25 January, 2024

Schedule Compression: What’s the Difference between Fast Tracking and Crashing?

By Mike Clayton

crashing, expediting a project, fast tracking, schedule compression

Most Project Managers use the terms ‘Fast-tracking’ and ‘Crashing the Schedule’ interchangeably. And that’s fine. But, strictly, they are different schedule compression methods.

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Two Forms of Schedule Compression

Most of us casually refer to either crashing or fast-tracking. Whichever we use, we mean moving our project more quickly. The fancy terms are ‘expediting the project’ or ‘schedule compression’.

And there are two principal ways we can expedite a project.

And, if you want to be technically correct, one of them is crashing and the other is fast-tracking.

But you know what, I have used both terms to mean both things in the past.

But, my favorite Project Management textbook – Project Management: A Managerial Approach by Meredith and Mantel  – is clear.

Schedule Compression by Crashing

Crashing a Project – or Crashing a Timeline – is the use of additional resources to get things done more quickly. We can do this with:

  • Extra staff
  • Specialized equipment
  • Overtime
  • Buying in ready-made components (sometimes referred to as COTS or Commercial Off The Shelf items)

Schedule Compression by Fast-tracking

Fast-tracking is the practice of doing work in parallel, that you would normally do sequentially. That is starting one workstream while another is still ongoing. By doing two things at the same time, you can move faster – as long as you have the resources, and there are no dependencies or other constraints that prevent it.

For example, we would normally complete the design of a building before starting construction work. But, if we start the early phases of construction while the final parts of the design are being finalized by a different team, we can (in principle) finish earlier.

However, you can easily see what some of the risks might be!

Schedule Compression Summary

So, in summary, there are two main ways to expedite your project – or compress your project schedule.:

Crashing uses extra resources, or makes greater use of the resources you have. It therefore trades schedule advantage for additional cost.

Fast-tracking makes use of parallel activities and so, by doing things at the same time, rather than after one another, you can trade schedule advantage for additional risk.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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