Manage Risks While Compressing Project Schedules


  •  Minute Read

Project managers are pressured to deliver projects quickly. Sponsors think their project managers are magicians. And in a way, we are. Let us explore ways to compress project schedules and manage the associated risks.

Start with the Work Breakdown Structure

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 management plan that includes the project schedule.

One risk is that we may fail to identify activities. And this can come back to bite us later.

The project manager and the team should break down each project into pieces. First, decompose the project into deliverables, verifiable work products (e.g., building, software, reports). 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?

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

Another risk is that we may fail to sequence the activities properly. Here are some questions that you should 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)?

Schedule Compression Strategies

Creativity is about solving problems. The project manager shows the schedule to the sponsor with a duration of eight months. The sponsor responds, “We must complete this project within six months.” Let’s look at some ways to compress the schedule. 

  • Recheck the activity dependencies. Make sure they are correct and valid. Additionally, look for ways to change the dependencies to drive faster completion.
  • Challenge the assumptions about 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.
  • Reduce lags. Be creative and find ways to reduce the lags in the project’s critical path. 
  • Check the external dependencies. Rather than waiting two weeks for a delivery of laptops, why not drive across town and purchase the laptops locally? Furthermore, double-check the outsourcing assumptions and arrangements.

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

More Schedule Compression Tactics

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 schedule activities, they add time to account for risks. Consequently, 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 likely 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.

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