You’ve mapped out a detailed plan for a major client project, calculating schedule variance and finalizing the budget. At first, everything goes well and you make great headway in the first few weeks.
Yet, as you get closer to the finish line, you realize it’s arriving far sooner than you anticipated and your progress isn’t at the level you accounted for.
This is a typical scenario in project management, since even the most calculated schedules can buckle under the pressure of changing circumstances, looming deadlines, and client expectations.
Fortunately, there are several ways to compress your project timeline and reach the finish line on time with your original schedule.
In this guide, we’ll explore the ins and outs of fast-tracking and crashing: two techniques to accelerate the rate of progress with an ongoing project and ensure you hit your rapidly approaching deadlines.
What is fast-tracking in project management?
Time management is a cornerstone of effective project management, and fast-tracking is a technique you can turn to when you’re in a pinch.
Fast-tracking in project management is a form of schedule compression in which you focus on completing multiple tasks simultaneously.
In project management, it’s logical to see tasks as a series of dominoes, with the last one paving the way for the next. This sequential approach to completing tasks and projects is easy to set up with Kanban boards, while automating task dependencies ensures everyone on the team is updated when it’s their turn to add input.
When you’re in a rush, this sequential system can cost you valuable time, which is the exact moment in which you might consider fast-tracking. Once there are no longer any dominoes to fall in a project — that is to say, there are no longer any task dependencies — you can fast-track it.
Think of fast-tracking project management as a short-distance sprint to the finish. While a relay race helps you be thorough and ensure each baton is passed on only when it’s ready for the next person, this system no longer serves you when time is running out and the baton is no longer necessary.
If you have any doubts about this process, you can explore Wrike’s fast-tracking FAQs for more information.
You’re designing a website and the process can be broken down into several components:
- Graphic design
- Backend coding
- Website copywriting
You take stock of the project once underway and realize that, at the current rate of progress, the date you earmarked for the website launch will arrive before you’re ready. At this point, you have a decision to make.
The backend coding is almost finished so you have the basic infrastructure for the website in place. As such, it’s the graphic design and website copywriting that need to be finished in a short timeframe.
In this instance, you can evaluate whether both tasks can be completed concurrently. If so, you could decide to fast-track the project and have your copywriting and design teams work together to finish their tasks at the same time, thereby hitting your deadline.
What is crashing in project management?
Project crashing is similar to fast-tracking, in that you’ll switch from a sequential to a simultaneous approach when completing tasks. The main difference with crashing is that you’re trying to compress the project schedule by sourcing additional resources.
Attaining resources doesn’t necessarily mean throwing money at the problem, either.
Here are several ways you can implement crashing in project management and accelerate progress:
- Financial incentive schemes
- Extra team members
As outlined in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), by dedicating extra money, time, or labor to the project, you can rush to complete several tasks simultaneously and get back on course to finish on time.
You can consult Wrike’s project crashing FAQs to clear up any doubts you may have about the process.
Let’s say you’re returning to the office after a long absence and it’s your responsibility to make sure everything is in order to support employee productivity from day one.
The main item on your to-do list is to install a new Wi-Fi network that will boost internet speeds and help office workers complete their day-to-day tasks efficiently.
You’ve reached out to the contractors — a team of two — and they estimate it will take the whole day to get everything set up. The trouble is, you want to go in and test the new system in the evening ahead of everyone’s return to the office the next day.
In this case, you can implement project crashing by hiring an additional two contractors with the idea that the project will be completed in half the time. That way, the Wi-Fi network should be ready to go when you arrive early in the evening.
Fast-tracking vs. crashing: Key differences
Both fast-tracking and crashing involve shifting from completing tasks sequentially to simultaneously. Yet the methods by which you make this change differ with the two techniques.
Here are the key differences between fast-tracking and crashing in project management:
- Crashing can be a last resort: While fast-tracking and crashing are both techniques you can use to finish off a project quickly, crashing is viewed as more of a last resort. When you’ve tried fast-tracking project management and are still set to fall short of the deadline, you can implement crashing and inject more resources to make sure the job gets done on time.
- Fast-tracking can represent a greater risk: With fast-tracking, you’re relying on the current team members to work at a faster pace to get the project done quickly. As such, you run the risk of burnout, unlike with crashing whereby you could allocate more resources or source more team members.
- Cost is a factor with crashing: If you decide crashing is the best way to finish up your project, cost will be a key factor. The idea is to incur the least incremental cost, so that you don’t exceed your project budget by a significant margin. With fast-tracking, cost isn’t necessarily taken into account.
Four steps for fast-tracking and crashing projects
If you want to implement either of these two schedule compression techniques in your project, there’s a framework you can follow. There are various stages to consider, from identifying the critical path to tinkering with your project schedule and evaluating how everything went.
Read on to discover the four key steps you’ll need to take to accelerate project progress and hit your deadlines with fast-tracking and crashing.
1. Identify the critical path
In any given project, there’ll be a critical path that determines what the high-priority tasks are and how they’re connected.
Any task that features in your critical path is one that will have a direct impact on your ability to finish the project on time. As a result, identifying the critical path for your project is essential for making sure the timeframe doesn’t get out of your hands.
Outlining the critical path for a project will also inform how to execute a project schedule compression technique, as it sheds light on the most important time-sensitive tasks.
To identify the critical path, here’s what you’ll have to do in the project scheduling phase:
- Highlight the primary deliverables associated with the project
- Map out the task dependencies so you can see which tasks must be completed before advancing
- Visualize the critical path in a Gantt chart so you can easily reference it as you progress and assess opportunities for fast-tracking or crashing
It’s also a good idea to find out what additional resources can be made available for the project, so if you do need to rush to the finish line you know you have the means to do so.
2. Adjust the project schedule
Once you’ve gone through the process of plotting out your critical path and visualizing it, you can start to calculate your timeline.
The first step in establishing your project schedule is to provide an estimate for how long each task in the critical path will take to complete. From here, you have a clear idea of how long the project will take from start to finish.
When you have all your tasks laid out visually in a Gantt chart, any adjustments you need to make on the fly will be straightforward. Plus, in the case that you need to fast-track or crash the project, you can simply drag and drop the tasks so they share the same timeframe.
3. Monitor and assess
Once you’ve pushed the button and decided to go ahead with fast-tracking or crashing, you can use the Gantt chart to monitor and assess progress.
Even with these schedule compression techniques, there’s no guarantee you’ll finish the project on time. You may need to manage your team more closely to ensure you tie up all loose ends and successfully execute the fast-tracked project.
If you were to tell your team to fast-track your current project and then take a hands-off approach, you run the risk of producing a poor-quality end result. Don’t let the condensed timeframe allow lower standards to creep in.
If you decide to crash the project, you’ll also want to evaluate the incremental cost and make sure you’re not using an excessive amount of resources.
4. Reflect on what went well and what didn’t
Once the project has been completed, it’s time to check in and take stock of how everything went.
There’s an art to fast-tracking or crashing a project, since it can be a balancing act involving time, money, and the quality of the work involved. There’s also team member burnout and other factors that can play a part.
As such, make sure to take time after fast-tracking a project to ensure your approach is sustainable and will be effective the next time around.
Specifically, take note of how many additional resources you committed to the project, whether team member productivity took a hit immediately after completion, and whether the quality of the work produced met expected standards.
Potential risks and downsides of fast-tracking and crashing projects
For all the upsides of fast-tracking or crashing a project, there are downsides to consider, too.
In the short term, often all that matters is making sure you complete the project according to your initial estimates to keep stakeholders and clients satisfied. Since your company will be judged on its professionalism, timing can be everything.
However, rushing projects to completion can have a knock-on impact on everything from the team members to the standard of work you produce. In the long term, these schedule compression techniques can cause harm if you don’t take a considered approach.
Employee burnout is a very real risk whenever you decide to sprint to the finish line with a project.
As a project manager, it’s your duty to use the resources at your disposal responsibly. There will inevitably be times when fast-tracking or crashing a project is the only solution, but a potential consequence of over-committing human resources can lead to bigger issues.
The easiest way to prevent burnout is to be proactive and use a project management tool to reallocate team member time and workloads as necessary. With proper project schedule management and resource allocation features, it’s easy to move tasks and responsibilities around to ensure that you don’t overburden your team members.
By closely monitoring progress when you enter the fast-tracking process, you can stay on top of potential issues and spread the workload out as evenly as possible.
During the project planning phase, you’ll likely have drawn up a budget for the project. In an ideal world, you’d stay within this budget for the duration of the project. However, when timeframes are disrupted and you have to rush a project, there’s a high probability of an increase in spending.
This is especially true of crashing, as this technique requires you to pour additional resources into the project. To avoid exceeding the outlined budget by a large margin, you can account for additional spending during the planning phase.
Over time, based on your evaluations of previous fast-tracked projects, you’ll be able to work out how much extra money you might need in case the project timeline has to be adjusted.
You should also try to keep stakeholders up to date as you progress through the project by adjusting the budget according to real-time changes.
Poor quality of work
It’s no secret that rushing to get something done will often result in a poorer quality of work. This doesn’t have to be the case, though.
To make sure your team members don’t start cutting corners and blitzing through tasks to get done on time, you have to remind everyone of the expected standards as you go.
Quality assurance is key for effective fast-tracking and crashing. If you don’t have the time to spare to go over your team’s work, assign the job to someone who can.
Wrike is ideal for managing Agile timelines
A robust project management solution such as Wrike allows project managers to take a proactive approach to managing timelines, so you’re less likely to miss milestones and deadlines.
One of the best ways to fast-track a project effectively is to visualize your critical path and the tasks that make it up. That way, you can allocate your resources as necessary in real time and oversee the successful completion of the project.
With Wrike, you can use a Gantt chart to shift around task priorities, adapt to real-time changes, and effectively communicate new requirements to the whole team.
Plus, everyone in the team will be instantly notified of any changes you make to the project and open up the Gantt chart to see how that affects their workload and responsibilities.
The dynamic timeline allows you to do the following:
- Rely on intelligent critical path analysis to identify bottlenecks
- View project progress as a whole and make changes on the fly
- See where key task dependencies are
- Adjust timeframes and drag and drop tasks as necessary
Here are some other Wrike features that can help you compress your project timeline:
- Smart approvals: Since the quality of work can suffer when you fast-track or crash a project, you need a reliable way of implementing quality assurance measures to keep standards high. Wrike’s smart approvals provide just that: a frictionless way to quickly review and approve items.
- Kanban boards: Kanban board task management helps everyone on the team know exactly what’s on their plate at any given time. It’s a visual way of organizing and prioritizing tasks, and you can adjust them to quickly reflect new task priorities.
- Task and process automation: Automation is key in project management, since it saves valuable time. With automation, as soon as a team member is finished with a task, it will arrive in your inbox ready for review.
Want to try Wrike’s project management software for yourself? Start your free two-week trial today.