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What Is Crashing a Project in Project Management?

05th Sep, 2023
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What Is Crashing a Project in Project Management?

Projects come in different shapes and sizes. They may face unique challenges during various stages. A large and complex project is likely to face more problems than a small project that only involves a handful of people.  

What are the problems a project may face?  

  • A delay 
  • Lack of quality 
  • A problem with coordination 
  • Mismatch of expectations 
  • A poor plan 
  • Unforeseen circumstances 
  • External factors 
  • Change of scope 

While each of these problems could be discussed in detail, we are more interested in what you should do if your project faces any of these issues. What could be the impact of a project going off track? The completion date is delayed, the project costs go up, or the project gets scrapped. There are ramifications for each of these scenarios. Get to know more about project description and conflict management.

Depending on the type of project, the decision that you need to take may differ. If the project gets scrapped, then there is nothing to do other than to learn from it and find out how to prevent something like that from happening again. In the case of a delay or any other issue, you should try to bring the project back on track. You could do this by calculating the cost the problem has caused. Some projects may involve penalties for missing the completion date.  

You may need to advance the completion date of a project even if it is going on track because of an external factor. For example, a competitor is working on a similar project. In both cases, you will need to find a way to improve the speed of the project and shorten the time that is required to complete the project. This is what project crashing aims to do. Get to know more about agile vs traditional project management.

What Is Project Crashing?

Project crashing involves shortening the expected time taken for a project. This is primarily done by adding more resources to it. You may find diverse ways to add resources to a project depending on what is causing the delay or taking a lot of time. This needs to be done within the constraints of budget and quality and must be approved and supported by important stakeholders. But before we talk about project crashing, we should first define what is project. A project is a temporary endeavor that has a defined beginning and end and is usually undertaken to achieve a specific goal or objective. 

Definition of Crashing

Crashing in a project is an activity that will shorten the completion time of a project within the optimum cost increase. You could allocate individuals from a different team to an activity that needs to be sped up.  

Crashing can also be done for individual activities within the project. If shortening the length of that activity brings down the time needed for project completion, then the cost incurred is easier to justify. 

Crashing does not always involve adding resources. In some cases, it can also involve reducing the scope of a project. For example, the plan for a four-lane highway may reduce its scope to build a two-lane highway instead to reduce the time required for completion and to meet immediate needs. Read more on the characteristics of project management.

What Prompts Crashing in Project Management?

The reason for the need to crash a project need not be about something going wrong with the project itself. Sometimes it is also an external factor that changes the estimated delivery time or brings a need for faster completion.  

If there is a heavy penalty for failing to meet a project completion deadline, then the increased cost of crashing could be justified to an extent. A bonus for faster completion can also similarly be a reason for crashing a project. 

If there is an external change where a competitor is working on a similar project, the cost of not speeding up the project would lead to the loss of a competitive edge. 

In case there is an activity that delays a host of other activities, crashing that activity could bring benefits across the project or if there are new people or an idle workforce available that was not previously anticipated, the project plan can be changed to use this additional workforce to bring down the time for completion. 

Sometimes the need for crashing might depend on another project. If there is a new project that requires the individuals working on the current project to be available, you may need to crash the current project. There cannot be an exhaustive list of reasons for the need to crash a project. There could be any number of project environmental aspects or an external factor that requires the project to be completed at a faster pace. 

An Example of Crashing in Project Management

There are projects happening all around us. Projects frequently run into problems or might need to be reprioritized or sped up due to a range of reasons. One of the prominent examples we saw in this was developing vaccines. As the COVID pandemic was spreading around the world, several companies and countries were working on projects to develop a vaccine. A process that would normally take years was brought down to under a year by doing things differently. 

As the need to develop and deploy a vaccine became critical the funding needed was not an issue. Procedures involved were shortened or fast-tracked to speed up the project. Fast-tracking involves doing activities simultaneously and does not form a part of project crashing.

 Fast Tracking in Developing Vaccine

Source Link:reddit

Caption: The image is an example of how fast-tracking helped in developing the vaccine faster by getting things done simultaneously. In a normal situation, each phase would start only after the completion of the previous phase.

Even though many of the bureaucratic processes and documentation were sped up, there were parts of the project that could not be sped up. Regardless of the money that goes into the project, the time required for testing and waiting to see the effectiveness of the vaccine in the volunteers could not be sped up. This is the crash limit.  

Within a year there were many projects around the world that successfully came out with a viable vaccine with more in the pipeline. This shows how project crashing can work effectively without compromising on quality. 

The online PMP course is often recommended to those who are new to project management and has been designed so that individuals with diverse skills and expertise can utilize it. 

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Best Practices When Crashing Your Project

Crashing a project is usually done as a last resort. If crashing did not involve a significant cost, the timing for the activity in question would be optimized in the original project plan. There are quite a few things you should consider while crashing into an activity in your project. 

Critical  Path    

A critical path is the chain of activities that span the length of a project. Reducing the timing of activity in this critical path will bring down the total project completion time. Similarly, a delay in such activity will cause a delay in the entire project.

Critical Path

Source Link: acqnotes.com

The red line marks the critical path, and the activities on the critical path are the ones a project crashing should target. Crashing an activity that is not on the critical path will not impact the total time needed to complete the project. 

  • Cost and  Benefit    

Most activities can be crashed to a certain extent. A comparison between the cost that is involved in crashing the activity and the benefit it provides can be used to arrive at a decision on which activities to crash. 

  • Resource  Availability    

If an activity does not require a hard-to-find skillset, it would be easy to find more people to work on it and hence easy to crash. Organizations may even have availability of skilled professionals who can be used for a specific activity for a limited time. The ready availability of such a workforce can also be factored in while considering crashing a project. 

  • Training  Needs    

If an activity needs a specialized skillset, then it will be hard to crash it. Outsourcing a part of the activity or spending time training new personnel may be time-consuming and make the process more expensive. 

There will be countless factors affecting your project that you will be in a better position to assess. A lot of these factors may need to be taken into account while crashing a project. Once you have a plan and a budget in place it is important to get it approved by the project sponsors and key stakeholders.

Project Crashing Management Stages

When the circumstances where a project crashing becomes evident, then you would need to do a crash analysis to identify what changes need to be made, which activities should be sped up, how they could be sped up, what would be the cost and more such details.

7 Stages of Project Crashing

Source Link: cmswire.com  

  • Crash Objective 

The first stage of the project crashing is understanding the need for it and the objective in terms of what is to be accomplished. If the scope of the project has been reduced, then there may not be a need to add more resources to speed up the project. How to use the workforce or what amount of work can be outsourced etc. can be estimated at this stage. 

  • Critical Path 

Each project will have a critical path identified at the beginning. This chain of activities is what needs to be crashed to speed up the project. Crashing an activity outside the critical path does not help in reducing the project time.  

  • Identify Activities 

Not every activity can be crashed. There may be activities that need very specific skills that are not easily transferable. Hence adding resources to that might prove to be counterproductive. The list of activities that can be crashed and are part of the critical path should be the ones in focus. 

  • Calculate Costs  

Crashing involves an increase in cost. This increase in cost will be different for each process. Comparing these costs with each other will help you arrive at a reasonable cost at which some activities can be crashed to sufficiently advance the project completion date. 

  • Find Crash Limits 

Each activity will have a crash limit. This is the point beyond which an action cannot be crashed. Understanding this information will give you an idea of how much the project can potentially be crashed.  

  • Choose the Economic Option 

Once you have an idea of how much each activity can be crashed and the cost associated with it, it becomes easy to identify how many activities to target and to what extent they need to be crashed to meet the objective at the most reasonable cost. 

  • Get Approval from Sponsors  

Once you have identified the most reasonable or most viable crashing plan, then you can convince the key stakeholders of the project and get their approval to implement it.  

Why Project Crashing Matters 

When well-planned and executed, project crashing can achieve impressive feats. Projects routinely don’t go according to plan or change scope while they are in progress. You should be able to alter your project to meet changing conditions and evolving requirements.  

With rapid technological changes and changing, customer needs a medium- or long-term project that does not need to be altered would become a rarity. The capability to alter projects according to changing requirements will give the organization a definite advantage over its competitors. 

Larger projects involve a lot of teams and processes working and depending on each other. Changing anything in such an environment can have a cascading effect on other aspects of the project. This is what makes project crashing a key skill to have as a project manager. 


Kevin D.Davis

Blog Author

Kevin D. Davis is a seasoned and results-driven Program/Project Management Professional with a Master's Certificate in Advanced Project Management. With expertise in leading multi-million dollar projects, strategic planning, and sales operations, Kevin excels in maximizing solutions and building business cases. He possesses a deep understanding of methodologies such as PMBOK, Lean Six Sigma, and TQM to achieve business/technology alignment. With over 100 instructional training sessions and extensive experience as a PMP Exam Prep Instructor at KnowledgeHut, Kevin has a proven track record in project management training and consulting. His expertise has helped in driving successful project outcomes and fostering organizational growth.

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