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So Your Project Has Gotten Off Track: How To Know It's Time to Make a Change

train being derailed

From the contractor’s constant “you can’t do that” to the client’s endless number of changes and ideas, it is very common for projects to get off track. Architects, engineers and project managers know when things become “off” simply because the project doesn’t feel right or no longer is anything like what it originally was supposed to be. How do you know when your project has gotten off track?

Is Your Budget No Longer Under Control?

A key indication that there’s a need to pull back from a project and reevaluate it happens when the budget gets too far off from the original goal. If you are working on a bid for a project and the client’s “desired budget” is no longer in line with where you stand, it is time to pull back. If you are using tracking software to create and manage a budget, it’s clear to see when overages become more than expected. When this occurs, it helps to reign in expectations and dollar amounts. Though not easy to do, it can be one of the most important steps you take to keep the project in place.

If costs become too high, clients will walk away. However, if you are tracking and managing budgets now, you can begin to see when costs reach 10% or higher above the desired budget and act. In doing so, you may not lose that contract outright.

Are You Investing Too Much Time for It to Be Worthwhile?

Perhaps harder for an architecture or engineering firm to manage are the labor costs of creating and managing the project. Often times changes, complications, and delays pile up. The amount of time you are putting into managing your project is becoming a problem. Can you possibly make a profit from the project when you can’t get the design off to the client because of changes?

It’s essential to track hours invested in any project from day one. In doing so, it is possible that you’ll be able to better manage the project’s costs. For example, tracking hours used can give you a clue that it is time to go back to the client for more clear instruction before investing additional time into the process.

Signs It's Time to Do Something 

Still not sure if you project is on track? Consider these common traits of failing or struggling projects:

  • The person with the original vision for the project is no longer on board or participating
  • The project lacks a person to provide direction and vision
  • The scope keeps changing because too many people are offering input
  • The original goals of the project are no longer present
  • There is no agreement on what a successful outcome is

Are the risks of rejection of the project too high? It may be necessary, then, to pull back on the project to take a closer look at expectations, budgets, and goals. Though it can be hard to put the brakes on when you’ve already spent a great deal of time and energy on a project, it is nearly always beneficial to regroup before moving forward. After all, you could pull back, make some adjustments, realign your numbers, and end up with a far more profitable project than you had when you started.

So Your Project Has Gotten Off Track: 5 Steps to Take to Start Getting Your Project Back on Track

It’s been a tough few weeks on the new project. The team is working hard but somehow you’re falling behind. Communication with the client isn’t going well or perhaps you are just overwhelmed and frustrated because things aren’t coming together as they should. Every architect, engineer and project manager knows the pressure of a project that falls behind. If you recognize that your project is slipping away from you, it’s necessary to grab a hold of it now and do something to get it back on track before it becomes impossible to do so. These 5 steps give you the direction to get back in business.
  1. Discover The Underlying Problem
The most important step is to find out what's failing. Don't look at just the surface but rather the depth of the problem. Ultimately, your company cannot move forward until you identify and correct the underlying cause. This could be:
  • Staff leaving the project
  • Limited time dedicated to the project
  • Poor communication
  • Unclear expectations from clients and contractors
  • Limitations in the scope of the project
Once you understand the cause, formulate a solution to deal with that right now. Then, take steps to move the project in the right direction based on your findings.
  1. Put In Extra Time To Get Caught Up
A big problem with derailed projects is a lack of time invested. Sure, you may have a team investing 40 hours a week on the project, but if they are not actually working hard at achieving goals because of a lack of motivation or direction, those 40 hours are worthless. It may be necessary to begin tracking hours worked and compare these against the outcome. What's being accomplished within the hours dedicated to the project?
  1. Go Back To The Vision And Original Plan
In many situations, the heart of the problem stems from misdirection or changes related to the original plan. Are you no longer on scope? Is your project overrun in terms of budget because of the numerous changes present? It's a common situation that can stall a project immediately. Go back to the beginning project. Determine if your vision is clear, if it should be reassessed, or if you should go back to the client to realign project goals and specs.
  1. Take A Close Look At Resources
Are you just throwing extra people at the problem, and money, and hoping it fixes itself? Take a closer look at your resources:
  • Consider re-delegating and re-allocating people to the right tasks, those they are best suited for.
  • Spread out hard or time-consuming tasks among several people to get caught up
  • Identify those who are not contributing efficiently
Your resources are the bread and butter of your company and the project. Using them wisely is critical.
  1. Talk To Your Client

Even if you’ve caught the project before it collapsed, it’s important to bring the client in on what’s occurring and why. The client may need to make changes to the project or expectations. Having open communication here is critical.

Taking the time to analyze your project on a regular basis by tracking hours worked, progress, changes in costs, and other details can help ensure your project achieves the best outcome possible.

So Your Project Has Gotten Off Track: How to Keep Your Project on Track Going Forward

Any architecture or engineering project can get off track quickly. When your project slips off the original path or begins to fall behind, recognizing that it is happening and taking action to stop it is important. But what can you do to stop this problem from occurring again?

Recap the Problem

Now that the project is back on track and the fog has settled, you can begin to take inventory of what occurred and why. From here, you can keep the project on track while you also take steps to reduce the risk of the same problem occurring a second time. Determine what happened then analyze what you could have done to avoid it. Create an action plan that outlines the who, what, where, and how of how you’ll address this problem should it occur again. Apply the lessons you’ve learned going forward.

Tips for Keeping It Moving in the Right Direction

If you know what went wrong it’s easy to take steps to avoid that specific problem again. However, there’s more at risk in nearly all architecture and engineering projects. Much more can go wrong and delay or even halt the project again. These tips will help you to keep it going forward without further limitations.

  • Create very specific steps for the next phase of the project. Take more time to ensure that everyone on the project is on the same page. Invest more in the foundation of the project. Creating a very specific work plan can iron out many of these problems.
  • Free up some time to spend better managing the project. Of course, it is essential to manage your time on the project to ensure you do not go over the hours you budgeted for on the contract. However, it may keep the project more on track if you have more time to manage the details and the people involved.
  • Set milestones to check on progress at more frequent intervals. Don't allow projects to get too far out of your reach. By scheduling specific dates and times to review projects, you can check on the details more thoroughly without investing a great amount of time at the end of the project trying to fix the mistakes.
  • Always strive to keep your team working towards a solution. While you may have the management experience and know-how to ensure the job is done properly, be open to opinions. Get your team involved in finding creative solutions to unique project problems and limitations. Keep an open mind as much as possible on how to achieve results.

Regardless of why your architecture or engineering project fell behind, it’s possible to reevaluate the mistakes made and the solutions to ensure the rest of the project goes well. Ultimately, this is a learning experience that can help your architecture or engineering firm to move forward. Using the right tools, such as time and material tracking software can help you to remain in control going forward.

So Your Project Has Gotten Off Track: How to Tell Your Clients a Project Is Delayed

You planned well. You spent a good deal of time managing every component of the project. The bid was approved. The budget was in hand. Somehow, changes happened, communications slipped and you are delayed. Nearly every architect project can fall behind from time to time even when plans are well laid from the start. The key here is to know how to tell your client the project is delayed without putting it on the line. How can you avoid disappointing your client while still presenting the bad news?

Ensure You Are Protected

It’s easy to look back now and realize you should have taken different steps. Yet, it is important to avoid some complications from the start. 

  • Be sure your contracts outline key circumstances that could delay projects especially those you cannot control such as weather, material cost changes and availability, or client changes to the project scope.
  • Always create a realistic deadline, not one established to impress the client.
  • Add additional time into the project timeline.

When the project is about to get underway ensure these components are in place before you consider signing on the contract’s dotted line.

Be Upfront and Open with the Client

Let’s say a project has become delayed because of the change in scope presented by the client after the project got started. If you are tracking your team’s hours and managing the project timeline using documenting software, it is clear you’ll be able to show your client what’s happening and why. Be upfront with your client. If this change occurs, it is going to the delay the project by this amount of time.

Be Specific About the Problem

What is the delay? Perhaps you didn’t budget time wisely. There may be unknowns that required going back to the drawing board and starting over. It could be a lack of skilled team members or poor weather conditions. When it is your fault, state that. Whatever the cause, inform the client. By being misleading, you are creating a lack of trust not only in your management skills, but also in the finished project. That can cost you for years to come.

Keep the Client in the Loop

It’s also highly effective and beneficial to consider your client your team member not just the guy paying for the project. By including him or her into the planning process as well as any and all components of the project, the client is fully aware of why a delay is occurring, what it means to the deadline, and what he or she could do to avoid it. View your client as a part of the team from the start. Even if you are just now facing a delay, welcome your client into the office now and get everyone on the same page.

Ultimately, mistakes will happen. Budgets will need to stretch. Products may not arrive on time and you may even find that your clients are frustrated with the delay. By keeping the lines of communication open at all times you can keep that client’s confidence in you through the end of the project. Avoiding the client, making up excuses, or just not delivering as promised isn’t going to impress him or her or encourage them to work with you again.