Thursday 3 February 2022

Why are 90 percent of all projects not completed on time?

The activities that are classified as project activities are so different that it is sometimes difficult to assess the similarities between the two. For example, social activities such as corporate parties, picnics or weddings are also projects.

Construction works such as building a bridge, developing a residential complex, building a power plant, expanding the fiber optic network are also projects. Making a film, developing software, launching a marketing campaign for a new product, implementing ERP systems, or even relocating a family from one city to another - each of the examples mentioned have the following aspects:

The goal is unique and the result is original.

The effort required to achieve the desired results is temporary. That is, projects have start and finish dates, as opposed to permanent continuous operations. The non-standard nature of projects emphasizes the impact of uncertainty. Despite many uncertainties, project implementer must take into account three components and adhere to them - scale, timing of deliverables, and cost of implementation.
Given these components, there are also detailed compendiums of knowledge on how to manage these projects and the availability of software tools for project management, however, almost all projects may not be delivered on time. In other cases, there is flexibility regarding the content provided and/or costs. Why? It's about the human factor.

Estimating the duration of the project

Implied uncertainties in projects mean that the duration estimates used in planning are just forecasts. What is a forecast? A forecast is the time calculated on average and allocated to each job. But wait – using averages for time estimates means that the chances of completing the task earlier or later than the deadline are 50%. But no one will give such forecasts, which mean 50% failure.

In fact, the estimates are so knocked out – taking into account this uncertainty. The level of equating depends on how little the evaluator has been "burned" in the past on these roundings.

In addition to making predictions, each of the evaluators also adds rounding on the part of the general boss. For example, if three people work on different tasks rated at 5, 7 and 3 days, respectively, will the general manager note in the report that the total completion time is 15 days? Most likely not - he will probably write 20 days, that the investigation will be negotiated for up to 18 days.

If everything is as described above, and the project deadlines are already being pushed from the very beginning (by equating each task and then rounding at the highest level), then how many projects still cannot meet the deadline? There are two psychological mechanisms that prevent individual attempts to protect the project from uncertainty and cause the unsuitability of all the caution provided.

Student Syndrome

At the end of the lecture, the professor warns the students that they will take the test based on the fact that he taught them all week. What is the standard student response? They will protest because they are not ready, as they have been given little time... If the teacher makes concessions and gives another two weeks to prepare, will students immediately prepare for the test? Of course not, because if they are typical students, then they will prepare the night before the exam.

In projects where rounded time estimates are added, workers are usually delayed (most likely to be busy with things unrelated to work) until the very last moment and only then begin to work on the project. And as long as they work, Murphy's law will work. Since the added time has already been absorbed by the student syndrome, the assignment will not be completed on time. The next task will be forced to start late.

Parkinson's Law

Parkinson's Law states that work is stretched in such a way that it fills all the available time. How does this affect the time it takes to complete tasks? Imagine that you are assigned a task that needs to be completed in 7 days, and the work is only for 4 days - will the task be completed and transferred ahead of schedule? Probably not.

Because the estimated timelines have been agreed upon, ending the task prematurely will mean that all subsequent evaluations may also have been false and may have been shortened by the supervisor. To avoid this, instead of reporting the early completion of all tasks, workers will spend the remaining time performing additional checks and giving a more beautiful look to the work, which is not required in the instructions.

As a result, it will turn out that the time won will be wasted.

Integration Requirements

In many projects, the final stage is the integration of the results of all the execution chains. Imagine a specific project where the last stage is the integration of the results of the five chains of work. Imagine that the estimates of all five chains are such that there is an 80% probability of completing each on time. What is the probability that the integration will begin on time?

In order for integration to start on time, all five circuits of work must be completed. The probability that one of the circuits will be completed on time is 80%. The probability that two will be completed on time is 80% x 80%, which is 64%. The probability that four will be completed on time is 64% x 64%, which is approximately 40%. The probability of five, respectively, equal to 33%! So it's likely that the start of integration is late. Given this in real life, projects can be much more complex, and integration usually involves more than five chains of work, which is clearly the reason for the delays.

Multi-project work environment

The next way to kill time is in a multi-project work environment (software development companies, construction companies, engineering department), where more than one project is executed in parallel and resources are divided between them - this is called multitasking.

The result of a loss of focus combined with a constant "setting" of requirements leads to the late delivery of the project on which work was carried out.


We have shown you that standard project duration forecasts are rounded up to prevent uncertainty. However, the combination of student syndrome and Parkinson's law leads to a filtering out of all the time gained by this rounding of grades.

In addition, the need to integrate many projects and the presence of "inappropriate" multitasking in a multi-project environment lead to delays, which is almost fraught with missing deadlines.

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