Fast tracking in project management: how to refine project schedules like a pro

Need to deliver a project earlier than expected? Use fast tracking to speed up project work.

Graphic illustrating resource article

Imagine you’re the project manager for a high-profile program servicing a VIP client. Despite your careful planning efforts, the unthinkable happens—a disaster strikes, setting back the pace of your preliminary project activities by several weeks. What should you do*?

This may be a dramatic example, but there are going to be lots of times when something outside of your control threatens to throw your project off kilter. And fast tracking can help you recover from unexpected setbacks without compromising your project timeline.

*aside from panic for a minute. You’re allowed to.

What is fast tracking in project management?

Fast tracking is a scheduling technique where you execute multiple work streams in parallel rather than sequencing project activities one after the other. It involves evaluating the original schedule and workflow to identify ways to speed up tasks without missing any project goals.

The purpose of fast tracking is to shorten the project timeline and complete the project faster. Project managers typically resort to fast tracking when there’s a need to accelerate the schedule to meet tight deadlines or respond to changes in project requirements or market conditions.

My perspective? ...It’s a fancy name for a technique that most project managers have probably used in their careers, even if they didn’t know it 😉

a sample representation of fast tracking where two consecutive tasks now overlap

How is fast tracking implemented in reality?

Unlike other esoteric project management concepts you might have studied to prepare for the Project Management Professional exam (and then promptly forgot about), fast tracking is a schedule compression technique that often comes in handy in the real world.

Let’s say an activity you had planned to be finished by this point in your project is now running behind, compromising the project timeline. In response, you move up the start date of a subsequent activity to save yourself some time in execution and hopefully still meet your deadline. Congratulations—you’ve fast tracked your schedule to compensate for delays.

So, if fast tracking is a solution to your scheduling woes, why don’t we structure projects this way from the get-go? The reason is that fast tracking has risks:

  • Overcommitting the team. Asking team members to execute multiple work streams in parallel may compromise the quality of project deliverables and/or lead to burnout. Studies have shown that context switching negatively impacts productivity, and it’s important to protect your team’s time.
  • Higher maintenance needs. Project managers must stay on top of project activities to identify and get ahead of dependencies. When the schedule is being fast-tracked and project activities become even more closely intertwined, project managers will need to engage closely with teams to remove blockers as they arise and keep teams executing.

When to fast track projects (and when not to)

Fast tracking is a useful project management technique to use when:

  • Your project encounters a schedule delay and you find yourself needing extra time in execution to compensate for that delay.
  • Your project activities are not completely dependent on one another (i.e., you can begin the next activity before the prior activity has completely finished).
  • You have sufficient resource availability to be able to execute project activities in parallel. This may mean different teams are working on different tasks at the same time, or it may mean that existing resources are able to complete project activities without incurring additional costs.
  • You are working on tasks that fall along your project’s critical path (or the set of activities that represents the shortest time to successful project completion.) Fast tracking activities outside of the critical path won’t make a difference in shortening your overarching project timeline.

If the above conditions do not apply, then your project may not be a candidate for fast tracking. Instead, you could consider another schedule compression technique known as schedule crashing.

Schedule crashing adds extra resources to complete project tasks more quickly. This technique is useful when project activities are dependent on one another (i.e., you can’t start the next task until the prior task has been completed.) The catch is that additional resources increase costs, so schedule crashing is only feasible if you have sufficient project budget to absorb the excess.

5 steps to fast track projects properly

Here are the five steps you should take to fast track your schedule:

1. Identify tasks on the critical path

During the project planning phase, you should have developed a project schedule that included a critical path or those activities that could not be delayed without delaying your entire project schedule.

When preparing to fast track your schedule, you’ll need to revisit the critical path to identify which tasks to move forward. If you fast track tasks outside of the critical path, it won’t shorten your project timeline.

2. Determine which tasks are eligible to fast track

This involves identifying those activities that you can start before other activities have finished. Unlike mandatory dependencies, discretionary dependencies do not need to be performed at a particular time, so your baseline schedule may not have scheduled them as dependencies.

Scheduling decisions depend on the nature of the activities to be performed and the costs involved.

For example, when I was the project manager for a road maintenance effort, we had to make decisions about which maintenance activities to perform and when. Sequencing these activities depended on the terrain, weather conditions, time of year, availability of equipment, and skill sets of the team members performing the work. Even though we could have completed certain maintenance activities concurrently with others, we decided to frontload some activities earlier in the schedule to avoid potential weather delays.

3. Confirm resource availability

Identify whether the team members you’d like to engage to fast track the schedule have the bandwidth to do so.

If the team members you had planned to engage are not available, you can look over capacity in Float to identify team members with the appropriate bandwidth and skill sets.

An example view of project schedule in Float where you can see team members assigned to tasks and when they have booked time off
In Float, you can easily see who’s assigned to what task and how much availability they have to take on additional work

4. Reconfigure the schedule

Jump into the tool you’re using to set project timelines and adjust the tasks—it’s easy to do this in resource planning software. Float, for example, enables you to shift timelines easily as you can move tasks, milestones, and phases together or reschedule individual tasks.

Try to retain a copy of your baseline schedule, which can be useful to help inform cost estimates for future projects.

5. Implement the plan and monitor progress

This includes keeping an eye on resource constraints. It can be difficult to manage multiple project activities happening in parallel, and if you’re not paying close attention to what teams are doing to avoid duplication of effort and potential time-wasting blockers, it can lead to unforeseen costs.

As usual, ensure you routinely monitor hours expended against work completed throughout the project lifecycle. This is especially important for activities along the critical path that you are fast tracking.



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What are the advantages of fast tracking in project management?

Fast tracking can help reduce the overall project duration, meet urgent project deadlines, gain a competitive edge in the market, and improve stakeholder satisfaction by delivering results sooner.

What are the risks of fast tracking in PM?

Fast tracking can lead to increased risks such as rework due to incomplete or inaccurate deliverables, additional resource constraints, potential quality issues, and stakeholder dissatisfaction if expectations are not managed effectively. If you decide to implement fast tracking in your business, it is prudent that you also develop project risk management techniques to mitigate potential issues.

What is the difference between fast tracking vs crashing in project management?

Fast tracking  is a project management technique that involves overlapping activities sequentially to compress the project schedule, whereas project crashing involves allocating additional resources to critical path activities to reduce their duration. Fast tracking focuses on optimizing the sequencing of activities, while crashing focuses on resource optimization.