Schedule compression is a technique used in project management to create output faster without changing the actual scope of a project. Sometimes, there is a tangible benefit to significantly shortening the project timeline. For example, this might be the case when:
- A competitor is preparing to release a similar product or concept and your company wants to be first on the market
- Anticipated changes in economic landscape, political climate or environmental conditions are likely to derail the project unless it is completed ASAP
- A client is offering additional monetary incentive for a rush job
- There are several subsequent, related projects planned which are dependent on the timely completion of the current project
- Your organization is aware of the opportunity to bid on a new, highly lucrative project in the near future but doesn’t have enough resources to handle two projects simultaneously
In these situations, it makes sense to at least consider schedule compression.
One potential approach is referred to as “crashing”. This involves weighing the additional costs associated with doing a rush job with the benefits of meeting the newly proposed deadline. There are both obvious and concealed costs involved in this project management practice. Expedited shipping for any materials used in manufacturing an item might be a readily apparent cost. The risk that the QC department may miss an important quality issue if they are rushed in their work is an example of a potential hidden cost.
The goal of crashing is to determine the perfect balance between shortening the schedule and keeping costs low. Sometimes the tradeoff is simply too costly and the idea of schedule compression must be abandoned entirely. Project managers should tread cautiously when the push for an earlier completion date is not coming from the same people who have the authority to approve increases in cost.
Putting a project on the fast track is another way to achieve a more rapid output. This can sometimes be done when the resources that have already been approved are immediately available to be allocated as needed. This project management approach involves completing multiple phases of a project simultaneously instead of in sequence. Just like parallel processing increases the speed of computing, having several teams working on various work packages at the same time can cut schedule times significantly.
There are risks associated with fast tracking. For example, there is a greater chance of errors when schedule activities are started without the detailed information that would have been available if the team had followed the original project timeline. Mistakes that require work to be redone can end up increasing the time to completion and may negate the whole purpose of the schedule compression effort. The risk management plan should be fully reviewed before fast tracking is attempted.