Techniques for Schedule Compression Crashing vs. Fast Tracking

PMP Exam Prep: Fast-Tracking vs. Crash Schedule

Project professionals are skillful planners and multitaskers, capable of juggling multiple priorities, big and small, every day. Yet, even after careful preparation, plans can change, projects delay, and it’s up to the project manager to get things back on track. In these instances, the project manager or Project Management Professional (PMP)® may use two schedule compression techniques: fast-track and crash.

Every project has countless moving parts, and many external factors can influence its progress. Because of this, there are plenty of reasons why a project manager might need to compress the schedule. This article explains the similarities and differences between fast-track and schedule crash, and when project manger might need them.

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Schedule Compression: Crash vs Fast Track

Schedule compression is a technique used in project management to shorten the overall timeline for a project without reducing the scope. This can be done using two approaches: crashing the schedule or fast-tracking the project.

Project managers turn to schedule compression techniques for many reasons, including the following:

  • An unrealistic schedule
  • Resources become unavailable after a specific date
  • The emergence of unforeseen or unidentified risks
  • Expedited product launch
  • Changing client demands
  • Force majeure

Fast-tracking and crashing are acceptable options for decreasing the project’s duration with no inherent change in scope. The main difference between crashing the schedule and fast-tracking is that, with schedule crash pmp, the timeline is shortened by adding more resources or working longer hours. With fast-tracking, the timeline is shortened by overlapping or eliminating certain phases. Both methods can lead to increased costs and decreased quality. Fast-tracking is often seen as riskier since it can cause coordination problems. Crashing is often seen as a last resort option since it can result in lower quality and higher costs.

What is Crashing?

The term “crashing the schedule” is used in project management to describe a situation where a project’s standard progress is modified to speed up the overall timeline. This can be done by adding more resources, working longer hours, or making other changes to the original project baseline. Crashing the schedule is typically seen as a last resort option since it can often lead to increased cost overruns and potentially decreased alignment with quality standards.

However, although there is no guarantee that crashing will increase costs, speeding up project timelines may require deploying additional resources, including more personnel and overtime. Crashing requires measuring the potential expenses of expediting the project against the benefits of completing it early. Furthermore, this schedule compression technique only works when additional resources allow you to complete the project sooner.

When You Should Use Crashing

There are several circumstances under which project managers might turn to crashing to complete a project. These include the following:

  • Delays: Most projects follow a schedule baseline, allowing for resources to be allotted throughout the expected project timeline. Projects that begin late or experience a significant disruption can compromise the likelihood of completing on time. 
  • Budget exhaustion: Project managers are valued for their ability to see projects through on time and within budget. Salaries, utilities, resources, and more are ordinary expenses that organizations must account for before a project begins. Projects that threaten to go over the allotted costs are a common reason crashing becomes necessary.

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How to Use Crashing

One example of crashing the schedule would be a project initially scheduled to take six months to complete, but the timeline was shortened by a key stakeholder to four months to take advantage of a new, cost-saving program available from a key procurement partner. To do this, the team would need to work longer hours, add additional resources, or make other changes to how the project is executed.

In this case, the Project Management Professional (PMP)® could follow the below process to crash the project schedule correctly:

Planning

Identify tasks that need to be finished and prioritize the most critical tasks. It’s crucial to understand which deliverables must be completed to achieve the desired final product so the project team can satisfy them. Project managers must also account for task durations, ensuring longer tasks will be completed within the revised time frame. Successfully crashing a project can only occur if the new project schedule is realistic.

Effective communication and collaboration

Crashing a project brings a lot of change to the initiative at hand. Project managers are responsible for communicating with all stakeholders, ensuring all parties are on the same page. Depending on the project, bringing on new resources might be necessary to ensure tasks are completed within the new project schedule.

What is Fast-Tracking?

The term “fast-tracking” in project management refers to a situation where the timeline for a project is shortened by overlapping or eliminating certain tasks or activities. Project managers can fast-track projects by starting work on different aspects of the project simultaneously or by cutting out non-essential steps. In short, fast-tracking means working on activities simultaneously rather than completing each linearly. This technique is often seen as risky since it can lead to coordination problems and potential quality issues in the final product.

Project managers usually turn to fast-tracking as the first solution when compressing a schedule. This technique rearranges the tasks in the initial project schedule and does not involve additional project costs or resources. However, it’s important to note that fast-tracking increases project risk by deviating from and rearranging the project schedule, which can use precious time. Experienced project managers can successfully determine the circumstances which call for fast-tracking a project.

When You Should Use Fast-Tracking

One example of fast-tracking the schedule would be to start work on the different aspects of the project simultaneously. For instance, if you are building a house, you could begin to work on the wiring and plumbing simultaneously rather than waiting to complete one before starting on the other. This approach would shorten the overall timeline for the project but could also lead to coordination problems and potential for rework.

How to Use Fast-Tracking

Fast-tracking requires reviewing the project plan and identifying all essential tasks the project team must complete to ensure success. From there, the project manager can analyze and determine which activities can be performed in parallel.

Project Management Professionals (PMP)® usually pursue fast-tracking before crash when faced with schedule compression since it does not cost more. There is a limit to how much schedule compression fast-tracking can achieve before the project encounters challenges such as delays and rework.

The Difference Between Crashing and Fast-Tracking

Here are several differences between the fast-tracking and crashing techniques:

  • Fast-tracking requires rescheduling project tasks to be completed either partially or fully in parallel. With crashing, you add extra resources to ensure the tasks are completed ahead of schedule.
  • Crashing is more likely to increase project costs, while fast-tracking will not.
  • Fast-tracking increases risks, while crashing has no significant impact on risk.
  • Fast-tracking is used for projects with tasks that can be overlapped to decrease their duration, while crashing is used in projects requiring extra resources to reduce their time.

Conclusion

The three essential takeaways regarding fast-tracking and schedule crashing are as follows:

  • Delays are common in project management; fast-tracking and crashing are techniques to compress the schedule and adhere to the original scope as much as possible.
  • Fast-tracking involves completing activities simultaneously while crashing consists of adding resources to a project to complete it faster.
  • Fast-tracking accrues more risk while crashing increases the project cost.

These techniques can negatively impact your project when done incorrectly, causing further delays or higher costs. But understanding when and how to fast-track or crash the project schedule are valuable skills and knowledge for a project manager. With these two techniques, you can get your projects back on track, even in the face of severe schedule disruption.

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO