Fast tracking vs crashing: A schedule compression guide

Sarah Laoyan contributor headshotSarah Laoyan
November 14th, 2023
8 min read
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Summary

If your project deadline is approaching and you realize there’s no way you can complete it on time, don’t worry. There are a few common project management schedule compression techniques you can try. In this article we discuss how fast tracking and crashing can help expedite your project timeline.

Your project deadline is quickly approaching, and after several rounds of analysis you realize that your team won’t be able to hit the project objectives at the current rate. As a project manager, this can be a stressful scenario to encounter. 

Luckily, there are a few project management schedule compression techniques that you can use. In this article, we discuss fast tracking vs crashing, and when to use them to compress your project timeline.

What is schedule compression?

Schedule compression is a project management technique used to reduce the time needed to complete a project. This time-saving strategy is used when a project needs to be completed sooner than anticipated or is running behind schedule. It involves evaluating the original schedule and workflow to identify ways to speed up tasks without missing any project goals. The main methods used for schedule compression are fast tracking and project crashing. 

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What is fast tracking?

Fast tracking means changing the project schedule so that certain tasks overlap and are done concurrently, rather than sequentially. You can only fast track a project if there are no dependencies between the tasks that still need to be completed.

To visualize this, imagine a Gantt chart with two tasks: one of them is in progress, and the other is not set to start until after the previous one is completed. Fast tracking moves the second task so it is running directly parallel to the first so both tasks are being completed at the same time. It’s important to note that this can only be done if the second task is not dependent on the first. 

Use the fast tracking technique when a project is at risk of not being completed within the deadline. 

Read: 7 common project risks and how to prevent them

What is project crashing?

Project crashing is a schedule compression technique in which you bring in additional resources to complete two tasks simultaneously. The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) defines the crashing technique as a way to shorten your project schedule for the least incremental cost. The least incremental cost is how much it would cost to add one additional unit of product being produced. This can be challenging to measure in an industry like software development, but can be easily tracked in production related industries such as manufacturing. 

Fast tracking vs crashing

Choosing between fast tracking and crashing depends on the project's needs and available assets. Fast tracking is often the first approach when time is pressed, as it doesn’t typically require extra resources—just a reshuffle of activities to happen in parallel. However, it increases the risk of errors since multiple tasks are being handled at once. Project crashing, on the other hand, is resource-intensive, calling for extra hands or hours, but it can be more controlled and less risky in terms of task management.

For instance, on a construction project, if the foundation work is ahead of schedule, you might fast-track by beginning the framing phase concurrently rather than waiting for the foundation to be fully completed. But if the framing phase itself is behind, you might crash the project by bringing in additional crews to work extended hours to meet the original schedule. The choice relies on whether the project can accommodate the increased risk and coordination needs of fast tracking or if it has the budget to support the extra resources of crashing.

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When should you use fast-tracking or crashing?

These project schedule compression techniques are commonly used when a project is not on track to meet a deadline. Using both fast tracking and crashing simultaneously can expedite your project delivery. 

Though using both techniques together is the best way to expedite project delivery, you can also use only one technique if necessary. For example, if you don’t have the budget to hire more team members, project crashing may not be possible. Your team may have to resort to working double time or pulling team members from other teams for fast tracking.

Read: If you like maximizing team impact, you’ll love resource allocation

What are the benefits of fast tracking project management?

From tightening schedules to improving client relations, fast tracking stands out as a strategic approach with many advantages. Add these key benefits of fast tracking to your project planning toolkit.

Shorter project timelines

Fast tracking can significantly reduce the overall duration of a project. By overlapping tasks that were initially planned to start one after the other, project managers can shave days, weeks, or even months off their original schedules.

Better use of resources

Fast tracking can lead to a more efficient use of resources. When tasks overlap, teams and equipment can be used without interruption, potentially reducing the time they are required.

Enhanced client satisfaction

Delivering a project more quickly often leads to happier clients. By showing the ability to meet or exceed time constraints, project managers can enhance client relationships and build trust.

Competitive advantage

Being able to complete projects faster can set an organization apart from its competitors. When clients need results quickly, this speed can be a big selling point that helps you get the job.

Mitigation of potential delays

Fast tracking can be a preventative measure against potential delays. Moving some tasks ahead of schedule creates a buffer that can be helpful if unexpected delays happen later in the project.

Potential downsides of fast tracking and crashing projects

Although they are common project management techniques to keep your project duration within deadlines, fast tracking and crashing projects should not be the norm. These techniques can be helpful in a pinch, but they do come with a few downsides.

Increased risk of team burnout

The primary risk of fast tracking is that it's much more likely your team will be spread thin. Team members anticipate taking on a certain amount of tasks in the beginning of the project, but as you fast track, they may have to take on additional and unexpected work. This in turn can increase the risk of burnout

One way to prevent this from happening is to use a project management tool that makes it easy to monitor progress and track what's on your team's plate. Using project management software that identifies your team’s workload can help you visualize who is available, and who needs help getting work done.

Higher costs

The goal of project crashing is to bring in additional resources so you can move more quickly to hit your deadline. This typically means increased costs in the form of additional headcount for your team. While the goal of crashing is to use the least incremental cost possible, it’s still likely that those additional costs can push your project over budget.

An easy way to prevent a project from going over budget is to include budget updates in regular status updates. This keeps project managers and other stakeholders aware of any budget constraints as they happen.

Lower quality work

With multiple tasks happening simultaneously, it can become a challenge for project managers to keep tabs on all of the project deliverables. Depending on the resources you have and your team's bandwidth, the quality of work can drop just by the nature of moving more quickly. 

To counteract this, set aside some resources specifically for quality assurance. Adding in an extra layer of review can prevent your team from producing lower quality work. 

How to fast track or crash a project schedule

If you're in a crunch and need to compress your project timeline, here are the basic steps you'll need to take. 

1. Identify your project needs

Before you can condense your project timeline, it's important to identify how your project is progressing in its current state. Here are a few questions that you should answer as project manager:

  • How much time needs to be saved? Identifying how much time needs to be saved can help you determine how little (or how much) you need to fast track and crash your project timeline. 

  • Are there any tasks on the critical path that cannot be overlapped? Keep the tasks on the critical path in one track, but consider rescheduling any other tasks that aren't dependent on the critical path so they’re worked on simultaneously.

  • Are there any additional resources available for me to use? Based on your resource management plan, do you have any additional resources available? This could mean additional room in the budget to hire external support or additional team members to lend a hand. 

Example of a project before fast tracking:

A design team is working on a brand redesign project. In their initial timeline, designers were set to refresh different assets one after the other as soon as the new brand guidelines were established. After looking at the timeline in their project management tool, the team reschedules designers to work simultaneously to refresh branded assets so that the project takes less time.

2. Adjust the project schedule

Based on the needs that you identified in the previous step, reconfigure your project schedule so it fits your compressed timeline.

To visualize this process, use a Gantt chart. A Gantt chart is a horizontal bar chart used to illustrate the timeline of different tasks in a project. In one line of tasks, you can show the critical path activities that need to be done, and in a separate but parallel line of tasks, show all of the other items that need to be completed. 

Visualizing the project is a simple way to alert project stakeholders about changes in the timeline, and also show who is doing what by when.

Before fast tracking:

[Old Product UI] Project in Asana before fast tracking (Timeline View)

After fast tracking:

[Old Product UI] A project in Asana after fast tracking (Timeline View)
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3. Monitor performance

With your fast-tracked project now underway, it's time to monitor performance. If you added additional team members to compress the project timeline, ensure that they're aware of the current project scope, schedule, and duration. Monitor progress to ensure that the quality of the work is still up to your project team's standards. Take the time to regularly check in with deliverables and tasks to ensure the project is still up to your expectations.

In addition to evaluating the quality of work, monitor your project cost. The most common tradeoff of the crashing technique is the additional cost. The main goal of using the crashing technique is to use the smallest amount of budget possible, but still make your deadline. If you notice that your project cost is quickly increasing, scale back as much as you can to stay within the confines of your project scope.

Read: 7 common causes of scope creep, and how to avoid them

4. Reflect and reiterate

While nobody plans for a compressed project, it's important to keep tabs on the things that went well and what you can improve for the next project. Hosting a post mortem meeting after the fact can help you identify ways to avoid having to fast track or crash your next project. 

Here are a few questions that you can ask:

  • What went right during this project?

  • What went wrong during this project?

  • Were there any aspects of the project that took longer than expected?

  • What was the biggest challenge you faced during this project?

Read: How to capture lessons learned in project management

FAQ: Fast tracking vs crashing

Is fast tracking a good idea?

Fast tracking can be a good idea in project management, especially when time constraints demand a quicker completion. However, it involves progressing through multiple phases or tasks simultaneously, which increases the risk of miscommunication and errors, potentially leading to more rework later. Still, fast tracking can be beneficial when the time saved outweighs the risks.

What is an example of fast tracking a schedule?

An example of fast tracking a schedule might involve a website redesign project where the content creation is initiated alongside the layout design, rather than waiting for the design to complete. This parallel progression of tasks can shorten the timeline without waiting for each task to finish before starting the next. Ultimately, the project will be completed sooner than a sequential schedule would allow.

What are the reasons for project crashing?

Project crashing is often employed when a project is significantly behind schedule or when there's an urgent need to cut down the project delivery time. The primary reasons include meeting a fixed deadline, avoiding penalties for late delivery, or seizing an opportunity that requires faster project completion.

What can I do instead of project crashing?

Instead of project crashing, you might consider techniques like fast tracking or optimizing your workflow project management software to better manage and streamline project tasks. This could help you identify inefficiencies and areas for improvement without the added cost and resources required for crashing.

Manage project timelines with a project management platform

Fast tracking and crashing can help your teams hit their projects on time, but regardless of strategy, it’s important for everybody to stay on the same page in terms of tasks and timeline. The best way to do that is with a work management tool, like Asana. Asana helps teams work together in one shared space so they can immediately identify what they need to do, what’s a priority, and when work needs to be done.

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