When it comes to project management, time is often the most important resource in a project manager’s toolbox. From managing team members’ schedules to balancing multiple deadlines, project managers are responsible for juggling several variables to ensure that projects are delivered on time — no matter what.
But, what happens when a project deadline is quickly approaching and it’s evident that a project won’t be completed on schedule? Project managers can turn to two schedule compression techniques called fast tracking and project crashing that speed up project completion and boost their chances of hitting those critical deadlines.
In this post, you’ll learn about both fast tracking and project crashing, as well as the key benefits and risks associated with fast tracking.
Let’s get into it.
What is fast tracking in project management?
Fast tracking is a schedule compression technique that, as its name implies, speeds up the completion and shortens the duration of a project without changing the scope. While usually separate components of a project are completed sequentially (one after the other) fast tracking means that different tasks are completed at the same time, parallel to one another.
For example, say a landing page project for a software company needs to be done by the end of next week but isn’t close to being finished. While the web designer would usually wait for copy to be completed and approved, the project manager could use fast tracking to have the web designer start their work with placeholder copy while the copywriter is still actively working on final copy. As the copywriter’s work is completed and approved, the web designer can incorporate the copy into their designs and wireframes. Using the fast-tracking method, the project manager has compressed the timeframe needed to complete the project.
Something important to note is that fast tracking can only be used for tasks that can realistically be performed simultaneously. For example, the copywriter in the above scenario wouldn’t be able to work on their copy if they didn’t have a project brief yet or if they were still waiting on the messaging information from product managers. Fast tracking is only possible if the tasks are not completely dependent and can be worked on at the same time. If not, the project manager will need to adjust the timeline accordingly.
Benefits and advantages of fast tracking
There are numerous benefits to fast tracking.
Accelerated project completion
The most obvious benefit to fast tracking is the ability to speed up project timelines to hit deadlines.
No reduction in scope
While other methods of speeding up project completion might rely on cutting out parts of the project, fast tracking operates without a reduction in scope.
No added cost
Since fast tracking just involves changing the order and sequence of certain tasks within a project, there are usually no additional costs or expenses involved.
Freed up resources
Using fast tracking correctly frees up team members’ time so they can work on other projects sooner.
Fast tracking can lead to the completion of more projects in a shorter period of time, which can result in higher revenue for the company.
Ultimately, fast tracking is a helpful strategy for project managers that doesn’t compromise project scope or add extra costs. By speeding up project completion, fast tracking helps organizations meet deadlines, free up valuable resources quicker, and potentially boost overall profits in the long run.
Risks of fast tracking
Like any project management strategy, project managers must weigh the benefits of fast tracking with the risks.
When multiple tasks are being completed at the same time, there’s a chance that some work is going to need to be edited or reworked before the project is complete. For example, the web designer in the scenario above may need to redo portions of their design to accommodate the finalized copy.
Continually using fast tracking can cause employees to feel overworked and overwhelmed since they’re completing more work within shorter deadlines and experiencing an increased sense of urgency that accompanies condensed timelines. This might result in decreased productivity and employee morale.
Decreased quality of work
With multiple tasks being completed at once, it can be easy for things to fall through the cracks or get missed by project managers. The accelerated deadlines associated with fast tracking can also reduce the amount of reviews and quality assurance checks that would normally happen with a project.
While fast tracking has countless benefits, project managers need to have solid plans in place to mitigate some of the risks mentioned above. For example, project managers should ensure team members have clear roles and responsibilities, that well-defined project milestones are in place, and that there’s increased communication between team members.
What is project crashing?
Project crashing (also referred to simply as “crashing”) is another schedule compression technique often used by project managers. Project crashing involves bringing in additional resources or reducing the project’s scope to accelerate completion at the lowest possible cost.
For example, using the same copywriter and web designer example as before, the project manager could use project crashing to bring in an additional employee or freelancer to get the web page project done faster. When analyzing the costs and impacts, they might have concluded that hiring a copywriter to accelerate the writing portion of the project is less expensive than hiring an additional web designer while having the same impact on the project timeline.
Fast tracking vs. project crashing
Fast tracking and project crashing are both valuable methods for project managers looking to compress deadlines and make sure their teams hit crucial project milestones. In this section, we’ll compare the key similarities and differences between fast tracking and project crashing so you can determine when to use either (or both).
Main objective or goal
The main purpose of fast tracking is to reduce a project’s timeline by having multiple tasks worked on at the same time, in parallel, rather than one after the other.
Project crashing’s main objective is to speed up the completion of a project by adding resources (such as additional workers or tools), without changing the scope or sequence.
Impact on timeline
Since project tasks overlap and happen at the same time, fast tracking usually shortens the project’s duration more significantly than project crashing.
Project crashing speeds up the time spent on each component of the project, but usually doesn’t have as big of an impact on the overall project duration.
Since tasks are just being completed at the same time, with no change to scope or resources, fast tracking does not require any additional expenses or costs.
Project crashing requires additional resources to be brought into the project. Whether access to additional tools and technology, freelance workers, or team members from other departments in the organization, project crashing involves extra costs.
With tasks being completed at the same time, issues can arise. If a problem comes up with one part of the project that impacts another task, there can be a domino effect that causes delays when changes need to be made.
As it doesn’t modify task dependencies or the order of a project’s milestone completion, project crashing is less risky than fast tracking.
Since there’s often a sense of urgency associated with fast tracking, as well as multiple tasks being completed at the same time, there’s a higher risk of mistakes and issues with quality.
While project crashing shouldn’t impact the quality of work too significantly, this is always a risk when bringing in individuals (freelancers, other team members, etc.) mid-way through a project who don’t have as much information and context as those who have been working on the project for a longer time.
Living life in the fast lane
There are benefits and disadvantages to both fast tracking and project tracking. Depending on the nuances and specifics of your unique project, you’ll need to consider your main goals, exact timeline, available resources, and just how much you need to compress the project’s schedule before deciding if you want to use fast tracking, project crashing, or a combination of the two. Plus, you’ll need to consider overall risks, benefits, and any compromises that will need to be made.
Whatever you conclude, the goal of both fast tracking and project crashing is the same: delivering a high-quality project by its deadline.