calendar app on tablet

Understanding Project Delays: Why They Happen & How to Avoid Them

Posted by Paweł Małkowiak on August 13, 2020

Project delays are frustrating and can end up costing your organization more than just time. Depending on the nature of the delay, the direct and indirect costs to fix it could be substantial. Direct costs such as re-doing work or requiring more work than originally planned and indirect costs, such as having to pull workers from other projects or tasks and delaying those items as a result can add up quickly.

Fortunately, you can take steps to minimize or even completely avoid project delays and keep your project humming along smoothly.

Common Project Delays & Their Root Causes

Rushing the Planning Phase

Planning is one of the most critical stages of any project. When teams don’t spend enough time planning and figure out exactly what the project requires so that it can be scoped appropriately, the project tends to suffer.

Without a solid yet flexible plan in place, some features can end up taking more time and energy than expected or may require more functionalities than you have accounted for. You should also make sure you have a plan in place to ensure each component can successfully integrate with the whole project. Trying to make different components work well together can eat up a lot of extra time and energy, and can compromise the integrity of the whole project if they aren’t properly taken into account.

Not Having the Whole Picture

In too many cases, teams don’t fully recognize their project’s requirements before they begin development. If you don’t invest enough time and energy into the planning phase, you may encounter portions of the project you haven’t planned or budgeted for and may end up scrambling to finish the project before the deadline.

Navigating Third Party Dependencies

This issue typically arises when 2 or more companies work together to complete a project. For example, if one team is responsible for UX design and another handles the development side you need to make sure both teams are on the same page at all times, and that both are meeting their deadlines. A delay on the development side not only threatens the pace of work for that team but also for the UX team that is relying on them. This single delay ends up delaying work for both teams, potentially delaying the project even further.

Not Having the Right Skills for the Task at Hand

While a screwdriver is great for working with screws, it is a terrible substitute for a hammer. When choosing a technology partner or building an internal team of developers, you need to make sure you choose people who have the right skills for the job.

Far too frequently, we encounter companies that have committed to a project and realized after the fact that their team doesn’t have the necessary experience with a particular domain or technology that the project requires. While this obstacle can be overcome either by hiring additional team members, outsourcing part or all of your project to a more qualified company, or training existing team members, all of these solutions require extra time and effort to implement, threatening the project’s scoped timeline.

How to Minimize (or Even Avoid) Project Delays

businesswoman on video call

Have a Plan That is Both Detailed & Flexible

As we discussed previously, investing in the planning phase is crucial: a good plan sets your project and your team up for success while a poor plan or a vague plan sets you up for failure. That being said, sometimes unexpected issues arise that will require you to adjust your plan, so make sure that the plan, and the scope, are both flexible enough to accommodate unforeseen problems.

Communication is Key

All key team members should be communicating with each other daily. This helps ensure that any hiccups or obstacles that arise are communicated effectively to the rest of the team so they can create a contingency plan and react accordingly. Regular communication also helps avoid miscommunication, which can delay or even derail a project.

Do Your Due Diligence

You should always do your homework before partnering with any custom software development company. Make sure you meet the individuals you will be working with and verify that they have the time and the skill set to complete the task. Meeting with your partner team also lets you gauge how they approach their work: Do they act proactively or wait for disaster to strike? Do they approach their job with enthusiasm or with a begrudging attitude? Do they appear rushed or stressed like they are stretched too thin, or do they appear competent and in control of their workflow?

The answers to these questions will help you determine whether or not a team or individual is someone you can rely on to get the task done correctly and on time. You should also make sure to pick a partner that can scale effectively to buffer themselves against challenges and delays quickly and effectively so that the project can still be delivered on time. This is where good communication comes in again: When the software development company and the client communicate effectively with one another, potential delays and other pitfalls can be spotted ahead of time so they can be avoided or addressed proactively instead of forcing team members into a reactive situation.

Avoiding the Overengineering Trap

Overengineering, (where a product is designed to be more robust than necessary or have more features than are actually required, resulting in a creation process that is inefficient or unnecessary complex), is a common cause of project delays. To help your team avoid the overengineering trap, please read or blog post Overengineering in Software Development.

CYC: A Case Study

One good example of avoiding project delays is discussed in our CYC case study:

Our team was tasked with migrating a legacy application to a microservice architecture when we discovered additional deliverables. To ensure the project wasn’t delayed, we scaled up quickly, adding 2 more developers to our original team of 3. We also invested heavily in building proper CI/CD pipelines. By investing the extra time and effort early on and scaling our team appropriately, we were able to save more time and energy later on in the development phase, setting our future selves up for success and reducing the amount of work required overall.

How to Handle Project Delays Effectively

Sometimes even the best-laid plans can’t prevent delays. If a delay occurs, the most important thing you can do is approach the situation proactively and focus on finding a solution rather than assigning blame.