Good project management can help guard against delays in project completion. It is not unusual, however, for projects to experience delays, even when they have significant resources behind them. So when high profile projects experience delay, where do you turn? 


A recent report by the National Audit Office  attempted to assess the success of over 300 projects that left the Government Major Projects Portfolio between 2011 and 2017. The resulting report found that even in the case of these strategically significant government projects, incomplete data made it difficult to assess whether the projects were completed successfully and on time. In short, poor records and reporting make it difficult to keep track of whether major government projects are delivering on their objectives, according to the NAO.


Organise for results

Here at Verto, we are aware from our extensive work with Local Government and across the NHS how vital it is that complex government projects are closely tracked at every stage. Managing time and avoiding major delays is a particularly common challenge, and one that it is difficult to address in a large, complex and far-reaching project environment unless the right tools and processes are in place from the beginning.

The bigger the project, the more difficult it is to ensure every outcome is delivered on time. Unfortunately, the bigger the project, the higher the cost of delayed completion, making delays as much of a budget issue as a time issue. Projects that run over deadline tend to run over budget, and the larger the project, the more significant this becomes.

Using the right project management software can help project teams to both avoid and plan for delays. It is essential to put processes and communication channels in place that will allow everyone involved to know who to turn to, who to inform and how to reallocate resources quickly in the event of a potential delay. There are several things to do to enable your team to manage large and complex projects while also dealing with real and potential delays effectively.


Set realistic deadlines

Unrealistic deadlines are often an unacknowledged issue behind high profile project delays. Deadlines are important to guide the team towards their milestones in a timely matter, but constantly working towards unrealistic deadlines puts teams under excessive pressure, lowers morale and makes project delays inevitable.

When setting deadlines, project managers have a responsibility to their team. The team will work best when deadlines are designed to realistically fit with the actual work required and resources available, incorporating all relevant constraints and extenuating circumstances and reflecting all risks and priorities. In addition, those deadlines should be carefully defined and documented as part of the project definition process. The specific results needed, and the value being produced at each deadline should be clear in order to guide and motivate the team.  Importantly, those deadlines should be capable of being monitored and maintained by the project manager, incorporating changes to the project as they are approved and implemented.


Plan for delays

While project delays are seen by stakeholders as undesirable, they are common and, most project managers would admit, to be expected. When we talk of “unexpected” project delays, we generally mean not knowing when or why the delay would happen, not that there is surprise over the fact that something happened to delay the project.

Some delays are more predictable than others. Late delivery from outside sources or contractors, for example, can easily delay a project. Some delays are highly improbable and much more unpredictable. It is impossible, and undesirable, to factor every possible delay into a project schedule. Doing so would result in a project being deemed so time consuming and costly that it would never be approved.

Predictable delays can certainly be factored into the project by using a risk management plan. Less predictable delays may not be an established part of the documented risk management plan, but project teams can still do everything in their power to plan for the unexpected.


Expect the unexpected

Unforeseeable delays happen. Expect them to crop up even if you do not know what the source or timing of these delays will be. Factor in extra time, budget and resources to deal with the unexpected. Have contingency plans in place. Know which resources could be temporarily reallocated to the project if needed. Get familiar with team members skills and capabilities in case human resources need to be reallocated at short notice.

Monitor the project carefully and communicate often. Even unpredictable delays can sometimes be predicted shortly before they happen, giving the team extra days or hours to respond and cutting down on the length and cost of the delay.


Act fast to minimise damage

Once a delay is inevitable, act immediately to mitigate any damage. Acknowledge the missed deadline, take responsibility and calculate what it will mean for the project. The sooner this is done, the sooner the business case can be updated to reflect the new reality, and adjustments can be made to future deadlines to ensure everyone is aware of any changes to their own responsibilities. Resources can be reallocated and approvals sought for any budget extensions.

Inform appropriate stakeholders immediately. The way unexpected delays are managed can have a big impact on how the finished project is perceived. When high profile projects are delayed problems often stem from no one knowing who to turn to and who to inform.  All relevant stakeholders should be updated promptly. Who this is depends on the project but may include the project sponsor, steering committee, vendors and customers. Often, when a project experiences a few minor delays that are immediately communicated to stakeholders and incorporated into the schedule, the stakeholders will not perceive that the project completed late, even though the completion date was different from the one in the original business case. A project that experiences delays may still be perceived as successful as long as delays are well managed.


Verto project management software gives teams the tools they need to effectively manage project delays. To find out more, register for our  free 14 day trial or contact us at