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Keeping projects on schedule with float management 8 min read
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Team leaders take project management methodologies seriously. Some people love Agile, others swear by Kanban. One lesser known methodology is float management. This project management framework is gaining popularity thanks to the flexibility it offers. But what is float management, and would it suit your projects?

If you’re not familiar with float management, you may find the thought of learning a new project management system intimidating. There’s already a lot of project management terminology to know as it is! Read on to learn how float management can help you stick to your project schedule while making life easier for your team and project management.

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What is float management?

Float management is a project management style known for its flexibility. It doesn’t replace other frameworks but rather works alongside them. Float management helps you identify “float” or “slack” time within your project’s schedules, helps you work around delays, and streamlines your projects.

This project management system can be particularly useful if you already have an effective way of managing tasks, but have issues with resource management. It helps balance the schedules of your team members, so even if there are supply chain delays or other issues, you’ll still be able to meet critical deadlines.

“Float management” is a part of our Project Management Glossary — check out the full list of terms and definitions!

How does float management work?

Float management is a scheduling system, more than a true project management system. You can understand the float that is available in your project by drawing a project network diagram that shows how each task is linked together, how the completion time of one task might impact the tasks that follow it, and eventually the completion date of the project.

Float can be divided into a few different types:

  • Total float: The amount of time a task can move before it affects the project’s final deadline.
  • Free float: The amount of time a task can be moved before it will affect other tasks that follow it.
  • Critical path: Tasks that cannot be moved without impacting the schedule and/or tasks around it because they have zero float.
  • Negative float: A task that will affect other tasks, or the project’s deadline, even if it is completed as early as possible.

By drawing a network diagram and mapping out the earliest and latest completion dates of the project tasks, you can get a clearer picture of your project’s schedule. Then you’ll be in a position to make better decisions about requesting staff, allocating resources, and adjusting the schedule. The information from the network diagram helps you make decisions in real time.

Float, or slack, refers to the amount of time a task can be delayed without impacting the broader project.

Float management in forward pass project management

Calculating float is done through a combination of forward pass and backward pass project scheduling. Forward pass refers to the idea of working in chronological order through the project diagram and calculating the critical path and free float of a project. Backward pass scheduling works through the project in reverse order, looking for float, or slack.

This can be plotted on the network diagram as follows:


In the boxes above:

  • ES = Early Start (the earliest date the task can start)
  • EF = Early Finish (the earliest date the task can finish)
  • LS = Late Start (the latest date the task can start)
  • LF = Late Finish (the latest date task can finish)

To calculate float:

Float = EF – ES

You can also subtract LS from LF to give the same result.

The challenge, in some projects, is calculating the ES and LF dates. If a project was a simple set of individual tasks in a linear order, it would be easy to say that Task B cannot start until Task A is completed. However, in more complex projects, a task may be waiting on several other tasks to be completed.

Positives and negatives of float management

Float management can work well with other popular project management systems. However, as with other popular tools, it’s not for every business, so it’s useful to weigh the pros and cons of the system before implementing it.

The benefits of float management

  • Float project management does not require major changes in how you run your projects in order to implement it.
  • The system enhances other project management tools, making it one more useful addition to a project manager’s tools.
  • It helps you figure out which parts of a project are critical tasks, and which can wait without impeding the project completion date.

The downsides of float management

  • Float management is relatively new, so not all project management software has built-in features for it.
  • Float management works well if your project has tasks with flexible requirements, but it can’t create leeway where none exists.

Float management takes some work to get right, and you won’t be able to do it unless you have a comprehensive project network diagram to work from. This can be seen as a good thing because if you want to employ float management you’ll need to have robust project management strategies in place.

Examples of float management strategies

Float management works best when you have teams that all have discrete, but interconnected jobs. For example, imagine you’re producing an animated video. The person responsible for the sound may not be able to finish making sure the sounds match the animation until the animation itself is complete. The animators may be waiting on improved 3D models and high-resolution textures from the texture artists.

While a majority of the work can be done independently, the job of bringing together the work to a polished, finished project has several inputs and the forward pass network diagram will show how these come together in the timeline. Even if you’re an experienced project manager, float management can be a tricky concept to get to grips with. Fortunately, at we have a selection of templates and tools to help you get started.

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Tracking float management on

If you already use mobile apps or project management software, makes it easy for you to integrate float management into your existing strategy. As well as mapping out the critical tasks and free float in your project, helps you identify the task dependencies so you can better understand the interplay between team members, resources, and available time in your project.

The Work OS project management tool offers a simple user interface and at-a-glance reports, including options for forward pass project management. This helps you hit the ground running when it comes to planning your schedule and implementing float management for your next project.

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Frequently asked questions

What is float in project management?

Float refers to the amount of time you can delay a task without the delay adversely affecting other team members or requiring you to push back the completion of the project. Float is sometimes called “total float” or “slack.”

How to calculate float in project management

Calculating float requires several pieces of data. Firstly, find the earliest dates each task can start and finish (known as the forward pass), and then determine the latest dates the task can start and finish. Each task’s float is the difference between the earliest and latest dates.

What is negative float?

Negative float is a warning sign that your project is going to run into delays. If you have a task in your project’s schedule that will cause delays to other tasks even if it is completed at the earliest possible time, this means you have negative float. By combining awareness of negative float with other issues you have identified in the Program Risk Register Template, you’re better equipped to take control of your project.

Float management empowers you to make better scheduling decisions

When you employ float management techniques such as monitoring the tasks on the critical path and paying attention to the free and negative float metrics, you’ll have a much better understanding of your project’s schedule. Tracking float or slack time is getting easier thanks to popular project management mobile apps and tools such as the templates from that can help you better understand float calculations.

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