How to Complete Projects on Time and on Budget

Time is a huge factor in determining the success of any project. Even if you complete necessary objectives and deliver high-quality results, you’re unlikely to win client and customer approval if everything is finished long past its due date. Despite this, research from Project Smart has found that just 10% of projects are delivered on time.

Business project planning

Delay also often goes hand in hand with rising costs, causing budgets to spiral out of control and having a serious impact on a business’s bottom line. The perpetually delayed HS2 railway system is a prime example of how quickly things can turn sour. The project was estimated to cost up to £20 billion when originally proposed in 2010, but is now projected to rise to £100 billion by the time it’s finished.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. With greater forethought, companies can avoid late projects, keeping people happy and costs low. Here’s how to do it.

Meticulously define your objectives and deliverables

One major reason why projects get delayed is a lack of clarity around what they’re meant to achieve, and what the deliverables actually involve. For example, if your boss asks you to upgrade your company’s data management system, the objective is ambiguous. Does this mean to update the current system or does it mean to roll out a new one entirely? It may refer to the system used internally or it may refer to a system shared with clients. The request alone also doesn’t tell you why your boss wants a new data management system — is it to improve data security, bolster performance, reduce costs, or all of the above?

While approaches can be adapted accordingly, each of these objectives will likely require different time scales and different people involved. By getting a cast iron overview of the project’s scope, its objectives, and its deliverables, you will massively reduce the risk of having to change tack halfway through the job. This then allows you to start planning and managing time and resources efficiently.

Carefully plan the project

The next stage necessitates deciding on the people, resources and budget you will need to carry out the project successfully, and dividing everything into manageable phases in order to create a sense of direction. Perhaps the best way to go about this is by making a project scope document, as explained by resource management and professional services automation tool Precursive. This involves “mapping out a realistic timeline and projections” that take into account “project boundaries, available resources, deliverables and key milestones to keep the team and project on track”.

By estimating exactly what’s required to complete each task, you can work out a practical schedule to ensure that everything is completed in good time. Be sure not to heed to any unrealistic deadlines set by stakeholders, as you will only end up causing unnecessary stress and letting people down.

Time tracking

Track everything from the start

It’s critical that you track the progress of your project from its starting point, and constantly measure this against your schedule. As such, getting regular updates from those working on it is essential, as is recording any divergences from the planned schedule, cost and scope. This enables you to immediately take action if any adaptations become too big, such as re-arranging the order of the tasks, getting more staff involved, and reducing the scope of the tasks in question.

You should track time spent on a project on a daily basis. Time is a unifying metric in project management, so failing to track it can create larger problems that derail your whole budget. Having accurate time logs will allow you to compare them to the project’s estimated hours and identify any areas where this has deviated too far. It’s important that the team remains agile to compensate for any cases like this, so that the project manager is able to adjust accordingly and involve more members of the team if required.

The three most important things to take into account during a project are the cost, scope and schedule, and you should think of these like a seesaw. Any variation to one of these aspects will likely impact at least one of the other two, so it’s crucial that you keep this balance in mind.

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