Why don’t projects meet their deadlines?

Why don’t projects meet their deadlines?

According to a survey conducted by PMI in 2018, only about 52% of the projects carried out in various companies and organizations around the world were completed on time. This figure, according to similar surveys from the last decade, does not improve over the years and ranges between 50-55%.

Failure to meet a schedule for implementing a project has far-reaching ramifications:  an increase in the budget required to complete it, the inability to release resources for new projects, dissatisfaction from the customer and other involved parties, and an organizational image of inaccuracy and lack of professionalism.  The great efforts invested in managing and controlling projects do not provide satisfactory results, and the question is why and what can be done to improve this outcome.

In order to answer this, we must go back to the roots of each project – the stage of initiation, the stage at which it was decided to put it in motion.  In principle, projects get underway on two main tracks:

  • An order from an external customer (with or without participation in a tender)
  • An internal decision by an organization / company (eg developing a new product within the R & D framework)

Let’s look at the preliminary dynamics for the different tracks:

In the case of bidding on a tender, companies and organizations generally tend to shorten the expected duration of the project in order to appear attractive, quick and efficient in the eyes of the customer. The timetable is further reduced in the negotiation process because of the fear of losing the competitive advantage that could endanger the acceptance of the bid.  A common perception is that “once we receive the order, we will then deal with the question of how to implement it under the terms we promised.”

Even without a tender, companies and organizations do not want to breach the trust given to them by the customer, and tend to agree to shorten the project’s duration to satisfy them, sometimes as a substitute for providing an economic discount on the project price itself.

In the case of initiating an internal project, there is pressure from the management of companies / organizations to complete the project with the lowest possible resources, because the project is not currently financed by an external customer. The pressure is reflected in guidelines for shortening the duration of implementation and reducing costs and workforce.

In all of these cases, the projects start out with time constraints from day one.

As a result, project managers, eager to realize their project as soon as possible, tend to skip the design phase, which is the most important stage in project management theory.  Detailed planning of the project is sometimes perceived as an unnecessary delay and therefore unrealistic work plans are created, which are not coordinated with the involved parties in the project, and occasionally there is doubt as to their feasibility.

Moreover, there is a tendency to skip the risk analysis process for the project, although it may indicate and highlight gaps or fundamental problems in project planning, including the work plan and schedule.

Finally, the pressure to implement quickly does not allow proper project organization, such as the appointment of a project manager with the required scope and skills, the allocation of appropriate staff, and the establishment of suitable infrastructures. As a result, the initial realization assumptions are not applicable and the project begins to accumulate gaps.

Under these conditions, all that remains for the project manager to do is to conduct an “assemblage war” ( a hopeless fight, a war that has been predetermined) on the project schedule and in most cases the gap will be unbreakable, even if the manager is particularly skilled and equipped with excellent administrative control tools.

So what can be done about it?

A great deal of awareness is required of managements of companies / organizations to integrate the initiation of projects. In the event that, as a result of the pressure of negotiations in the tender and ordering stages, expectations do not match in terms of the project schedule, it is necessary to formulate strategies for reducing it (such as allocating additional resources, outsourcing, prioritizing projects in the company / organization).  For internal projects initiated by the company / organization, if there is a justified time limit, make sure that the requirements and the content are appropriate to the timetables set.  It is the responsibility of the management to approve the work plans of projects after the completion of the planning, and to ensure that they can be realized under the terms agreed upon.

The planning stage of the project must be completed and carried out systematically, together with the project team and the other interested parties. Good ideas for reducing the project schedule or improving the chances of success in meeting the timetable may emerge from cooperative discussion. It is important to summarize the planning phase at the kickoff meeting with those involved in the project to ensure that all questions and reservations are taken into account and to coordinate expectations comprehensively.

Good luck!


Yishai Sandak, PMP®