Category: Project Management Professional (PMP)® Exam using A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)

PMP® Exam Tip: Crashing & Fast Tracking explained

PMP® Exam Tip: Crashing & Fast Tracking explained...

Every project manager knows that schedules change constantly. And unfortunately, schedules usually don't get shorter -- they get longer! Or your customer wants the product delivered sooner. And now, what looked like a perfect schedule at the beginning of the project is a total mess and you will never be able to complete your project on time!

Unless of course you take immediate action in the form of crashing or fast tracking.

And that is what this article is all about. I will teach you everything you need to know about both techniques for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® Exam. I'll even include a video and an exam sample question below. Let's begin:

Crashing and Fast Tracking are Schedule Compression Techniques

Schedule compression is used when you want to shorten the duration of your project without changing project scope.

This is useful in those situations when you have fallen behind the original schedule and now need to "catch up", or if you want to finish sooner because a competitor is working on the same type of product and you want to be first to market. It may also be a strategic decision to complete a project more quickly than originally scheduled based on other factors.

There are two schedule compression techniques that you need to understand for your PMP® Exam:

Add resources to your project so you can finish faster. Crashing almost always involves a financial cost.
Fast Tracking
Perform tasks in parallel so you can finish faster. Overlapping tasks in this way often increases risk.

Schedule compression should always be focused on the critical path of your project, because the critical path defines the end date of your project. And if you want to finish your project sooner then it does not make sense to compress any activities that have no effect on your project end date.

Schedule Compression Definition

A technique used to shorten the schedule duration without reducing the project scope.

PMBOK® Guide

What is Fast Tracking?

Fast Tracking Definition

A schedule compression technique in which activities or phases normally done in sequence are performed in parallel for at least a portion of their duration.

PMBOK® Guide

Fast tracking is applied by re-scheduling various activities within the project to be worked on simultaneously instead of waiting for each piece to be completed separately. Always start with this technique first. Why? Because there is no cost involved. You are basically "just rearranging the schedule".

However, this method can only be used if activities can actually be overlapped.

For example it is possible to begin the construction of a prototype even if the design specifications are not 100% complete. You can overlap them as long as enough of the specifications have been defined for you to begin prototype development.

The risk involved with fast tracking is that problems can occur if parallel aspects of the project include dependencies. In our example your risk is that you need to rework the prototype if the design is change half way through the process. But your opportunity is that production will be done much sooner if the design remains stable.

So risk and opportunity must be weighed against each other by the project manager.

Fast Tracking Example

You are reviewing your project schedule and notice that your project end-date has slipped beyond the promised end-date. You need to bring things back on track without spending any additional money.

A detailed analysis shows that there are three tasks that can be started earlier in order to shorten the project:

  • End-user documentation can begin after integration testing but before final sign-off.
  • User training sessions can be started before the final system is set up and installed if the first 3 sessions can be trained using the test system
  • Set up and installation of the final system could be started three days before testing is complete.

Each of these ideas will shorten your schedule, but also add addtional risk to the project. It is your responsibility as the project manager weigh the options against each other and determine wich (or all) of these you will apply in order to shorten the schedule.

What is Crashing?

Crashing Definition

A technique used to shorten the schedule duration for the least incremental cost by adding resources.

PMBOK® Guide

When the crashing approach is used, any additional costs associated with rushing the project are reviewed against the possible benefits of completing the project on a faster timeline. Additional items to consider when using the crashing approach include adding more resources for the project, allowing additional overtime, paying extra to receive delivery of critical components more quickly, etc.

Crashing only works when additional resources allow you to complete the project sooner. For instance, crashing will not work by adding more human resources when "the concrete in the foundation has to dry for 3 days".

Crashing Example

You are leading a project to implement new regulations in your organization. The new law comes into effect on June 30th and every day of delay will cost your organization a government imposed fine. You have already tweaked and streamlined the project schedule as much as possible but no further improvement seems possible without drastic measures.

In a discussion with the project sponsor you both agree that finishing the project on schedule is the primary constraint. Additional budget must be requested.

  • You analyze the critical path.
  • You identify all tasks that can be shortened by adding additional resources.
  • You make a calculation for each task, determining the cost and number of days saved by adding additional resources.
  • You identify the least costly approach.
  • You provide a crashing budget and updated schedule to the sponsor.

How do I use Crashing and Fast Tracking on my Project?

Expert Advice

We've used both fast tracking and crashing as a means of meeting deadlines. However, these techniques to meet the deadlines do come with their own costs/technical debt. (Read more...)

Jeremy Papp

The examples we've given above are intended to explain crashing and fast tracking from a textbook perspective. They explain the theoretical application of these techniques in a simple situation in order to show how they work. On paper.

But what about using these techniques on actual projects? Is it possible to simply implement the textook process, or are there any specific insights that we have to take into consideration? What are the lessons learned from other project managers?

We decided to go ahead and ask the participants of our discussion forums. Just like you they are all project managers in charge of ongoing projects and many of them have experience with these techniques. Here are the questions we asked:

  1. How have you used crashing or fast tracking on your projects?
  2. What lessons learned can you share with us?
  3. And of course... How have you studied these two techniques for your PMP Exam?

We went ahead and asked in our discussion forum and we received a great number of extremely insightful responses. You can read everything here.

Watch this PMP Training Video on Crashing + Fast Tracking

Click the image below to watch a video where we explain everything you need to know about crashing and fast tracking for your PMP exam in under 10 minutes:

PMP Exam Sample Questions

Test your understanding of crashing and fast tracking with this sample question from the PMP Exam Simulator:

  • You are managing a software development project. In the middle of the project, you find out that you are way behind schedule. Your company has invested a lot in this project, and if you don't deliver the project on time, it will be a total disaster. You analyze your project schedule to adjust it so that you may be able to complete the project on time with the existing resources. You find out that you have a lot of discretionary dependencies in your project schedule. What is the best way for you to adjust the project schedule so that you may be able to complete the project on time?

    A) Keep the discretionary dependencies intact and apply Crashing
    B) Keep the discretionary dependencies intact and apply Fast Tracking
    C) Remove the discretionary dependencies and apply Crashing
    D) Remove the discretionary dependencies and apply Fast Tracking

  • Correct Answer: D) Remove the discretionary dependencies and apply Fast Tracking.

    Explanation: As you need to find a way out of this problem with your existing resources, you can't apply the Crashing technique. You can only apply Fast Tracking after removing the discretionary dependencies from the project.

    Reference: PMBOK Guide 5th Edition, page 158

More questions like this one...

Learn More about Crashing and Fast Tracking


Crashing and Fast Tracking are schedule compression techniques. You apply them in order to shorten your schedule and to reach a certain schedule target.

  • Fast tracking means executing two activities at the same time, even if they would normally not be done in this way.
  • Fast tracking is free but adds additional risk to your project.
  • Crashing means to add additional resources to your project.
  • Crashing requires additional budget. So you want to crash those activities that give you the biggest bang for the buck -- the most schedule compression at the least cost.
  • Both techniques only make sense if you apply them to activities on your critical path.

Last but not least, don't forget to stop by at our discussion forum and read up on how other project managers have used these techniques on their projects and what they did to study them for their PMP exam.

PMP® Exam Tip: Crashing & Fast Tracking Video

Crashing and fast tracking are both schedule compression techniques that you need to know for your Project Management Professional (PMP)® Exam. Please watch this complimentary video lesson from The PM PrepCast in which Cornelius Fichtner, PMP explains both techniques in detail.

We also recommend that you read our article Crashing and Fast Tracking explained which has additional definitions, examples and even a free PMP® exam sample question so you can test your understanding of the techniques.

Crashing and Fast Tracking Video from The PM PrepCast

Watch more free PMP training videos here...

Video Transcript

Hello, I’m Cornelius Fichtner and this is a special excerpt from the PM PrepCast™ lesson on the Develop Schedule process. In the next few minutes, you and I are going to review the Schedule Compression techniques of Crashing and Fast Tracking. And please do stop by at www.pm-prepcast.com/free to access all our free videos. Here we go.

Schedule compression techniques are next. But before we look at these different techniques, what do we mean by Schedule Compression? A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) defines Schedule Compression as techniques used to shorten the schedule duration without reducing the project scope. This means that talking to the sponsor to get a schedule extension and discussing the removal of features with the users, those are not Schedule Compression techniques.

There are two types of Schedule Compression techniques that we need to look at in detail. They are Crashing which involves shortening the schedule duration and Fast Tracking where activities that are normally done in sequence are now performed in parallel. So why would you need to use Schedule Compression techniques on your project? Well, as the definition stated, you would use them to shorten the schedule duration without reducing the project scope in order to meet schedule constraints in postdates or other schedule objectives. Let’s take a look at the details here.

Crashing is a schedule compression technique used to shorten the schedule duration for the least incremental cost by adding resources to your project. Crashing only works for those activities that are on the critical path of your project schedule where additional resources will shorten the activity’s duration and therefore, shorten the critical path and therefore, shorten your project. Crashing does not always produce a viable alternative and almost always results in increased cost. Examples of crashing include approving overtime, bringing in additional resources, and paying to expedite delivery of activities on the critical path.

Here’s an example. Let’s assume that you look at your schedule and you see that you don’t have enough time to finish the activities. You have 10 weeks of work left on your project but you have promised to the customer that you will complete the project in eight weeks from now. So you obviously have a problem. Your response as a project manager is to take these 10 weeks of effort and compress them into eight weeks of actual time in the calendar. So let’s start out by adding more resources to the project. This technique is called Crashing. The idea here is to look at your schedule activities and figure out to which activities you can actually add resources in order to get the most schedule reduction. But you only crash those activities that are on the critical path. Why? Well, there is no point at all to crash an activity that is not on the critical path. In our example here, the effort of our project is 10 weeks. That is our critical path. There are always activities that are outside of those 10 weeks that are done in parallel, not part of this 10-week path. And even if we were able to shorten all the activities outside of these 10 weeks down to just one hour of work, well we have not shortened our 10 weeks at all. So only crash activities on your critical path. Second, we have to take the crashing cost into consideration as well. Let’s assume that you have two activities that you could crash. Activity A will cost you EUR200 and you can crash it by three days, you can shorten it by three days. Activity B on the other hand cost you EUR500 and you can also crash it by three days. Which one would you choose? Well, the answer is simple. You choose the cheaper one, of course. So remember, when answering exam sample questions, that you always crash those activities that are cheapest or bring the most reduction at the same price first.

Fast Tracking is our second schedule compression technique in which project activities or project phases that are normally performed sequentially are now performed in parallel for at least a portion of their duration. Fast Tracking may result in rework and also increases project risk. Fast Tracking only works if activities can be overlapped to shorten the overall project duration. An example of Fast Tracking is that you start the construction of the house foundation before completing all of the architectural design drawings. By way of example here, let’s continue our crashing scenario. Let’s say that we have crashed the schedule and we were able to reduce our 10 weeks down to nine weeks. So it’s still one week too long, we have to get it down to eight weeks. It looks like we have to be a little bit more creative now.

So let’s try our next schedule compression technique which is Fast Tracking. In Fast Tracking, we are going to overlap project activities that normally don’t overlap. So let’s say that the first three weeks of our schedule, a pure design followed by two weeks of prototype development. Now, this is going to be risky but after about two and a half weeks of design, we can probably start working on the prototype and continue to finish the design in parallel. And in this fashion, we will go through all the schedule activities in our completed schedule to decide if we can risk starting them earlier than we had originally planned and run them in parallel. By the way, do you remember the float that we discussed earlier? And I’ve mentioned that float can also be negative. Well, that is exactly what we are doing now. We are giving a negative float to these activities so that they start before their predecessors finish in order to meet our overall target finish date.

And here are a few additional facts that you should remember about our two schedule compression techniques of Fast Tracking and Crashing. First of all, there is no reason to fast track or crash any activities that are not on the critical path because you will not gain any time whatsoever on your overall schedule if you cannot shorten your critical path. Crashing is costly because we are adding resources to our project. I don’t think that there is any doubt in your mind about the fact that if you add more resources to an activity, it’s going to cost you more. Fast Tracking is risky and may lead to rework on your project. Let’s assume that we fast track the production of the prototype and then the designers changed the basic design. That will lead to rework because we have to redo the prototype again and we may lose even more time.

In the end, you must decide if you are willing to make the trade-off between having this increased risk or cost and being able to implement a shorter project schedule

Leads, Lags and... Hammocks for your PMP® Exam Preparation

Project Manager Writing in a Daily Planner OrganizerThe terms leads and lags are used to identify and control the timing of various activities within the project. It is important to accurately document leads and lags.

Lead Time: Let's assume a project has two pieces that need to be completed at the same time. Work package A will take 4 weeks to complete, but work package B only takes one week. B would show in the project plan as a finish to start (FS) with a one week lead. This means the B work package component should start one week before A is scheduled to be completed.

Lag Time: Lag time can best be described as a planned or forced delay. A great example of this is a construction project that involves pouring concrete. The project plan must include a lag time of 2 days for the concrete to dry before the next phase can begin.

Hammock Activity: Hammock activity is also frequently referred to as summary activity. These are activities that are roughly related and are reported as a single activity. Some times the relationship between the activities is clear, other times they may only be related because their completion leads to the same result. On a gantt chart a hammock activity is usually displayed as a thick black bar above a grouping of lower level activities.

Mandatory vs Discretionary Project Management Dependencies

Confused about the difference between mandatory and discretionary project management dependenciesProject management dependencies determine the order in which various activities should be completed. These dependencies usually documented as an activity attribute and help in sequencing the activities on the project schedule network diagram. As you prepare for your Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam, it is important to know the difference between discretionary dependencies and mandatory project management dependencies.A mandatory dependency is one that “must be” carried out at a particular time.

It is usually requirement of some kind based on contracts, laws, company procedures, physical limitations, etc. When the sequence of events is developed for various aspects of the process, mandatory dependencies are placed where they must happen.A discretionary dependency is one that isn't based on a "have to", but on a "should". These decisions are usually based upon best practices, business knowledge, etc. They are placed on the project diagram where the team members would like them to occur.

Since discretionary project management dependencies are more arbitrary, they should be fully documented so the reasons for their placement can be maintained and available during future revisions. As a project progresses and adjustments are needed, discretionary dependencies are often reviewed for possible alterations.

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PMP® Exam Tip: Why do we use a Probability and Impact Matrix?

PMP® Exam Tip: Why do we use a Probability and Impact Matrix?The probability and impact matrix sounds very complicated, but the concept is actually something that most people use in their everyday life quite frequently, although in a simpler form.

The probability and impact matrix comes into play when the project manager or team members determine that a particular phase or activity within the project contains a certain amount of risk. That risk needs to be quantified.

Each risk is given two sets of criteria which are then viewed on the probability and impact matrix. Each potential event is rated based on the likelihood that it will occur. It is also separately rated regarding how much of a problem would be created if it were to occur. The probability and impact matrix is used because it allows you to merge both of these components onto the same scale.

The matrix is used to review both sets of criteria at the same time. The result is that each potential risk can be designated as a low risk, a medium level risk or a high risk and then handled accordingly.

Now go ahead and open up your A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) on page 331 and look at figure 11-10, which is an example of a probability impact matrix. The probability that a particular even will happen is shown along the left side of the chart and the degree of impact is shown along the bottom.

For example:
If the probability level was very low (.10) and the potential impact was also low (.10), the score on the matrix would be a .01.
If the probability level was medium (.50) and the potential impact was medium (.20), the score on the matrix would be .10.
If the probability level was higher (.70) and the potential impact was higher (.40), the score on the matrix would be .28.

The higher the matrix score, the higher the risk level associated with the item that is being analyzed.

The Schedule Network Diagram Explained

diagramThe preparation for your Project Management Professional (PMP)® Exam must include a thorough understanding of the concept of a schedule network diagram. This must include all of it’s sub-components as well. Here are some important definitions:

Project Schedule Network Diagram: This is a broad term used to encompass elements of the project from the planning stages through the completion of the project. Chronology is important so this diagram is always completed in a left to right manner.

Network Logic: This is a collection of the logic that is related to building the various diagrams for the project.

Network Path: This path is set to show the various series of activities that make up the project schedule network diagram. The series of scheduled activities are connected in a logical and flowing manner.

Subnetwork: This is a subdivision of the main project diagram and it typically represents either a work package or a subproject. A subnetwork is frequently used to show possible or proposed conditions that may alter the schedule. An example is changes to the scope of the project.

Time Scaled Schedule Network Diagram: This is a diagram tool that is typically used when you are scheduling a type of activity. An example is a bar graph that is drawn to show the positioning and length of the activity.

Learn How PMP Exam Test You on Project Management Concepts

This tip is intended to tell our readers that they should expect the unexpected in the test questions. For instance one student asked why the technique of "Activity on Arrow" was a question he got on his exam, even though this technique had been removed from A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). My answer was as follows:

The PMBOK® Guide project management conceptsdoesn't contain 100% of the project management concepts and tools that project managers around the world use. As such both AON and AOA are still being used. Also, Project Management Institute (PMI)® clearly says that the Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam will also test you on project management concepts that are not necessarily found in the PMBOK® Guide (but they cleverly omit telling us where we could find these...).

So what is the consequence of all of this? Don't be surprised to find questions on the PMP® exam that are about concepts that are not (or no longer) on the PMBOK® Guide. But don't let that worry you too much. Simply accept that this might be happening, read lessons learned from others so that you can see what might be on the test and do your best as you prepare for the exam.

For more PMP exam study tips and techniques, watch this video:

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