Project Crashing: What It Is and When to Use It

Project crashing is when an organization tries to complete a project on an accelerated timetable. It can go wrong if not done right, so review this guide to be sure you understand the process.

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Updated January 2, 2021

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Why do projects fail? There’s a lot of reasons. Perhaps the people running them didn’t know what they were doing. Possibly the project ran out of money due to improper planning. Maybe organizational priorities changed midway, and the project was abandoned. Or a manager tried to accelerate the project, only to cause disruptions by skipping critical tasks and rushing an inferior product out the door.

It’s the last situation we’ll discuss here. Project crashing is when a project manager suddenly gets told to put the project on an accelerated timeline, prompting them to scramble for more resources or shortcuts to do it. It’s often a stressful situation, but you can employ a strategy to ensure you execute it effectively.

Here, we’ll discuss what project crashing is, and how you can draw up a plan that will keep your stakeholders happy and ensure you don’t run into a disaster.


Overview: What is project crashing?

Crash planning is when an organization dramatically shortens the delivery time of a project by reducing the time spent on essential components. The manager receives orders to shorten the project schedule by increasing the resources available or finding shortcuts by eliminating unnecessary tasks.

The resources may differ depending on the project — it could mean more people to work on it, more funding, or additional assets and equipment. This increases the cost of the project, so managers typically only implement project crashing when a project is urgent.

Project crashing involves shortening the length of the project without changing or narrowing the scope. So essentially, a manager is expected to achieve the results envisioned at the start of the project, but to do it more quickly.

The manager can eliminate none of the project goals because the idea behind project crashing is not to reduce the scope. Sounds stressful, right? It can be, but managers can take steps to make it a more orderly process.


How to implement project crashing to your project management strategy

Project crashing at its heart is basic — it just means getting things done faster. But doing it within the context of a larger project means you must take several steps to ensure the project integrity itself remains sound.

1. Determine the essential path

Every project is bound by the triple constraint: scope, cost, and time. The manager begins the project management crashing process by examining the project scope and identifying the components or tasks to complete the project.

After this scope management assessment, the manager identifies which tasks must be shortened to speed up delivery time. He or she then uses the critical path method (CPM) to map out a new direction.

Real-world example: An IT manager needs to complete a software update for 50 computers within five days, but human resource allocation only permits five machines to be updated each day. The manager determines they will need more IT team members to complete the project in time.

2. Decide which tasks can be abbreviated

Project crashing isn't just about allocating more resources — it also involves identifying tasks that could be truncated or abbreviated. The manager talks with the team to determine tasks that could be shortened without jeopardizing the project. Maybe the team won’t be able to shorten any tasks, but if they're able to identify some abbreviation candidates, it could save the manager regarding resource costs.

Real-world example: In the above IT example, the manager works with the team to determine whether each computer needs the software update. They identify five computers with some updates already installed, needing only a quick patch. Two others are used for purposes not requiring an update. So only 43 computers need the full update, shortening the project.

3. Calculate the opportunity cost

The manager should examine how much timeline reduction they could achieve by implementing the steps above and compare that to the negative effects of the project going beyond its deadline. The manager can now determine whether it's worth it to assign additional resources to the project.

Real-world example: The IT manager analyzes the proposed project tracking activities and determines they'll need an additional 27 man-hours to complete the project on time. However, the manager has also found this would save the company about 46 man-hours in efficiency savings.

4. Invest in the least costly approach

Armed with this information, the manager can now invest in the least costly approach to the problem. While the manager has determined moving forward with the project crashing effort is worthwhile, they may choose from a range of options to get additional efficiency savings.

Real-world example: The IT manager is pushing forward with the project acceleration and wants to know when the additional manpower should be added. They find that adding five IT professionals will save the project three days, compared to adding just two IT professionals, which would save a day-and-a-half. Both would still beat the deadline, but by expending more resources sooner, the project would be accelerated even more despite about the same number of overall man-hours.

5. Update budget and timeline accordingly

With all the decisions made, the manager should update the budget and the timeline to reflect the new resource allocation and inform stakeholders of those changes. The manager may need authorization from the stakeholders to be approved for those new human or financial resources, so they must clearly lay out the benefits of this proposal.

Real-world example: The manager drafts a new budget and timeline that specifically lays out what resources are needed and when, and what efficiency savings the company will realize. The stakeholders, eager to see those savings, quickly approve the change.


Software will help you rapidly adjust a project’s timeline

Project schedule compression is not without risks. Do it wrong, and you risk throwing the whole project into haywire, causing costs to skyrocket and missing the original deadline, let alone the accelerated one. Performing a project crash analysis is a lot easier with the right tools for the job. Look into project management software if you aren’t using it already.

These platforms can create highly visual timelines and organize your finances, letting you move things around and experiment with different project crashing strategies.

For example, monday.com has a task schedule and prioritization tool called board "pulses" that the manager can easily modify for the team. Podio has a time tracking tool so managers can monitor employee time and ensure they're not spending too much time on certain tasks. And Trello makes it easy for teams to collaborate through communication tools, file sharing functionality, and team dashboards.

Check out these and other software platforms to see which ones interest you. Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all project management platform. Only you can determine whether a platform has the capabilities you need and an interface your team can easily pick up.

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