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Managing Project Lead Times and Long Lead Items

On Oct 5, 2020

Whether you are relatively new to managing a project or are a seasoned pro, understanding the many steps that go into executing a project timely and successfully is critical. Having an established timeline is key in keeping all the components of your project on track. Here we will discuss the importance of an established project timeline, the issues that can arise without proper planning, and ways to avoid them. For our purposes this will be tailored towards manufacturing project management. 


As you can imagine, a lot rides on successfully pulling off a project. Your customer wants to know they can trust you to deliver a quality product on time. Your customer’s reputation could be damaged if they put their faith in your business and you cannot deliver. But having a well-organized plan and clearly communicating that plan and your expectations with other team members can make the process less stressful. Having internal timelines allows you to more easily take on and manage more projects at a time. It can also allow you to more easily change gears and stay organized when a customer requests changes or brings up unforeseen requirements. However, even with a well thought out plan you will undoubtably encounter some unforeseen circumstances that could derail your progress if you are not prepared for them.


Depending on the scope of your project, it may have been designed to incorporate specific and rare components with long lead times. If your project incorporates custom made parts or modifications to existing parts, you are relying on your subcontractor to deliver these on time. Any problems or errors they run into will ultimately affect your timeline if you do not have extra time built in as a cushion for these unforeseen circumstances. You may also encounter situations where a distributor who had previously committed to delivering a component on time ran into a problem with their supply chain. 


Once you are aware of these potential threats you can take certain precautions to avoid them sabotaging your goals. It is important to identify long lead times as early as possible and order these components in advance if you can. Work with your suppliers and build a good working relationship with them so they know you are a serious and committed customer. Then you can ask them to commit to you as a customer and request they stock some of the long lead parts you know you will need in the future. When it comes to custom parts, part modifications and post process finishes have all necessary files, instructions, and paperwork lined up before your subcontractor even has the parts in-hand. Work out the kinks with your suppliers and subcontractors and make sure they are clear on the expectation before they even get the parts to modify for you. This will make the hand-off a quick and smooth procedure. Above all else, track your progress and mark down your checkpoints and tasks using a project management tool. This could be as simple as a spreadsheet or calendar, depending on the complexity of your project. You will find this will save you from missing deadlines, forgetting tasks, or slipping on quality time and time again.

Time is both a valuable and limited resource. Do not abuse it and practice all those time management skills you learned in school. You’ll find it will help you considerably in being more productive, feeling less stressed, being more professional and prepared in meetings with management and customers, and overall, having more confidence in your own abilities.

Looking for a partner who understands the importance of your timeline and project requirements? Contact us today to see how Ball Systems can help with your build-to-print, software, custom engineering or test system needs.

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