8 Proven Ways to Compress Project Schedules

Project managers are pressured to deliver projects quickly. Sponsors think their project managers are magicians…and in a way, we are. Let’s explore eight ways to wave our magic wand to make the seemingly impossible possible.

8 Proven WaysTo Compress ProjectSchedules

Before we dive into our magic tricks, let’s walk through some preliminaries. We need first to break down our work into deliverables and activities.

Mapping Out Your Course of Action

The project manager’s role is to work with the project team to achieve the project objectives. How do we do this? The project manager and the project team develop a project plan that includes the project schedule.

Work break down structure (WBS). Photo courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).

The project manager must break down the project into pieces. The first exercise is the decompose the project into deliverables, verifiable work products (e.g., building, software, reports, yo-yos). In this exercise, we should consider:

  • What deliverables must be created to achieve the project objectives?
  • What will NOT be delivered in the project?
  • What are the assumptions?
  • What are the budget constraints?
  • When must the project be completed?

Next, we decompose the lowest level deliverables into activities. What activities must be performed to create the deliverables?

Now comes the creative experience of sequencing the activities. Wise project managers ask:

  • What is the most efficient order of the activities?
  • Must certain activities occur before other activities can start?
  • Can we perform some activities in parallel?
  • Are we dependent on external resources, vendors, and organizations?
  • Will we need to wait for certain activities (e.g., let cement dry for the foundation of a building before constructing the walls)?

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” -Henry Ford

How to Pull a Rabbit Out of the Hat

Creativity is about solving problems. The project manager shows the schedule to the sponsor with a duration of eight months. The sponsor responds, “Six months max.” Let’s consider ways to compress the schedule. This is where magic starts to happen.

  • Recheck the activity dependencies. Make sure they are correct and valid. Look for ways to change the dependencies to drive quicker completion.
  • Challenge the assumptions where activities are thought to be mandatory dependencies. Do we really have to complete certain activities BEFORE we start the successor activities? Sometimes we can find ways to start subsequent activities in parallel with other activities (called fast tracking). Warning – this action will likely increase risks. Want to see a crazy example of fast tracking? Check out a World Record for House Speed Building!
  • Reduce lags. How long do we have to wait for the cement to dry? Get creative…find ways to reduce the lags on the project’s critical path. Try a quick drying cement…you get the idea!
  • Check the external dependencies. Rather waiting two weeks for delivery of laptops, why not drive across town and purchase the laptops from a local vendor? Double check the outsourcing assumptions. Do you really want to depend on someone outside of your organization? If you choose to outsource, can you contractually to reduce the duration of the outsourced activities.

Other Powerful Hat Tricks

Not only can we expedite projects by modifying the dependencies, here are some other tactics:

  • Reduce the duration of activities by reducing the associated risks. When individuals estimate activities, they add time to account for risks. If we can reduce or eliminate the risk, we can reduce the time required.
  • Reduce the project duration by adding additional qualified resources to the critical path activities (called crashing). Warning – this action increases cost and often increases risks.
  • Reduce the duration by replacing a team member with someone with greater skill and knowledge for critical path activities. Of course, this action will increase the cost.
  • Reduce the scope of the project. Discuss the priority of the deliverables with the key stakeholders and determine if the scope can be reduced.