What Is Fast-Tracking in Project Management?

For a project management professional, projects starting to fall behind despite the crazy work hours put in is nothing new. Projects could get delayed due to undefined project scope or lack of resources. Or they may face other issues such as increased costs.

In fact, research by the Project Management Institute indicates that around 48% of projects are not completed on time. Project managers know all too well that thinking on their feet is an integral part of the job. So instead of extending the project, seasoned project managers take the road less traveled and fast-track the project schedule to play catch up and make up for the lost time. This technique is often used along with the crashing technique, where additional resources are added to a project to accelerate its completion. As you can imagine, this might boost up costs.

In this blog, we will look at what it takes to fast-track a project and deliver the project on time. We will cover all bases with respect to its advantages, pitfalls, and process. Let’s jump right in, starting with:

What is Fast-Tracking in Project Management?

As the name suggests, fast-tracking is a schedule compression technique used in project management. Before we talk about what the fast-track technique entails, let’s understand what we mean by schedule compression.

Schedule compression refers to the methods and techniques a project manager uses to shorten the project lifecycle. The end-goal of this technique is to preserve the existing project scope.

To that end, the fast-tracking technique helps in:

  • Compressing the schedule and shortening the project duration, without changing the scope of the project
  • Identifying activities and performing in parallel, instead of carrying them out sequentially
  • Working different tasks simultaneously instead of waiting for each task to be completed in isolation

Note: Fast-tracking is only feasible if the tasks can actually be overlapped. In other words, it is possible to do the activities in parallel. One of the biggest advantages of this technique is that it usually does not lead to additional costs.

The learning: Fast-tracking, stripped down to its own, means re-arranging project activities within the original schedule to complete it on time without any scope creep.

How to Fast-Track a Project: A Step-By-Step Lowdown

In-depth, proper planning is central to fast-track success. Here are the steps you’ll need to undertake to get going with this schedule compression technique:

1. Start with a comprehensive fast-tracking plan.

First things first, remember that fast-tracking makes use of an already created schedule and compressing it. This helps you to complete certain tasks and activities sooner, and ultimately shorten the schedule cycle. To create a robust plan, make sure to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much time will you need to recover?
  • What are some of the critical path activities you’ll need to undertake which can be carried out in parallel?
  • What are your primary project dependencies?
  • What kind of an impact will altering the schedule have on the overall project?
  • Will you need additional resources and additional costs to complete the tasks on time?

Asking yourself these questions and preparing a fast-tracked project schedule accordingly can save you a lot of trouble later.

2. Think about how you can reconfigure the schedule. 

The next logical step is to figure out your fast-tracking opportunities and make changes to your schedule. To get you started, focus on activities that aren’t dependent on each other so that you can prioritize them and complete it. This is where looking at the critical path comes into play. Once you have narrowed down the fast-track opportunities, you can reconfigure activities that can be overlapped with each other.

Pro tip: Use a tool such as the Gantt chart or timeline to visualize your critical path activities, task sequences, and schedule duration.

3. Keep track of project progress.

This step requires project managers to:

  • Consistently track the project progress, get an overview of the task status, and understand the people responsible for those tasks
  • Communicate frequently about updates and changes in real-time
  • Get an understanding of how things are and identify potential bottlenecks (if any)

4. Stay on top of issues and problems.

The chances of experiencing hiccups and roadblocks when fast-tracking a project are pretty high. This is why you’ll need to identify potential bottlenecks and document how to solve them. You can use project management software to get ahead of the fast-tracking game, without errors or mistakes.

The Pitfalls of Fast-Tracking a Project

“Fast-tracking may result in rework and increased risk.” – PMBOK Guide

Now that you have understood what is fast-tracking and how it can be done, let’s take a look at its pitfalls and increased risks. Though fast-tracking may not lead to an increase in costs, it can be risky as you may need to:

  • Rework on the original schedule with activities being performed in parallel
  • Communicate modifications to your team in real-time without fail otherwise, the informational gap can lead to further delays
  • Multi-task and run too many projects at once, which might lead to unknown complexities and hamper the project quality as well as project team’s productivity
  • Ensure that your project tasks can be overlapped, otherwise it might further stall the project and let it spiral out of control

The learning: As a project manager, it is always recommended that you weigh the pros and cons of using the fast-track process before you embrace it. So keep these factors in mind and make an informed decision.

Closing Thoughts

Project managers have numerous tools, techniques, and tricks in their books to ensure that they meet the project’s non-negotiable timelines. The fast-tracking technique is one such tool in their arsenal.

It helps project managers stay on top of the project schedule when things start to fall apart. If the tasks within your project schedule are not interdependent on each other, this amazing scheduling technique can literally save your project. Try it and see for yourself.