In the new series of articles, we are exploring the world of project management and learning about its concepts, tricks, and methodologies.
Today, we will be looking into the concept of fast tracking: what it is, why it’s needed, what benefits and downsides it contains.
What is fast tracking in project management?
Fast tracking is an advanced project management technique that helps meet project deadlines and avoid increased costs.
According to Project Management Institute (PMI), fast tracking is a process of compressing the project schedule. With fast tracking, multiple tasks are worked on simultaneously, allowing one to reach the end goal sooner. So, instead of waiting for one part of the project to be finished before the next one kicks in, we run several activities at the same time.
Fast tracking can only be performed for activities and tasks that can overlap and are not codependent.
It is widely used across many industries, not only in software development but also in books publishing, fashion, marketing, and even construction.
Fast tracking is one of the most popular schedule compression techniques. An alternative is project crashing method implies adding resources (and, consequently, additional costs) to the project to meet the project deadline.
When is fast tracking used?
Sometimes the project management team derail from the original plan causing the change in timeframes or costs.
Change can be good and healthy, but sometimes it’s a sign of things going wrong and it needing to be fixed. And if your project requires adjustments for whatever reason, then fast tracking may be just what you need.
A lot of the time, fast tracking is applied to projects that risk missing the deadline, which is unacceptable and highly unwelcome.
Moreover, if the projects are already in progress for several months, dragging the project duration for even longer represents additional risks:
- Losing the momentum if the project is associated with a new technology or a new way of doing something. When projects take ages to get finalized, competition tends to catch up and take over.
- The longer the project duration, the more money and time it wastes. People have to get paid. The equipment depreciates, electricity bills pile up. So it is in the stakeholders’ best interest to fast track and not let the project last for too long.
- The more time there is to burn, the more of it is spent on low-value tasks. Busy work is a huge problem that breeds delayed and extended timelines.
Another scenario to use fast tracking is to combat risks while the project is still technically on schedule:
- New risks that weren’t projected or considered before can be identified. In that case, the project can be rushed to avoid facing those risks.
- If competition makes an announcement that they will be releasing a similar solution earlier than you are, then it makes a lot of sense to re-think the project schedule.
In terms of positive or neutral reasons, fast tracking is often used because:
- A new opportunity came up, so it is beneficial to finish all current projects and start working on the new thing as soon as possible.
- The client requested a new deadline. It is common in the software development world to try and schedule new releases to align with certain events. The company might, all of a sudden, decide to move launch just before the top industry expo starts, or the CEO would like to impress shareholders at the board meeting.
- It is also possible that the team wants to get a head start at the beginning of the project. Let’s say the current project timeline is 12 weeks, and the schedule is pretty packed. The project manager anticipates that something might go wrong at some point down the line, so it would be good to earn a few extra points before things get messy. So, what they do then is select a few tasks and fast track them when the team is still fresh and energized and won’t be exhausted from a little extra push. And just like that, they can win up to a few weeks and continue working at a more relaxed pace with less pressure.
Pros and cons of using the project fast tracking technique
Let’s look into the advantages and disadvantages that come along with this practice.
Increased competition, hustle culture, pressure from senior management – many things push companies to bring new products and services to the market quicker and more often.
Fast tracking, by its nature, facilitates faster project delivery and provides the following benefits along with it:
- It is free of charge. The beauty of fast tracking is that it does not require additional resources and investments. The technique implies that we work with our existing resources and re-arrange them to reach our goals.
- Early project delivery (regardless of the motivation) makes management happy and is good for the project manager’s career and expert status. And it is also good for the company’s reputation.
- Bringing the project back on track. Projects can be delayed, which creates a lot of potential issues. Sometimes the reason is internal, and sometimes external forces meddle in. In any case, fast tracking helps mitigate that unfortunate event.
- Free up project resources early. Companies can use those resources to launch the next project sooner and maximize the ROI.
- Competitive advantage. Early project release means that the company has better chances of delivering ground-breaking solutions and distinguishing itself from the competition.
While fast tracking definitely has a lot of advantages, we must say there are downsides to it too. So, let’s talk about the potential cons of trying this method for your projects.
1. Complication with critical path
Working on several things simultaneously requires a good understanding of the critical path, various skills, and knowledge.
There are many things that have to be calculated and estimated. Even experienced project managers can find themselves in trouble because they’ve left some critical path activities out of scope when planning fast tracking.
A common scenario is to consider an essential task non-essential and exclude it from the process.
2. Increased risk of having to re-do and rework
There is a very real risk of ending up wasting more time than saving with fast tracking. There are many reasons for that. Tasks go out of sync because someone was distracted or didn’t understand the job fully. It can also happen that one of the tasks gets implemented with errors that weren’t spotted right away, so the whole project schedule is jeopardized.
Reworking the tasks is unpleasant but a pretty common thing for projects. It’s life! People make mistakes. People fail to consider all factors.
And when it comes to fast tracking, those types of issues tend to come up more often.
3. Change in velocity can cause damage
Having to work on more things at the same time can be stressful and cause burnout.
Most of the projects are pretty packed in terms of goals that have to be achieved and deadlines that need to be met. Project fast tracking means adding even more work to an already fully booked project team.
It is a tricky task for the project management professional to keep the team motivated while maintaining an aggressive project schedule. Make sure you have strong leadership skills before changing up the critical path.
4. Low priority tasks cause chaos
Fast tracking is an intense process.
When project deadlines are at risk, and many high-priority tasks are executed simultaneously, there is usually little interest in or patience for less important tasks. Yet, as we all know, it is often the little things that everyone ignores that become the obstacle for the whole project.
Low priority stuff needs the same focused attention as other more critical ones. Sadly, it is not always realistic.
5. Insufficient control
When things are rushed, and things are crazy, nobody has the time or energy to do proper monitoring and control over the entire process. There’s always something better to do! It is a real risk that creates many issues with projects even when they’re not fast tracking. And it’s usually the lack of regular monitoring that causes risks to slip unnoticed until they cause damage.
We covered a lot of disadvantages today, but we are not trying to scare you off, we promise! It’s good to have all the information and be prepared for both good and bad things.
If you are slightly put off after seeing all these potential negative effects, then do a simple exercise. Write down all the benefits and all risks that you can think of in your particular case. Rate them in terms of importance and probability. See what side outweighs the other.
And remember – each project is unique. Just because there are potential benefits and risks to fast tracking, it doesn’t mean that you can count on any of them.
Where to start with fast tracking?
If you’d like to implement fast tracking in project management, there are several steps you need to take to manage it successfully. Here’s what you need to do.
Step 1: Identify fast-trackable activities
Start by identifying all possible critical path activities that can potentially be performed in parallel.
In that case, the maximum duration to perform those tasks would be equal to the time frame that it takes the longest task to be completed.
E.g. you need to do 3 things:
- Finish UI for the app, which takes 6 days.
- Run bug fixes for the critical features, estimated to take 10 days.
- Run a meeting with stakeholders per their request, which is 1 day.
So, if you do all these three tasks simultaneously, it will take you 10 days in total.
Use Bordio to log all tasks and estimate their workload. The project management software shows the team’s schedule and workload, allowing PMs to plan the fast tracking more accurately. Bordio supports time blocks where users can estimate how much time they need per task, break the task down into smaller parts, and spread them across the week.
A built-in timer will assist in seeing how much time the work actually takes compared to the planned workload. It is a great tool for analytics and future projects planning.
Step 2: Analyze dependencies
You might think some tasks are fast-trackable until you realize that they are codependent, and one cannot start until the other one is completed.
It sounds pretty obvious, but if you are working on a complex project scope with a lot of tasks, those dependencies might not be that clear.
And even with the simpler projects, if there is a lot of stress or the team is swamped with work, such things can easily be missed.
Step 3: Clarify requirements once again
Next, take another look at the project’s goals and objectives to help you plan out the fast tracking more efficiently. What should the final product look like?
When you’ve refreshed your understanding of the final product expectations, and figured out which elements of the critical path can be worked on concurrently, it is time to double-check the available resources.
You will be surprised how often project members make up great plans but forget to do this mundane task. Results may vary, but it usually adds a lot of tension to an already stressful situation.
Step 4: Think through potential risks
You have already gone through risk management as a part of project planning.
Here, it is important to do a similar exercise but focus on the potential risks that are associated with schedule compression and plan to fast track your critical path activities accordingly.
It might sound easy, but fast tracking can result in many issues for the project, so it is vital to deal with all potential problems and find ways to avoid them or minimize their impact before you start.
Step 5: Design a monitoring plan
Finally, stay alert and monitor the process.
If you’ve ended up in a situation where the project went out of control (regardless of who’s fault is that), it probably means that there was not enough monitoring and control from the beginning. And now is the last chance to fix that! Watch the project closely: track the project tasks’ progress, manage issues if they come up, and try to spot potential risks before they become real.
Step 6: Take action
Once you’ve worked through the five steps, you are ready to launch project management fast tracking. Congratulations! Don’t sit on the plan for too long and take action.
Last tip here: make sure your plan is realistic and will not push people beyond the limit.
After the project is complete
Now that you’ve (hopefully) managed to successfully fast track the project and everything was delivered on time, it would be a good exercise to sit down, review the project start to finish and find out:
- What was the root cause of the initial troubles with the project schedule?
- At what point could the delay have been fixed without having to implement fast tracking.
- How did fast tracking go: best and worst decisions made, what helped and what didn’t.
- What elements of fast tracking can be integrated into general project management.
- The best algorithm to fast track moving forward.
Skills you’ll need for successful fast tracking
Last but not least, we’ve prepared a short checklist of skills that would help project managers plan and execute fast tracking successfully:
It’s a tricky thing to complete projects successfully. One must be positive and keep an open mind to what’s going on during the process.
Unfortunately, as we fast track the project, some kinds of impediments are unavoidable. A project manager with an optimistic attitude will have a much better time working on a fast tracked project.
Ability to motivate the team
There will be stress, challenges, and hurdles that can ruin the chances of success if the team gets upset, demotivated, or irritated. It takes a talented leader to guide the team and keep the spirits high no matter what happens.
Project managers with a positive mind are good. But they have to be able to communicate their positivity to all stakeholders.
Excellent communication skills
A PM’s job is all about communication with the team, vendors, stakeholders, business users, and anyone else!
And with fast tracking in the picture, it is important to be able to negotiate, explain, and discuss everything quickly and efficiently. Project managers cannot afford to be shy or closed up.
In addition to that, a PM would benefit significantly from having vast knowledge and experience in risk, change, quality, and stress management. So, if you don’t feel too confident in several of the skills we mentioned, then it might be wise to ask for help or consult with a fast tracking expert before taking action.
By the way, we’ve prepared a list of the best project management books for you. They will provide great insight and perspective to project management to help you deal with projects better. They also contain lots of useful information about skills needed for fast tracking. Make sure to check it out!
Fast tracking is a great schedule compression technique for both damage control and for getting ahead of the game. Its strengths lie in its simplicity and cost-effective focus on working without applying additional resources.
The technique is not a guarantee of success and has some potential complications. It can make a miracle, though, and save your project from failure.
We recommend using it wisely but definitely give it a try.