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Forward pass project management and timeline development 9 min read
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If you’re a project manager, your most important initial task is to develop a timeline that realistically allows your team to meet each deadline. The more detailed your timeline is, the better it will be, especially if it considers potential roadblocks, bottlenecks, and issues that could occur along the way. The network diagram used in forward pass project management assists in these efforts by allowing you to see how each task is dependent on all the others and outlining your project’s workflow in detail. Determining the critical project path and correlating late or early start dates (and finish dates) lets you account for potential holdups and increases the chances of successfully meeting predefined project deadlines.

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What is forward pass project management?

Forward pass project management is a project planning technique that leverages a network diagram to help you:

  • Estimate your project’s duration
  • Determine the earliest day you can start each project task, based on predecessors
  • Identify the latest day you can complete each project task if you want to stay on track to meet predefined deadlines
  • Understand how each task is dependent on other tasks so you can develop the most efficient workflow

Project managers often use forward pass and backward pass project management techniques in tandem to develop an efficient project workflow. While similar, these two project management techniques yield different results and use slightly different calculation methods.

Forward pass project management vs. backward pass

In project management, a forward pass helps you move forward through a network diagram. This lets you determine the estimated project duration and find the critical path for your project. The critical path is the longest possible time from your start date to your finish date.

Conversely, a backward pass requires you to move backward through the network diagram. For example, you might use the backward pass technique to determine the reasons for your late start or identify any issues that took longer than expected.

These two project management techniques may use the same network diagram, but they take you in opposite directions. As a project manager, you might find that incorporating both forward and backward pass techniques can maximize your project team’s efficiency and productivity. To use either technique, it helps to understand some common terms associated with them.

What are some other terms associated with forward pass project management?

Some technical or industry terms you may encounter when learning about forward pass project management include:

  • Early start: The earliest day you can begin the specified activity
  • Early finish: The earliest day you can finish an activity, based on predecessors
  • Late start: The latest day you can begin an activity
  • Late finish: The latest day you can finish an activity
  • Predecessors: Tasks you must complete before you can start another one — also called dependency tasks
  • Successors: Tasks in a dependency timeline that come after a given task — also called successor tasks
  • Critical path: The longest duration (from start to finish) necessary to complete a project
  • Total float: The difference between the earliest start and latest start of a given task; this is how much time you have before a delay interferes with your project’s completion
  • Free float: The amount of time you can delay a task before it impacts any successor tasks
  • Zero float: This means an activity has no room for delays if the project is to complete on time

Knowing what these terms mean is helpful when implementing forward pass project management. In addition, you may find understanding the relationship between the overall project management technique and ideal completion dates useful.

Forward pass project management and ideal completion dates

Forward pass project management can help you develop ideal completion dates for your project by determining the early start and early finish using the network diagram. To determine the early start-on day for your project, create a detailed workflow in your diagram. Starting with the first task, move through the successor tasks and define the earliest date each task can start based on the length of the dependency task before it. Then, set a realistic timeframe for your team to complete each activity if there aren’t any setbacks — this will be your early finish date. Do these one at a time and ensure you’re being realistic in your earliest completion goals.

The early finish date of your final project task will be your ideal completion date. This is the date you could complete your project if there are no setbacks or errors and your team remains consistently productive throughout the project’s duration.

Sometimes you can’t predict setbacks, but understanding your ideal completion date as defined by the forward pass project management technique can help you and your team remain focused, productive, and on the same page.

While forward pass project management can help you develop a detailed timeline, including ideal completion dates, you’ll want to be aware of some downsides of this technique.

The dangers of solely relying on forward pass project management

Although forward pass project management is an excellent tool for developing timelines and establishing workflow, project managers should be aware of these potential issues:

  • Human Error: The forward pass technique relies heavily on the project manager to make informed guesses on how long a task will take to complete and what problems might occur during the process. Unfortunately, this leaves room for human error because you can easily miss something or make an inaccurate guess. Taking your time and working through each possible task scenario can help reduce error risks.
  • Unforeseen setbacks: Alongside the risk of human error is the possibility your project will encounter unexpected setbacks. But these may not always involve human error. Setbacks that are well outside your control can happen, like power outages or inclement weather closures that push you back a few days from your estimated project timeline.
  • Complicated Alterations: Making alterations after your project starts can be complicated: When errors or setbacks throw off your entire timeline, changing course can be complicated and time-consuming. Sadly, there may not be much you can do about this except (again) to take your time when developing estimations for your current and future project tasks.

You can decrease the risk of errors by using a powerful, flexible project management platform. project management help you establish and maintain your project’s workflow at its every stage.

Get started and developing a forward pass project management plan

Forward pass project management can take significant time and effort to implement. Thankfully, this process is easier when you use project management software available at Our Work OS allows you to:

  • Centralize your project’s virtual workspace: Having a single virtual workspace to design, monitor, troubleshoot, and complete your project can save you time and hassle. With numerous tool and software integrations, our platform can significantly minimize the number of applications you need to access independently.
  • Automate routine tasks and approvals: Our platform lets you automate everyday tasks and approvals so you can focus more on creating an efficient network diagram for your forward pass or backward pass management techniques, as applicable.
  • Collaborate in real time: Your project team members can collaborate in real time using shared documents. Use notes and change their color to indicate priority levels so everyone stays up-to-date.
  • Create detailed project timelines: Once you’ve added your tasks, you can rearrange them based on deadlines, predecessors, or priority levels. You can also store your data in whatever format you like. For example, our Work OS has Kanban Boards and Gantt Charts for data organization, viewing, and workflow design.
  • Monitor project progress and performance: You can monitor the progress of your project as a whole or track individual tasks with Customizable Dashboards. You can also keep an eye on the performance of individual contributors if you like so that you can provide additional tools, resources, or guidance as necessary.

By now, you likely have a comprehensive understanding of what forward pass project management is and how you can effectively use it to develop and manage a detailed timeline. However, we answer a few of the most frequently asked questions below, just in case.

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Frequently asked questions

What is a forward pass in project management?

A forward pass is a project management technique that helps with timeline development and management. The method relies heavily on a project manager’s ability to consider all potential setbacks and make realistic guesses on how long each project task will take. To create a timeline, a forward pass includes network diagram that can be reused if the project manager also needs to utilize a backward pass.

What does a project management forward pass calculate? 

A forward pass calculates the critical path of your project or the shortest amount of time from the start of your first task to the completion of your last one. It also develops a generally estimated timeframe using the critical path and longest possible project duration.

Develop obtainable timelines with forward pass project management at

Developing a realistic project plan is your most important initial task as a project manager. Forward pass project management can help you achieve this by setting obtainable timelines and creating an understanding of potential roadblocks or bottlenecks so you can best prepare for them. makes developing and managing forward pass project management simpler by providing the tools and functions you need most.

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