How to Keep a Project on Schedule, According to Project Managers

Any time your team is working on a project, there are going to be variables—some expected, some not—that can throw off your timeline. Fortunately, the best project managers have learned a variety of strategies to prevent them from falling behind.

To anticipate any inconsistencies, it’s best to focus on one fact that is consistent throughout any sort of work task: keeping a project on schedule starts with a robust, realistic plan. To help you improve your scheduling strategies, we’ll take you through some of the root causes of project pitfalls and the best ways to avoid them.

Understand the Triple Constraints

Projects are governed by what’s known as the triple constraints — that is, three factors that must be balanced in order to reach project completion. They are:

  • Cost: the total budget for a project, including billable labor hours
  • Scope: all tasks and work that must be accomplished for a project to be considered complete
  • Time: the project schedule

Each of these factors are dependent on one another. For example, if you want to meet a certain deadline, you will need to allocate enough resources to accomplish the project while ensuring that you have the budget (and executive support) to pay for those resources. If increasing the budget is not an option, then you will need to alter the scope of the project.

The concept of triple constraints is perhaps the most basic and important guideline in project management. When these elements are not in balance with one another, project deadlines can easily go off track.

You also need to decide which of these elements are most important to your organization. If meeting a deadline is the chief priority, then you may be able to argue for more budget and resources or an adjustment to the project scope. The bottom line is that the best way to keep a project on schedule is to create a well-balanced project plan that factors in the triple constraints from the get-go.

Identify Schedule Risks and Uncertainties

What are your biggest unknowns for a project? This will vary from assignment to assignment, so there’s no one right answer for this. As long as you have developed a familiarity with your team and your clients, you should be able to identify the variables that can slow you down. In spite of the fluid nature of this task, there are some general protocols you can follow to help navigate any wild cards.

  • Build slack time into a project schedule. You never want a project to be scheduled out to the minute. Doing this greatly reduces your margin of error and puts undue stress on your team. As a general rule, if you’re able to give yourself a cushion in scheduling, you’ll be thankful later on.
  • Know your team. Of course there will be variables here as well, especially if you’re dealing with new clients or projects. But knowing everyone’s struggles and specialties will help you delegate tasks in an efficient manner.
  • Front load where possible. As we’ll discuss below, this is often only possible to a certain extent—but the more you’re able to get done on the front end, the more flexibility you will have later on. While you often can’t anticipate the exact problems that may arise, you can generally anticipate that something will happen. Giving yourself breathing room right off the bat will give you more time to solve problems as they come up.

Avoid Schedule Rigidity Where Possible

Some tasks are absolutely dependent on the completion of others in order for work to proceed. However, if every part of the project depends on the task before it being completed—in other words, if your schedule is too rigid—it will be easy for work to get off schedule. Instead, you should look for tasks that can be completed in tandem or out of sequence so that you are reducing, or even eliminating, the opportunities for bottlenecks. Again, building in wiggle room is going to make life a lot easier for you and your team.

How to Get a Project Schedule Back on Track

No matter how carefully you plan, there are always uncertainties that can throw projects off track. The best laid plans will only take you so far, but part of that planning should account for what to do when and if things start to lag. If you go in with a game plan for how to fix issues, you won’t need to waste time dealing with roadblocks.

  • Identify the root cause of delays. What is putting you behind? Is it something within your control? If so, use your expertise to move past it. You’re in this role for a reason! But maybe the issue is out of your hands. If that’s the case—and it often is—being able to recognize that and adjust is a good skill to have. Often, there’s not much you can do but let go and find a different route to the finish line rather than forcing a round peg through a square hole.
  • Revisit the project scope. Nothing wreaks havoc on a project schedule like scope creep, and it’s unfortunately very common, especially when account managers and other client contacts are dealing with a demanding or difficult client. If scope creep—meaning changes in a project’s scope at any point after the project begins—has become an issue, it’s important to review project scope and objectives with key stakeholders and then develop a plan to negotiate a compromise with the client.
  • Focus on priority tasks. Whether it’s an issue of needing to finish some tasks before you’re able to move on to the next ones, or simply having non-negotiable deliverables that need to get to a client by the deadline, the ability to identify priorities is crucial whenever you fall behind. Sometimes this will lead to getting back on track; other times it will provide the momentum you need to carry you to an extended deadline.
  • Use overtime only as a last resort. If projects are headed off schedule, it can be tempting to seek authorization for employees to work overtime in order to complete their tasks. In extreme cases, this may be used temporarily to move a project back on schedule; however, it shouldn’t be your first option. Productivity tends to go down dramatically when teams are working overtime, so authorizing overtime can sometimes backfire—particularly when workers are asked to work overtime for long periods. While there is the obvious financial motivation in the short term, the last thing you want to see is burnout in your team, so it’s best to not make a habit of this one.

Let Us Help

In any sort of project management role, there’s a lot that is out of your control, no matter how much of a scheduling pro you are. At Journyx we are committed to helping you maximize your efficiency and further eliminate speed bumps in your project journey. Journyx JX is a project time tracking software that consolidates all of your project tracking needs into one place so that you can keep your focus where it’s needed.

When you use Journyx JX, which seamlessly integrates with all of your existing business systems, you can reduce time spent on bookkeeping tasks and increase the profitability of your projects. Request a demo today to see how much easier it could be to keep your next task on schedule.

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Journyx helps you track time for projects, payroll, and more. Learn how Journyx can help you use time to your advantage in your business.