There were times when there is a need to shorten an established schedule in a project. This may be due to several reasons which include project delay, demand from clients, requests from management, demands for resources, or to go back on track if the project’s date is brought forward. When the milestones fall behind the schedule, it is also crucial to catch up and push the effort so that the project could be completed sooner. Other case examples may include the emergence of a new project or to provide training or test for new recruits and resources.
When these events happen, the method to adapt and shorten the schedule is known as schedule compression. It is a method implemented to accomplish the newly changed delivery deadline, or the scheduling delay. Although the schedule was changed, the scope and requirements of the project are still retained without compromise. Schedule compression techniques and implementation are beneficial not only for professional tasks and business purposes but are also applicable for personal settings.
The two techniques that may be done for schedule compression are known as fast tracking and crashing. We are going to look into these two techniques in this article.
Fast Tracking Definition
Fast tracking refers to the technique in which the supposedly sequential activities or processes were changed to be done in parallel. The activities could be merged and worked on together at the same time or begin earlier than the original schedule. Others include initiating activities that require different materials. Fast tracking method may bring threat to the project and schedule hence it must be conducted with high caution.
What is Fast Tracking?
There are times when a project falls behind schedule. The reasons for the delay may include poor performance, malfunctioning of the tools, vague project scope, lack of resources, or even miscommunication between the project managers with the team involved. When a project falls behind the schedule, compression is ought to be done to get back on track and hasten the progress of the project so that it could still be completed within the established baselines and deadlines.
Fast tracking is usually the first technique to be considered when schedule compression is required. It typically comes with no costs. This technique only requires the team to reorganize and rearrange the activities in the initial schedule so that it could meet the objective before the deadline.
However, one of the constraints is that not all processes or activities could be overlapped. To implement this technique, it is only feasible if the project’s processes in question could be performed simultaneously instead of finishing one then moving on to another.
Another downside of using fast tracking technique is that although it does increase the cost, on contrary, it adds more risks to the activities and processes for the project. It needs a high level of analysis when reorganizing the sequences of the activities. There are a lot of pros and cons that a project manager should consider before proceeding with this technique so that the results are worthy of the risks faced.
Steps for Fast Tracking with Examples
Fast tracking is done by overlapping or merging the processes within a project that is initially planned to be conducted in sequence. This may sound simple but proper steps should be taken cautiously to reduce the risks that may be brought upon the compression.
Here are several steps that could be followed when applying the fast-tracking technique in schedule compression.
- Listing the activities within a project
Every project plan should comprise the series of events or procedures that should be taken to accomplish the goals of the project. Looking into this again, each process will be jotted down again and make sure none is left behind.
Let’s take building construction as an example. What are the tasks needed to construct a building? These may include levelling, excavation, plumbing, wiring, setting up electrical, framing, woodwork, and many more.
- Organize the list of activities according to the appropriate sequence
Following the previous steps, the tasks or activities within the project will be arranged sequentially. Just like the previous example, there is a proper sequence that should be followed when constructing a building. Electrical wiring cannot be started if the building is not constructed in the first place. Hence, in this step, carefully organize the list of tasks according to their appropriate sequence.
- Determine independent processes
Fast tracking technique is convenient and could shorten the schedule at a great level. However, not all processes within a project could be merged together or overlapped. In this step, managers have to identify which tasks are dependent or independent. Some tasks could not be started until the steps before it is completed. This step will look into the dependencies of the tasks within the project.
For example, in building construction, you cannot begin setting up the window or door framing until the walls are built.
- Reorganize the schedule
After the task dependencies have been identified, then only we could proceed with the reorganization of the schedule by performing two tasks simultaneously or in parallel. The schedule needs to be updated clearly so that all team players involved in the project are aware of the changes and perform the tasks accordingly and achieve the schedule compression intended.
For crashing technique, it refers to when the project team decides to allocate more cost or resources in order to reduce the time taken to complete the processes or activities. To proceed with this schedule compression technique, it is indispensable to explore the cost aligned with the schedule that would be assigned first so that the new cost investment is worthwhile. This may lead to the achievement of the desired outcome of schedule compression. As opposed to fast tracking technique which does not increase cost but risks, the crashing technique adds cost with the absence of significant risks.
What is Crashing?
For schedule compression, the first technique that would be considered is usually fast tracking. However, if it is deemed that the fast tracking technique is not able to speed up the progress of activities in the schedule, you may want to resort to the other technique known as crashing. Crashing technique requires additional cost or resources in performing the activities within the project. To achieve the best possible schedule compression, it is important to analyse the benefits and disadvantages of the cost as aligned with the schedule. It may be costly to implement this technique, hence, proper analysis is needed so the project does not exceed the limit and become highly unprofitable instead. It is crucial to regularly assess the other activity as well when crashing technique is implemented. This is to determine either the other processes are on track with the schedule or could be greatly way ahead of it. Be aware that in some cases, the cost spent for crashing may increase as the project progresses hence it is the managers’ responsibility to keep the spending on check at a tolerable level.
Steps for Crashing Technique with Examples
There are several reasons to implement schedule crashing and it should be noted that just like fast tracking, not everything could be crashed. Now, let’s look at the steps that should be followed when considering schedule crashing.
- Analysing the schedule path
Firstly, it is important to determine which tasks could be contributed to shortening the schedule when crashing technique is used. In doing this, you may want to consider using the Critical Path Method (CPM) to assess the criticality of the task and measuring the critical path.
Let’s use the previous example of building construction. By referring to the critical path of the project schedule, you may determine which tasks that if you hasten them could speed up the completion of the project. For example, speeding up the wall-building may shorten the duration of the project completion.
- Determining which tasks could be compressed
The next step is to identify which tasks could be hastened if additional resources are allocated to the works. Not every work could be shortened even if resources are added hence determining which tasks are applicable to this technique is fundamental. The additional resources in a project may include the workforce, labourer, materials, time, and capital.
In building construction, for example, adding more workforce for certain tasks may be necessary and could contribute towards faster project completion.
- Calculating the components for the task
The next step is by measuring how much the project time could be shortened in addition of new resources. The calculation includes the transaction, gain, amount of time shortened, and so forth. You may need some time to be spent on the shift such as on knowledge transfer, time for the additional resources to arrive, and many other circumstances.
Imagine hiring a new worker for the construction. It is impossible for the person to immediately start working on the project. They should be briefed and explained on the requirements of the project. Hence, additional time for this knowledge transfer needs to be calculated and recorded.
- Deciding on the approach with the lowest cost
The main objective of crashing in project scheduling is to shorten the project schedule with the least additional costs. In the previous steps, you may have pinpointed several numbers of tasks that could be crashed with a certain amount of time reduction. Considering the amount of time needed to shorten the project, you could eliminate the task crashing that is not of the highest priority or that would be too costly to the project. The suitable metric that could be used for this step is Return on Investment (ROI).
For example, the project manager has identified five tasks that could be crashed for the building construction and the total time reduction from all of the five are 150 hours. If the main goal is to just reduce the total time to 50 hours, you may choose the least costly crashed tasks from the list. This step is crucial to ensure the efficiency of the scheduling crashing apart from distinguishing the tasks with the least incremental costs.
- Develop the crashing budget and update the schedule milestones
The last step that should be done is by updating the schedule milestones as well as providing the project crashing budget. This may be kept as a record, especially for future references. It also serves as proof for any transactions done for the project.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Fast Track and Crashing
Fast Track Technique
One of the advantages of fast tracking is the guarantee of early completion of the project. In any project, the biggest accomplishment is to be able to deliver the project on time or even earlier. Hence, this technique may help to achieve this.
The other advantage of fast tracking is getting the project back on schedule. Delays may be inevitable in projects so one of the countermeasures is by implementing fast tracking. The last advantage is that it could open the availability of the resources for other projects as well.
As for the disadvantage, fast tracking could harm the project especially with the lack of knowledge on the critical path. A high level of monitoring is needed to ensure the critical path are determined and prioritized appropriately. You may not want to exert too much pressure on a less critical task and being too lenient for high critical tasks may be a red flag too. Lastly, not everyone will agree to changes hence proper discussion is needed to attain a consensus.
The advantages of the crashing technique, just like fast tracking, could reduce the time for project completion and bringing the project back on schedule if delayed. It may also prevent the negative impacts that may happen if the project fails to be delivered on time.
As for the disadvantages, crashing could jeopardize the connection between the project manager with the team members. To implement crashing technique, a high level of flexibility is required among all the involved parties within the project. That aside, the newly assigned resources may lack knowledge or experience hence the productivity may be lower than normal.