A Step-by-Step Process of Dealing with a Project that is falling behind Schedule

Falling behind schedule

In project management, managers often wonder how their projects fall behind schedule even after careful and diligent planning. What many projects managers don’t know is how easy it can be to fail to notice a project that is falling out of schedule until it is way off.

One day at a time; that is how projects fall behind schedule. Never expect to see your project fall behind in an instance because that’s not how it happens. A project’s progress will lag behind schedule little by little, day by day and by the time it is apparent, it will be very hard to pinpoint exactly when or where it started. And this why project management should always involve targets and milestones to let you know whether you are where you need to be at particular time.

Projects fall behind for a number of reasons, and knowing how to spot a project that is beginning to fall behind is just as important as finding out the reasons why that is happening.

You are aware of the consequences of missing project deadlines, so let’s jump straight into the steps of dealing with a project that is falling behind schedule before it spirals out of control:

Step 1:  Relax and Compose your Thoughts

Even though you should be worried when the project you are working on starts to fall behind schedule, do not panic. This by itself is not a step towards dealing with the project falling behind schedule but is the first step towards solving this and any other problem you encounter. Panicking will only impair your judgment and worsen the whole situation.

Without a clear mind, you will not be able to see where the problem is or worse, how to overcome it. Any project can go wrong, and that is best explained by what Murphy says about those things that have a possibility of going wrong. So don’t panic when yours does, instead stay calm as you deal with the problem.

Step 2:  Identify Core Issues that are Causing Delays

As mention earlier, there are many reasons that cause projects to fall behind schedule. Behind these reasons are core issues that unless they are dealt with, trying to salvage a project that is way off schedule will be nothing short of running with a lit candle in the rain and hoping that it stays lit.

Some core issues that may affect the project include your team’s efficiency, the client’s additional scope of work, complexity of the project, funds available for the project, the environment you are working in and so on.

Inefficiency in the team could be as a result of a particular member of the team or with the whole team not doing what it is supposed to do. If someone is not doing what they are supposed to be doing, then not much can be done to solve the issue of missed deadlines until such a person either changes or gets replaced. The same goes for funding, the scale of the project and environment. If such core issues are not addressed first, then dealing with schedule issues and getting back on track is almost impossible.

Step 3:  Reorganize, Rearrange and Reschedule

If a project has gone off course, maintaining your current plan of action will certainly not help you resolve anything. For one, the current plan could be the reason why the project is where it is now. Then again even if it was a sound plan and other factors are to blame, the mere fact that you have already lost time means that no matter how well you follow the plan, it will not help solve the problem nor help you recover lost time.

This is probably the most important step that is going to make or break your efforts of rescuing a project that is falling behind schedule. Note that every project is unique, and therefore how you decide to reorganize the project and rearrange the tasks involved will depend on the project.

The important thing is to remember that the whole idea is to squeeze the remaining work into the remaining time. That could mean anything from cutting down on some unnecessary procedures to working overtime.

Step 4:  Let the Constraints of the Iron Triangle Reign

When rearranging and rescheduling your project to catch up with time, remember that everything in a project is interrelated. You cannot change one thing without affecting another; and in this case, you cannot hope to reschedule time for the project without affecting other aspects of the project like its cost and probably quality.

The Iron Triangle is a model of three attributes that determine how a project is going to be undertaken. It is a graphical representation that shows the cost, scope and time allocated to a project, all pitted against each other in a closed triangle. Just like any undertaking by man, projects need to be executed under certain constraints otherwise there would be chaos.

Make use of the theory behind the Iron Triangle because dealing with a project that has fallen off schedule can be more than just hurrying things up. The triangle clearly shows that if that was to be done, then the scope or quality of the project will be affected negatively, or it will cost more. Nobody wants that, unless increase in scope was actually the reason why you started missing deadlines.

Step 5:  Relay all Changes to the Project and New Plans to Everyone Concerned

Getting a project back on track has to have everyone involved on board otherwise it will not be possible. After you have identified the causes and dealt with them, made changes and rescheduled everything, make sure that your team and probably the client are on the same page with you. They too have to reorganize themselves to be in line with the new order of things.

The most efficient way to make sure that any information and news about a project is always disseminated promptly and accurately to all the concerned parties is through a project management application. Project management software not only helps in planning and organizing a project, but also in sharing and collaborating on issues with everyone involved.


Falling behind schedule is not the worst thing that can happen to your project, but it is something that needs to be avoided or dealt with promptly and systematically. These five steps outline a proactive sequence of stopping a project from falling further behind. They also show you how to ensure that the project gets back on the right track.

Image: Jon Hathaway