It’s happened to all of us: we’ve worked tirelessly on a project, but still missed the deadline.
Maybe you had too much on your plate, or maybe you underestimated how long it would take. Perhaps even, the dog really did eat your homework (it happened to us, too!).
In any case, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when a project starts to fall behind. One solution (if an extension is off the table) is to fast-track the project schedule to catch up.
In this article, we’ll provide an in-depth explanation of what fast-tracking is as well as the advantages and dangers of this project schedule compression technique. We’ll also look at how to get started with fast-tracking and give you a template you can use for your next project.
What is fast-tracking in project management?
Fast-tracking in project management is a technique where activities are performed in parallel, instead of being carried out sequentially using the original schedule. Simply put, fast-tracking a project means different tasks are worked on simultaneously, instead of waiting for each task to be completed separately. However, fast-tracking can only be applied if the aforementioned activities question can actually be feasibly overlapped.
Fast-tracking allows you to compress a project timeline and shorten the project duration.
When you fast-track project schedules, a planned activity partially or completely overlaps with another. So, activities that were initially scheduled to be done one after another are rearranged to occur at the same time.
A diagram might help you to picture what we’re talking about:
If this sounds like it might be necessary to hit your project deadlines, know that you’re not alone.
An estimated 48% of projects are not completed on time — resulting in huge financial losses for businesses of all sizes.
Teams can fall behind on a project schedule for a number of reasons:
- Undefined project scope
- Lack of materials or resources
- Malfunctioning equipment
- Low levels of productivity
- Poor communication
- Not using proper types of collaboration tools
If a project is delayed, the situation isn’t entirely hopeless. Fast-tracking can help you recover a schedule when things start to veer off track.
However, it should be noted early that fast-tracking (while an awesome project scheduling technique) can only be applied when the task you’re trying to fast track isn’t dependent on the completion of the one before it.
Nonetheless, if managed well (and you really do need to be hot on management of a fast-tracked project) it can be a life-saver.
When to fast track your project
Fast-tracking is one common approach to schedule compression; the crashing technique is the other. So, if fast-tracking a project isn’t feasible, a project team can choose to “crash” a schedule instead.
Project crashing is when you add additional resources to an activity, rather than moving up its start date.
Let’s look at an example for a construction project. Instead of having one person wire a new house, you could add additional resources (e.g., hire more electricians) to get the job done faster.
Project crashing can speed up project delivery times by compressing the schedule, but there are increased costs to consider. Allocating extra resources also means that you could be taking people away from other projects.
And you have to keep the phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen” in mind. Sometimes adding extra people is more hassle than it’s worth.
Here’s an example of how a normal project schedule compares to fast-tracking as well as crashing:
Now that you have a solid understanding of the benefits and process of fast-tracking, let’s examine a few of its dangers.
The dangers of fast-tracking a project
Fast-tracking a project sounds great — you can perform multiple tasks together and potentially deliver before the deadline.
But fast-tracking a project that’s already in motion is risky. It means you’ll have to rework the current schedule and communicate those changes to your team.
Running too many projects at the same time is also one of the biggest project management challenges that organizations face:
Running too many tasks at once comes with the same pitfalls.
Consider the impact that multitasking has on productivity.
Studies have shown that people who multitask make more mistakes and are less efficient. Slamming your team with more work than they can handle can affect their output quality.
And fast-tracking only works for activities that can be overlapped. You can’t fast track a new paint job until the rest of the car is built.
There’s also the risk that fast-tracking a project won’t affect the end date.
The critical path is the longest series of tasks through your project — It’s the path that determines your final delivery date. Which means the only way fast-tracking will change your end date is if it’s done to tasks on this path (aka the critical activities).
How to fast track a project
Proper planning is essential to fast-tracking a project. Follow these steps to get started with this project management technique:
1) Create a fast-tracking plan
Fast tracking means taking an already created schedule and compressing it so that certain activities are completed sooner and the overall schedule duration is shorter.
But, before you jump into the fast track process, here are some questions to ask:
- How much time do you need to recover?
- What activities are on the critical path?
- What are the dependencies?
You also need to consider the impact that changing the schedule will have.
For example, if you assign more work to a team member, will they have the materials and time to complete the tasks? Will you need to pay overtime to ensure the work gets done before the deadline?
2) Reconfigure the schedule
The next step is to identify your fast-tracking opportunities and update your schedule.
Activities that aren’t dependent on the ones before them being complete can be fast tracked.
For example, let’s say you’re planning an event. You’re responsible for finding a venue, arranging guest speakers, and sending out invites.
While you’ll eventually need to tell the guest speakers where to show up, you don’t have to have the venue locked in before starting your speaker search. But you can’t create invitations to the event until your venue is confirmed.
Look at your critical path, identify the opportunities, and reconfigure activities that can overlap with each other.
Using a Gantt chart or timeline is useful here as you can better visualize your critical path activities, task sequences, and durations.
Here’s an example of how a marketing and design team’s projects could overlap — visualized in a monday.com Gantt chart:
Here we can see that “Rebranding” and “Illustrations” overlap with each other. They’re being worked on at the same time by the same team.
3) Monitor progressThe signs of a failing project aren’t always easy to spot. That’s why it’s important to constantly monitor the project and ensure things are on the right track.
Communicate frequently with your team and make sure they have everything they need to do their jobs.
4) Keep track of any problems
It’s likely you’ll experience some hiccups when fast tracking a project.
Document any problems and note down how you addressed them. That way you’ll be better prepared if a similar situation happens in the future.
How can project management software help you with fast-tracking?
Project management software enables you to see an overview of ongoing tasks, their status, and the people responsible for them — all at a glance.
This lets you identify activities that can be fast tracked and monitor the impact of any changes you make to the schedule. Moving one task will automatically shift related ones.
Here’s an example of how workflows are arranged in monday.com:
Then you can organize those tasks into a Gantt chart and plan your new project timeline.
These views can help you organize your work and make it easier to rearrange schedules should you ever need to fast-track a project.
Start fast-tracking your projects instantly
Fast-tracking is a handy technique for compressing project schedules. It allows you to rearrange tasks so they’re performed at the same time — useful if a project is behind schedule. But it’s also important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages before utilizing this technique.
Here’s a project tracker template you can use to help you fast-track your next project. The template is completely customizable, so you can change it to fit your workflow.