When our projects begin to experience schedule delays, a very common reaction from our customers may be to ask the team to work longer hours or to leverage their influence to provide additional resources to work on critical path tasks such that the project can get back on track.
Of course, nothing comes for free – such additional labor hours usually will result in increased costs which in turn increases the likelihood of going over budget. If the existing team is asked to work longer hours for a sustained period of time, this is likely to impact team morale and deliverable quality. If new team members are added, while they are coming up-to-speed, the overall productivity of the team is likely to suffer as existing high performers may be engaged in onboarding the newcomers.
So before looking at crashing your schedule, here are a few ideas.
What caused the delays?
If the team cannot identify and address the root cause, there is no reason to expect that such delays won’t be experienced further in the life of the project. For example, if the issue is due to gross underestimation, adding more resources is unlikely to result in a great improvement in performance. Have the team re-assess supporting assumptions to come up with more realistic estimates.
Is the schedule optimal?
Perhaps there were soft constraints placed on certain tasks when the schedule was originally developed which could be removed thus accelerating certain tasks. For example, an assumption might have been made that a given resource is unavailable before a certain date – would moving up their start date help? If so, negotiating for an earlier start may be something you ask your sponsor to help with.
Do any of the dependencies between critical path tasks lend themselves to fast tracking? If so, weigh the duration savings against the risks of rework or reduced quality and introduce lead times in a thoughtful manner.
Can you restructure scope delivery?
Customers will usually want it all, but facing a schedule delay, you may be in a better position to negotiate for a phased delivery approach by moving certain scope elements to later phases. Focus on work packages which will result in time savings without crippling the business value gained from a minimally viable deliverable.
Of course, whenever the focus is on optimizing the delivery of critical path activities, the risk is that chains of near critical path activities will be neglected resulting in them turning into a new, longer duration critical path. So don’t ignore the forest just because you are focusing on a particular group of trees.