No one likes to see their project timeline shrink, but it’s a challenge most project managers face. Whether due to scope creep, a critical team member’s absence, or a timely market opportunity management wants to seize, compressing timelines means it’s all hands on deck.

One practical schedule compression approach that can send deliverables out the door post-haste is fast tracking. Understanding how the fast track method works, its inherent risks, and potential benefits helps you decide whether it’s the best option for your team’s needs.

What’s fast tracking?

In traditional project management, teams complete tasks sequentially, with one job beginning when another ends. When you fast track a project, team members complete work concurrently, tightening the timeline without altering the project scope.

According to the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification program, fast tracking can only occur if the activities in question overlap. Your team can only work in parallel if the assigned tasks don’t depend upon other tasks’ completion.

When should you use the fast tracking method?

Fast tracking is an ambitious project management tactic you shouldn’t take lightly, instead considering risks versus rewards before deciding.

Some scenarios that may call for fast tracking include when:

  • Management can’t extend the project deadline or there’s a pressing time constraint
  • The project is progressing slowly and the team needs to accelerate progress to meet the deadline
  • There are no dependencies between overlapped tasks, permitting team members to work concurrently and shorten the timeline
  • When dependencies exist, you can manage them to allow for overlapping activities or phases and compress the schedule
  • Fast tracking is integrated into the risk management plan as a mitigation measure

How to fast track a project in 4 steps

Fast tracking in project management can be effective, but it requires adequate preparation. Before you make the jump, here are a few things to consider:

  • The amount of lost time your team needs to recover
  • The impact compressing the schedule will have on project deliverables and your team
  • Whether the necessary resources will be available according to the new schedule

Once you’ve addressed those concerns, begin planning by taking the following four steps.

1. Assess your team

The success of fast-tracked projects hinges on the team’s ability to communicate and perform under pressure. Understanding your group’s strengths and weaknesses helps you delegate tasks to keep everyone productive while minimizing errors.

You must also address any institutional silos preventing cross-functional teams from communicating clearly. When working in parallel on multiple critical path tasks, clarity is essential to ensure everyone works toward the same objectives and avoid time-consuming rework.

2. Identify dependencies and the critical path

The next step is identifying dependencies using your project roadmap or Gantt chart and plotting the critical path. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), the critical path is:

“[t]he continuous string(s) of critical activities in the schedule between the start and finish of the project. The sum of the activity durations in the critical path is equal to the project’s duration.”

Only the tasks on the project’s critical path impact the ultimate deadline, so you can only fast track these critical activities. Work with project leaders to identify which tasks the team can work on simultaneously with the lowest risk and which to avoid overlapping.

3. Update project timelines

Once you’ve settled on a course of action, rework the project plan and schedule to reflect the new timelines. To simplify the process and provide transparency, you can use project management software to update the project roadmap, Kanban board, or Gantt chart and communicate the rearranged schedule to stakeholders. Answer any questions and ensure team alignment behind the new timelines.

4. Monitor progress

Because of the potential risks involved, you must monitor progress and act swiftly to address any threats to the deadline. Leverage your project management tools to track time, review productivity, and identify issues or roadblocks while ensuring critical information doesn’t slip through the cracks. Regular progress assessments give you the data necessary to proactively prevent a potential disaster.

Benefits of fast tracking

Needing to fast track a project might not seem ideal since it indicates inherent challenges or delays. But there are some benefits to working this way beyond delivering results sooner or getting back on schedule.

Budget maintenance

If you’re facing a project delay, implementing fast tracking won’t directly increase the budget. The new workflow and timeline should still require the same amount of resources initially allocated during project planning. However, if schedule compression fails due to unidentified risks or your team’s inability to meet the new deadline, it could prove very costly to the organization.

Early detection

Fast tracking may let you identify and address issues and roadblocks earlier than if you stuck to the original plan. Because you’re working on tasks simultaneously — rather than waiting for one task to conclude before beginning the next — problems will show themselves sooner and give you a head start on addressing them.

Collaborative problem-solving

Because team members from different working groups collaborate concurrently, they may find ways to overcome challenges faster than if they were working independently. This boosts productivity and efficiency and can enhance morale.

Process improvement

Timeline compression may lead to streamlining work processes and developing more effective time management strategies for future projects. Analyzing changes to your team’s approach can identify efficiencies you can later incorporate into standard practice.

Disadvantages of fast tracking in project management

Before deciding to implement fast tracking, it’s important to understand its risks and potential drawbacks. Consider these disadvantages and how they might relate to your specific project and team.

Low-quality work

A compressed timeline and increased demands require team members to multitask effectively. Not everyone has this skill, and studies have shown that multitasking can produce poor results, especially when involving complex tasks. Also, your team may not have time to complete quality assurance testing to the usual standards, allowing mistakes to slip through.

Lower morale

Packed schedules and high stakes can be troublesome for your team’s well-being. The heightened stress levels can impact their quality of work, lowering productivity and creating an unhealthy work environment. You need to ensure your team receives support and encouragement from management to complete the project while feeling valued as employees.

Management challenges

A fast-track project has many moving parts to monitor. To deliver a successful outcome, project managers must be organized and informed about each task’s progress and potential issues. This involves having a firm grasp of the project plan, how to batch tasks together to speed completion, and the risks involved. Creating a clear outline of project goals helps ensure alignment with timelines and expectations.

Fast tracking versus crashing

The other method of compressing a project schedule is called project crashing. Crashing is similar to fast tracking in terms of objective — shortening the project duration — but takes a different approach.

When you crash a project, you increase the resources available to speed up delivery. You accomplish this by:

  • Hiring more staff
  • Reassigning staff to the project team
  • Requiring the team to work overtime
  • Offering incentives to increase productivity
  • Acquiring additional or more efficient equipment

Fast tracking and crashing each come with their own sets of benefits and challenges. Which technique you choose depends on the project’s nature, the problem you’re trying to solve, and the resources available.

Fast track to excellence with Roadmunk by Tempo

When time is of the essence, using the right tools can speed up your path to success. Creating an easy-to-read project roadmap using Tempo’s Roadmunk makes fast tracking projects simpler by visually plotting out the critical path and helping identify task dependencies. Combined with LiquidPlanner — a predictive scheduling software — you can build out your compressed schedule and provide an overview of ongoing tasks quickly and easily, all while reducing project risk.