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How to Turn Project Delays Into Successful Launches

How to navigate project delays to success

My launch was just pushed, but I’m not panicking. Instead, I’m using the project delay to my advantage. Here’s how.

I had a bit of an unwelcome surprise last week.

For the last thirteen months, I’ve been working on a passion project to publish my first book. Glue has been scheduled to launch on March 8th, 2022. Unfortunately, with under three weeks left to the release date, the printer informed us that the physical books will not be ready in time due to supply chain issues that are affecting every publisher.

I’ll admit that the project leader in me was alarmed when I first heard the news. I’ve managed hundreds of software projects of greater complexity, and I was taken aback at the idea that my book could be considered unsuccessful if I delayed its release date.

My initial instinct was to push forward. I wanted to explore options for negotiating scope, time, and resources to keep us on-track. After all, effective project leaders always keep projects on track, right?

Wrong. Project delays happen to the best of us.

In my twenty years of experience leading projects, I’ve never worked on a project that has gone obediently as planned. Regardless of whether the project was a book launch, a home remodeling project, a wedding, or a software feature release– all complex projects face uncertainty; There will always be surprises that you cannot predict, even with the most careful planning.

Sometimes that means the launch date gets delayed.

Based on my experience however, I’ve learned that it is not the delay that will sink a project, but rather the mishandling of a delay.

Project delays can be a blessing rather than a curse. It all comes down to how you navigate the challenge.

If your project has just been delayed, don’t panic. Here are a few steps you can take to create successful outcomes.

Evaluate the impact of project delays on your long term goals

“We should never change our minds about where we are going, but always be curious about different ways to get there.”

Simon Sinek

Before reacting to the delay of my book launch, I decided to take the mature approach– I slept on it.

Taking a step back and letting the idea of a delay sit with me for a bit allowed me to feel less emotionally attached to the date, and more rational about how to proceed.

To me, a successful book launch meant I would be able to drive high engagement, long-term recognition, and sales for the book. None of those results were date-dependent.

The biggest detriment was actually my emotional response to waiting a few more weeks. When I let go of my expectations for a specific date, I was able to embrace the new launch.

If your project launch has been delayed, I recommend taking a similar approach. Take a step back and think about the role the launch date plays in the long-term success of the project.

On software projects in an Agile environment, oftentimes the target launch date is an internal date rather than a hard deadline. Ask your project sponsor about the true impact of a delay before you start to negotiate scope or resources to keep it.

You may find that the date has less to do with the long-term success than it does with perception. Realizing this will allow you to frame your new launch date in terms of how to turn the delay into a win rather than a loss.

Maximize the upside of a delay

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Henry Ford

When I stopped clinging to the launch date for dear life, I was able to mitigate the possible negative impact of a delay while maximizing the upsides.

Playing out the project delay allowed me to recognize that the disadvantages were pretty minimal.

People who had pre-ordered my book would have to wait a few extra weeks, but it was unlikely many of them were anchored to the release date. Because my book was already in preorder, a three week delay would not have a negative impact on overall book sales.

On the plus side, more time would allow me to distribute advanced reader copies to the people who were enthusiastically paying attention to my book’s launch— people who could write reviews to give the book more credibility. That was a luxury I didn’t have with my original date.

Offering advanced reader copies would mitigate the negative impact of the delay while boosting my chances for success.

Once your launch date has been pushed, you may be tempted to relax or focus on other things while you wait for the launch. This is a mistake.

While you don’t want to elicit risky scope creep during this time, you do want to determine post-launch activities you could be pulling forward that could further boost your launch.

For a software project, a launch delay might create opportunity to perform additional testing that you didn’t originally have time to do, fix sub-optimal bugs, prepare your marketing, or conduct training for stakeholders that will need to support your product.

Choose beneficial items to pull forward that also mitigate risk to your new launch date.

Using the extra time wisely can set you up for even greater success.

Bullseye Target
Photo Credit: Silvan Arnet via Unsplash

Set a new launch date, once and for all

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

Maya Angelou

When a project launch date gets pushed repeatedly, stakeholders lose confidence and enthusiasm for the project very. As a result, projects that get delayed more than once are often perceived as a failure.

For my book launch, we were able to choose a launch date of March 29th, a date we felt pretty sure we could hit based on our printer’s updates. Now that we have settled on that date, I will use what I’ve learned to make sure to stick it. The last thing I want is for readers to lose confidence in me.

The same rule should apply to you. When you choose a new launch date, make sure that the new date is something you can stick with a high level of certainty.

Use what you’ve learned to re-evaluate dependencies and confirm with you haven’t overlooked any other critical steps. You missed something the first time you charted your launch, does that learning help you uncover to other risks the second time around? Consult with your team to choose a date you can safely land.

Lead your team through change

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road… unless you fail to make the turn.”

Helen Keller

As a project leader, it’s not your job to block change from happening. Change is inevitable. It’s your job to keep your team abreast of adjustments, and then lead them through the changes.

Once you’ve committed to a new launch date, help your team internalize the change by communicating with every person, through every medium that you have available to you.

Explain why the change is happening, why it’s important and what their role is in embracing that change for success. Repeat often up to your new launch date to ensure your team stays on the journey with you.

For my book launch, I will post to social media outlets and use the delay as an opportunity to recruit advanced readers. Those who have been watching and anticipating my book launch will now be able to sign up to receive a free, signed copy. That will drum up excitement for the actual launch and bring my readers along in the journey with me.

Ultimately, I’m using the new launch date as an advantage rather than a detriment and I’m keeping my readers engaged in the process. If you are able to do the same for your delayed projects, you will be successful even when you don’t hit your original date.

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