behind schedule.

Recheck your assumptions. Reviewing your defined dependencies can show where you, or the software, have built in an unnecessary constraint.

Taking a hard look at the activities you have defined as resource-independent'that is, they will take a certain period to complete regardless of how many resources you pile on'can help you find a new approach to speed up the task by adding or changing resources.

8Nail down the cause. It isn't enough to see that a project is running over; it's critical to pin down the cause. If for no other reason, knowing the source of the problem can tell you whether it could self-correct (a key worker is out due to illness but will work overtime when she returns) or is systemic (the project wasn't planned properly).

If you don't know the kind of delay you are facing, it's nearly impossible to fix the problem correctly.

Eliminate waste. In this instance, waste means a wasted or off-project effort. No project ever created survives first contact. Even before checking, it's a safe assumption that some team members have lost focus and are spending time on lesser tasks, often ones not included in the original plan. Some of these resource-consuming extra tasks are essential because of altered circumstances; others involve important tasks unforeseen in the planning stage. But mostly they are frills that must be ruthlessly eliminated when a project runs behind schedule.

Reduce scope. If the deadline is critical and additional resources aren't available, the only way to bring a project in on time might be to cut back on the scope of the project or eliminate some features. Second only to missing the deadline, this is the more painful, but sometimes it's the only way.


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