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No project exists without a firm deadline or a specific budget. If yours does, then you can stop reading here. But in today’s economic and competitive environment, tackling a major project is more difficult than ever. So how can a company take on a capital-intensive project? Whether a project is in the planning phase or the deadline was yesterday, these tips can guide any project to the finish line:

1. Develop a master plan

At the center of every new project should be a master project plan. A good project plan is complete prior to starting and includes detailed tasks, resources responsible for those tasks, expected start and completion dates, and up-to-date statuses. Enable project resources to regularly update their tasks and assign realistic deadlines for each one. Doing so will allow a project manager to accurately track the timeline of the project.

Once a project plan is complete, identify tasks that can be accomplished before kickoff. If budgets are set, this may be executing contracts or locating project space. In an ERP implementation, begin collecting data sets for conversion, setting up new environments, or writing test scripts. For acquisition integration, start gathering and mapping current and future state roles. There is usually an opportunity to complete work ahead of schedule. Find the tasks that don’t have dependencies or may require a long lead-time. These will allow for a head start.

2. Open the lines of communication

It’s a given that tensions will be high when a deadline is looming on a project team. Don’t let high stakes or emotions impede on open lines of communication. The result of bringing an issue to light should be praise and gratitude. The sooner an obstacle is identified, the faster the project can move forward.

Communicating to the right people is equally as important as the communication itself. Create a project governance model to establish lines of communication to key resources. Without structured communication, the organization will not view the project as significant. Management will miss steering committee meetings and team members will sit in meetings saying, “No update.” Keep the project under control and lines of communication open by setting monthly or quarterly updates for steering committees and weekly status updates with the project team. This will provide clarity into project progress without spending too much time catching people up on unnecessary details.

3. Build in flexible decision making

A byproduct of open communication and key stakeholder involvement is flexibility in decision making, which is vital to moving a project forward. When both are established correctly, issues/roadblocks will be addressed promptly. Set guiding principles early and allow key project members to make decisions and purchases. Often, executing a contract to make a small purchase can be the bottleneck in a much larger process. By setting appropriate delegation of authority limits and approvals, project team members can quickly gather necessary resources to keep the project moving forward.

While all decisions are not created equal, it’s important to identify and document those of high priority. Documenting a decision and the parties responsible holds department leads accountable. When clearly documented, a decision becomes more tangible and serves as a point of reference for future questions around the decision. A detailed decisions log may take time initially, but will save debate or disagreement going forward.

4. Prioritize compliance

Regulatory and compliance-related tasks should be at the top of every project manager’s list. While deadlines and budgets are much easier to forecast and change, failure to meet regulatory/compliance requirements can lead to serious problems. Prioritize compliance portions of the project and track their dependencies to control risk.

What often leads to missed deadlines and overspending are project additions that were not part of the initial plan. Once a project has begun, it seems easy to expand the scope and improve other areas. If the resources are already there and funds are available, why not make a bigger impact? Say no! With any project, there are necessities and nice-to-haves. As simple as it sounds, identifying each one can be the difference between success and failure.

After audit risks, identify the key components for day-to-day operations. If there are items that can be completed once the project is finished, determine the implications and likelihood of completion.

5. Have a contingency plan

There is a pivotal point in every project where a go/no-go decision must be made. If the project is going to exceed the given timeline or go over budget, it’s critical to communicate this at the earliest sign and plan accordingly. Even before a project reaches this point, it’s important to identify what causes this to happen in the first place. More frequently than not, external factors set a contingency plan in motion. Project team members will be pulled back into their day jobs and project tasks will no longer be a priority. Prevent these distractions where possible by transitioning or backfilling these tasks.

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