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Taming fast track construction projects begins by not taking on the ones you shouldn’t. (Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo)

Fast track construction projects always seem to drop out of the sky. One minute your portfolio, or your current project, is flying along nicely, and then suddenly somebody’s got a project they want to get off the ground like yesterday.

When the client is a regular, you feel a lot more anxiety about it then when it’s somebody you’ve never worked with before. But in both cases you’ve got to make some far reaching decisions pretty fast. Here are some ideas for keeping things in perspective and it starts with understanding the fast track beast.

The Origins of Fast Track Projects

Fast track construction projects owe their origins to one of two things. Either a time-sensitive opportunity too good to pass up landed in the owner’s lap, or, a time-senstive opportunity is about to expire. So, in the first case the owner is trying to get out in front of fast moving changes, while in the second, the owner is trying to catch up with fast moving changes. Both situations spell potential danger for you because the project scope is often obscured by the fog of urgency. And, the potential danger increases when the owner is a regular client. When that’s the case, consider these steps.

  • Talk with the owner about options, making it very clear what the risks are in proceeding too quickly. Outline the risks and be prepared with some solutions. Find out where there is flexibility.
  • Carefully assess if you should move forward weighing the risks against the options and flexibility you’ve uncovered.
  • If moving forward, get involved in the scoping and in the design process.
  • Factor in all the potential increased costs that will arise from fast tracking.
  • When scheduling, use a holistic view of all your resources across all projects and apply them across projects where they will be most efficient. This means projects underway will supply resources to the new project.
  • Look for opportunities to maximize material and equipment use.
  • Put your best innovators to work on the new project.

Risks & Rewards

While the worst dangers in fast track construction projects include failure and damage to your reputation, you can weigh those against the opportunities. When successfully doing a fast track for a regular client you improve your value to them. With a new client you gain their trust and confidence. Fast tracks can also be good opportunities to expand your company’s skills in managing change and in being flexible.

While you might be tempted to enter a fast track project because it will give you experience in a new type of construction, or in a new location, doing so can increase the dangers. It’s difficult enough to handle a fast track project when you’re doing something you’re familiar with in an area where you normally operate. Taking on a new type of project, or jumping into a new geography only adds complexity you don’t really need.

Getting Technical

There is evidence that by using a critical chain project management approach for fast track projects you can overcome the problems associated with assigning task durations. CCPM views the project as a relay race where each task gets done as quickly as possible by getting people to focus on doing just that. In typical project scheduling you assign start and completion times, but that often leads to work expanding to fill the available time. CCPM tries to eliminate that tendency as well as delays that arise when people know they have plenty of time. With CCPM, people proceed as fast as possible because they aren’t focusing on dates. This, and other creative options should get used early. Offering alternative scheduling schemes when initially meeting with the owner shows forethought, and a willingness to find solutions.

Overall though, the ball is in your court when assessing fast track construction projects. When deciding whether to take one on, there’s nothing better than knowing your capabilities, understanding all the risks, knowing your options, and knowing the rewards.