Project management is one of those fields where, no matter how carefully you plan, how great your team is at crushing deadlines, or even how many times you’ve completed similar projects, things don’t go according to plan.
Luckily, project management is also one of those fields that has solutions for times when things don’t work out. Because sometimes it just can’t be helped. As the project manager, you’re doing everything right, but the project scope shifts suddenly, or someone drops the ball on a key deadline without realizing it, and everything goes pear-shaped. So, when it does happen, fast tracking is one of the ways that you can pull things together and still get your project wrapped up, even if it is slightly late.
What is fast tracking in project management?
Fast tracking is a tactic used in project management where, instead of completing tasks in order, everything is worked at the same time. This means that rather than working your way through things one piece at a time, you’re doing as many tasks as possible simultaneously.
This only works with tasks that don’t have any dependencies, though. There will be some tasks that you simply can’t fast track because they rely on the output from another piece of the project, but any tasks that can be worked on at the same time should be.
How to decide whether to fast track a project
The decision to fast track shouldn’t be made without proper consideration. First, it has to be possible to fast track. If a project has too many dependencies, fast tracking probably isn’t the best option. You have to carefully consider the pros and cons each time fast tracking comes up.
Get a thorough understanding of your most important tasks
Take a long hard look at your critical path when trying to determine whether fast tracking is going to work. You’re looking for any dependencies, places where certain parts of the project require other aspects of the project to be completed in a certain order and you’re trying to find the shortest path through your project.
The more dependencies you have in your critical path activities, the less sense it makes to use fast tracking. You’re going to keep hitting blockers that slow everything down while you wait, so you’re not going to be moving nearly as quickly as you could.
Assess the potential gains
Think about what you stand to gain from fast tracking the project. There are going to be some obvious gains, like hitting your deadline or even just getting a project back on track. With a set of schedule compression techniques, fast tracking can help you boost the productivity of your team enough that you may even be able to expedite the project delivery.
But, also think about the less obvious gains, like saving the relationship with a client or avoiding late penalties that some projects may have.
Assess the potential risks
Fast tracking also has the potential to introduce problems to your projects. For starters, quality control becomes a problem because your team isn’t just working on one thing at a time, they’re doing as much as possible at once. Rework tends to increase with fast tracking, so if you’re really tight for time, be aware of that.
Similarly, productivity can be affected because multiple parts of the project are overlapped at once, rather than in sequence. This means that your team members may be doing two or three different parts of the project at the same time. Because multitasking can have an impact on productivity, you end up extending the project duration by slowly working on all of them, rather than quickly working on one.
Determine the cost-benefit tradeoff
Fast tracking only works if it makes sense to do so. Before committing resources to re-working the schedule to make fast tracking possible, ask yourself if it’s going to be worth it. What are your least incremental costs? If you’re allocating additional resources and you still end up being late because you had to spend more time fixing errors or redoing parts of the project, for example, it’s not going to be worth it.
Fast tracking risks
As great as it can be, fast tracking isn’t without its risks. It’s one of the reasons we suggest running the cost-benefit analysis first. You should only fast track when it’s necessary because otherwise, you’re needlessly introducing risk and error into your projects.
More room for error
We’ve already touched on this a little, but fast tracking potentially introduces more errors in your projects. Timelines are often carefully chosen because they’re the fastest you can conceivably get something done properly. Meaning, you can do the project fast without breaking anything.
With fast tracking, not only are you working faster, but you’re working on more than one thing at a time. Multitasking almost always introduces errors because people aren’t as focused as they should be and are doing one thing, while thinking about another. Along with leaving more room for error, you risk burning out your team.
Compromised quality of work
Along with the risk of more error, you also end up with work that just isn’t as good with fast tracking. This happens, again, because you’re multitasking trying to get multiple parts of a project done at the same time. No one on your team is focused on any one thing because they’re all focused on doing everything.
Not delivering the project on time
Believe it or not, even though fast tracking is supposed to help you speed things up, it can slow things down as well. When you’re doing something that introduces the possibility for errors and lower quality work, you run the risk of having to redo a lot of the work that you’re doing. It’s not a given, but it’s definitely a possibility. If things go really poorly, you could end up missing your deadlines because you’ve had to spend too much time fixing the problems that fast tracking introduced.
Plus, if you’ve incorrectly assessed your critical path, it’s possible you’ll spend too much time working on the wrong parts of a project, just because you can and you miss working on the bigger, time-consuming chunk until it’s too late.
5 tips to fast track a project successfully
Because of the potential risks, fast tracking a project successfully requires extra planning and a thorough understanding of your project timeline, the people working on your project, and strong communication skills, among other things.
Like a lot of things, the more time you put into planning, the more successful fast tracking will be for you and your team.
1. Map your critical path
As we’ve mentioned before, your critical path is key to successful fast tracking. The critical path shows you all the dependencies that you have in any given project. If there are too many dependencies, then fast tracking isn’t likely to work. But, if you can find an efficient route through the core of the project, take it.
2. Create a fast tracking plan
Fast tracking isn’t going to work unless you have a solid plan in place and all stakeholders are on the same page. There are too many things that can potentially go wrong for you to wing it.
Your fast tracking plan needs to consider every aspect of the project, with a focus on things like the critical path, schedule duration, additional costs, and who needs to be involved. Since fast tracking tends to introduce rework, you also need to make sure that your plan includes time at the end for quality control.
You want to spend as much time on your plan as you can afford in order to make sure that you’re creating something that takes all the different variables into account and has a clear path to follow at all points of the fast track.
3. Rework the project schedule
Fast tracking is a project schedule compression technique, which means that it lets you get more done in a shorter amount of time. To do this, you have to fiddle with the project schedule to shorten the timeline. The critical path plays a big part in this, as it shows you the shortest possible route through all the tasks.
With a keen eye, you’ll be able to find other ways to compress the schedule, like reducing both the number of meetings you have on a project and the duration of those meetings.
4. Communicate with the project team
Like most things related to project management, if communication with stakeholders isn’t a part of your routine, you’re doing it wrong. This is especially true for fast tracking because lots of different things are happening at the same time. Regular check-ins and communication with your team are critical.
However, don’t confuse the need for communication with the need for more meetings. Meetings (as we mentioned above) eat up time and affect the schedule. Quick check-ins are ideal, but if you need to have meetings make them quick and to the point.
5. Keep track of progress
With so much happening at once, you need to have a solid system in place for keeping track of everything that’s happening during your fast track. The regular communication mentioned above can help with this, but if you have project management software that you’re using, make sure it’s up to date as well. If it’s possible, get team members to update each day, so you can get your updates at a glance, rather than having to do individual meetings or check-ins.
Coda templates for fast tracking projects
The good news is that you don’t have to fly blind when you’re fast tracking a project — Coda has templates that can help you make your fast tracking efforts more successful.
are an excellent way to discover the critical path through your project. Since they show you a high-level view of your timeline and help you spot dependencies that exist in your project. A well-organized Gantt chart can help you quickly compress the schedule and get started with fast tracking.
Task dependencies with duration
helps you identify the dependencies that exist in your project and tells you approximately how much time each chunk of the project should take. It’s good for telling whether it’s even possible to fast track a specific project since you can look at everything to see if there’s any room for tasks to be done in parallel.
Cross-functional project tracker
When you’re fast tracking, it helps to know if you’ve got additional team members that you can pull into the project or even whether current teams can do the fast tracking (because they might have another project starting soon). With the
, you can see the bird’s eye view of what’s going on with all projects, who’s available to help out, and who (or which teams) are booked solid.
Project management communication
We’ve mentioned the importance of communication during fast tracking a few times already because it’s a critical part of the success of the project. And, we’ve also mentioned that it’s possible to get bogged down by communication, especially if you’re having too many meetings. The good news is that you can easily automate communication with this
. This template lets you send messages automatically through Slack or Gmail whenever the status of a project (or task) changes, so everyone is in the loop.
Fast tracking FAQ
Which is better: fast tracking vs crashing?
It kind of depends on what you’re doing, how many resources that you have available, what kind of time you need to make up for, and whether you have room in your budget.
Fast tracking allows you to do significant chunks of your project at the same time to reduce the overall timeline of the project. With project crashing, you’re throwing resources and money at a project until it’s done. This means you’re adding people to the team, working longer hours, and generally grinding on a task until it’s done. The biggest risk with crashing is employee burnout, so it’s only good for short bursts before you start seeing diminishing returns.
What do you need to fast track a project?
The core things you need to fast track a project are planning, a very clear understanding of your critical path, and communication. Having a project sponsor and a solid team help a lot, too, but if you don’t have those three factors nailed down, fast tracking is going to be challenging for you and your team.
Is fast tracking risky?
As we’ve mentioned, fast tracking isn’t without its risk, but when managed properly, it can really help you out of a tricky situation. One of the things that helps reduce the risk is careful planning and, if possible, using templates that help you follow the critical path of a project without getting too far into the weeds. Templates and other project management tools help you mitigate a lot of the risk associated with fast tracking.
What is the best project management tool for fast tracking?
Well, call us biased, but Coda is an excellent project management tool for fast tracking. Not only do we provide you with templates that can help you get started quickly, but you can create your own custom templates that fit the way you and your teams work. We can help with everything from dependency tracking to communication. Want to learn more? Sign up today.