In this article on missed project deadlines we will start to discuss what causes them and how you can react. Ever had a project with no missed deadlines? Seriously now ... be honest. It's the nature of the beast that project deadlines get missed.You can't build slack time into every task and on some brutal projects you may not have the opportunity to build ANY slack time into ANY tasks. But for the most part, a couple of missed deadlines are not normally a sign of a project in extreme danger.

It's just part of the process - but they can be warning signs. And it is my belief that once you've missed a couple of deadlines, you really should be doing everything - and I mean EVERYTHING - in your power to make sure that you miss no more. Otherwise, customer confidence could take a huge hit and you may find yourself sitting in the CEO's office ... or worse ... the HR director's office.

1. When it's a chronic problem

What about the projects where missed deadlines are a chronic problem? You know the ones. It's not just a deadline here and there that is missed. No, it's a repeating process and you're constantly scrambling with your team to get tasks back on track, get things completed somewhere close to on time and it seems like you're repeatedly giving excuses and apologies to the customer and your senior management on missed dates on the project. It's painful, no doubt about it.

You may have what you believe to be an excellent process for schedule control, and team members are working well together. But in spite of that, you simply don't meet phase deadlines, and some projects are constantly in danger of being completed way off schedule.

In cases like this, you may be perplexed as to why this is happening, but from the customer standpoint they are feeling more and more uncomfortable with how things are going. Excuses, unknowns, repeatedly missed deadlines ... .they all lead to significant reductions in customer satisfaction and confidence. If these project troubles are catching you by surprise then that translates to your customer as poor project management. If it appears that you've lost control of the project, then your customer will have no confidence in your ability to manage the engagement.

From my experience, when missed task deadlines start to become a real problem on the project, it is often due to one or more of the following reasons. Examing these key possibilities in detail can help get to the root of the problem and get the project team back on track toward on time delivery of critical project tasks.

2. Unreasonable deadlines

The project schedule was probably drafted by sales or an account manager and then handed of to the project manager. It was then molded into the very detailed schedule that the project is now being managed against and it's being shared using a tool like Seavus Project Viewer.

There may have been some unreasonable deadlines that either were overlooked, or were just not changeable. The project manager and team knew they were unreasonable, but the deadline was mandated by something beyond their control - possibly the customer, an industry requirement, or senior management. Sometimes change orders, pressure from above, or misunderstood requirements can leave you with a project schedule that is no longer doable. And if it's not adjusted, then the project is going to move further and further off track.

3. The need for more resources

Usually throwing more resources at the problem isn't the correct action to take. What it can do to your project budget is scary. But there are those rare cases where a project actually does need more resources than are currently being applied.

Analyze the situation thoroughly and ensure that this is actually the case for your project before onboarding more help, because the next step will be to fight the battle of getting more funding from either the customer or your own organization - and usually both paths will offer considerable resistance.

4. Resources how are overloaded

Check with your resources - are they overloaded in areas outside of their responsibilities to your project? Are they getting direction from a supervisor to prioritize their work elsewhere. If that's the case you have two issues: 1) communication problems because they didn't let you know this and 2) negotiation needs to happen with the other PMs or the supervisor that is creating the priority conflicts.

Either way, you must quickly get them focused on your project tasks or replace them. Once again, consider the budget issues related to the corrective action that has to happen here - the project budget may take a hit for a while as either priorities get re-adjusted or the resource is replaced on the project.

5. The need for different skill sets

Perhaps the resources assigned to the project are lacking some key skills. Meet with the resources that are responsible for the slipping tasks and see where they stand on this. Do they need help? Do you need to bring in a different key resource?

You may need to go to their direct supervisor to get the full answer on this but you must take swift action. And if you do end up needing to replace project resources, then the budget will likely take a hit as the new resource gets up to speed. Be sure to make the appropriate adjustments to the budget forecast.