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Fast Tracking:

Fast tracking is a management technique used to ensure that projects are complet
ed within the shortest time possible. When projects are fast-tracked, it usually
indicates that tasks have been arranged to take advantage of non-dependent acti
vities that can occur simultaneously, thus shortening the overall project timeli
ne. But, there is more to fast-tracking than the sequencing of tasks and activit
ies.

Is fast-tracking appropriate for you and your current project?


Before you can safely fast-track a project, you must first address a few assumpt
ions...
You must have a realistic schedule, with all tasks and activities properly ident
ified.
You must be aware of all task dependencies (knowing which tasks must end before
others can begin).
You must have a solid grasp on project requirements, objectives and priorities.
You must have a good relationship with your end-users and management.
You must have a good process for tracking progress and managing risks and proble
ms.
Once you can meet all these assumptions, you will then have to address your need
s.... why do you need to fast-track the project?
Fast-tracking can be appropriate under a number of circumstances and conditions.
It is important to note that fast-tracking has its risks ... most notably; a p
roject that is on the fast track can be harder to manage because of all the simu
ltaneous activity. In addition, if and when problems occur, the negative impact
can be more serious considering the extent of activity underway. So, fast-trac
king should be carefully considered.

When is fast-tracking appropriate?


The project has to be completed within the shortest time possible to meet requir
ed business needs and objectives.
The project has to be completed sooner than expected due to changing circumstanc
es.
The project is behind schedule and the remaining tasks have to be streamlined to
make up for lost time.
The project is in trouble, and fast-tracking is needed to minimize further losse
s and damage.
When faced with the need to fast-track a project, the first thought may be to ad
d resources, or even more likely, to put in more work hours. But these options
are not always productive or viable.
The application of additional staff resources, which may not even be a possibili
ty, is often not a solution. Under some project circumstances, no matter how ma
ny resources you add, certain tasks can only be completed by a finite number of
resources. Additional resources may only cause confusion, and in fact, may impe
de, rather that promote progress.
Overtime is also a tricky proposition. While additional work hours may shorten
an otherwise lagging schedule, excessive overtime may backfire if staff burn-out
sets in.
Considering these issues, fast-tracking may be best used as a strategic weapon,
where you first look to the project schedule and then the project itself to ensu
re that all efficiencies are being met.
The Fast-Track Process
Step One: Understand your Goals & Capabilities
Why do you need to fast-track?
Are you looking for project efficiencies or to solve problems?
Do you have the skills and resources needed to properly manage this project once
it is on the fast-track.

Step Two: Examine the Project Schedule


Identify hard dependencies (those tasks which have a "finish - start" relationsh
ip that cannot be changed).
Identify soft dependencies (those tasks which can possibly be modified to remove
dependencies)
Identify concurrent tasks (tasks having no dependencies and can occur simultaneo
usly). This is the key to fast tracking.

Step Three: Re-work the Project Timeline


Having identified concurrent tasks, create a schedule that allows these tasks to
be completed in the shortest time possible.
Break down soft dependencies into task sub-sets, removing dependencies to shorte
n the project timeline.
Focus on the remaining hard dependencies, assigning rotating staff, working in s
hifts, to allow more time to be spent on each task, thus shortening the overall
timeline.
Step Four: Examine Alternatives
Can additional resources be added, and to which project tasks can those resource
s best be applied?
Can additional work hours (overtime) be authorized, and how should those additio
nal hours be applied?
Can the scope of the project be changed to shorten the project schedule?
Can deliverables functionality be reduced to shorten the project schedule?
Can the project be outsourced in order to shorten the project schedule?

Step Five: Weigh Alternatives


As you examine and consider these fast-track alternatives, you need to weigh eac
h alternative against....
Time: How much time do you need to save?
Gain: What benefits will be realized from fast-tracking?
Costs: What costs will be incurred from fast-tracking?
Impact: What will the impact be on staff, and on other projects already underwa
y?

Step 6: Seek Consensus


Before you fast-track a project, you should ensure that your analysis is complet
e, and that you have the buy-in of those who would be impacted by the fast-track
decision, including staff and end-users. You may need to fast-track without to
tal agreement, but cooperation will be greatly enhanced if all points of view ar
e considered.

Step 7: Monitor Progress and Track Problems


Once in fast-track mode, effective issues tracking and problem management become
s essential. By definition, a fast-track project will be proceeding at an aggre
ssive pace, and there will be significant activity going on at once. The luxury
of finishing one task and then moving on the next will be gone, so the ability
to track multiple tasks and manage issues and problems will be critical to succe
ss.
Concluded Note:
In all likelihood, every project customer wants their project completed as quick
ly as possible. In and of itself, this is not a reason to fast-track. Dependin
g upon the type of project, the experience of the project team and the results d
esired, fast-tracking may not be an option. Sometimes a project must proceed al
ong a timeline that cannot be shortened, despite the best intentions. However,
when used with discretion and efficiency, fast-tracking can be a productive mean
s for responding to changing business needs and project circumstances.
GAUTAM KOPPALA
POME Author