Project Management Institute

Rush hour


Beat the clock swiftly and carefully.


The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) often manages projects in which every minute counts. Here's what I've learned about hurrying a project toward completion.

Everyone wants perfection, but the priority should be completing your task. A completed element can be tinkered with or optimized while being of use, but an unfinished one confuses attempts at improvement while being of no utility at all. In the realm of development projects, perfect is the enemy of good. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, UNOPS worked hard to build shelters for survivors and provide them with access to basic living conditions. There is a big difference between a shelter and a five-star hotel, but we must prioritize what is essential when we have limited time to deliver.


Schedule compression is a technique that shortens the project duration to meet key stakeholders’ expectations without reducing scope. This may be required if, for instance, changes in environmental conditions, logistical constraints, economic landscape or political climate are likely to derail the project unless it is completed immediately.

The project manager must find ways to reduce the time it will take to complete all remaining activities. The two classic solutions are to increase the parallelism (fast-track) and/or increase resources (crashing).


Schedule compression can push time, cost and quality to the extreme. The most significant way to lead a team through schedule compression is by supporting team members and understanding that stress levels are likely to rise. Despite the level of tolerance and experience team members build up during every project, stress can manifest itself in different ways, and its accumulation can come at a significant cost to project accuracy.

Project managers must mitigate this risk through the Three C's Process:


Although a team working long hours, seven days a week, can deliver its project earlier than originally planned, the quality of delivery may be affected. Mistakes requiring rework can end up increasing stress levels and lengthening the time needed to complete the project; this may negate the whole schedule compression effort. Communicating exactly what is expected of the team in terms of quality and performance, despite the shortened time frame, is necessary for successful delivery.


Schedule compression can just as easily create new challenges as it can hasten project delivery. To achieve results, project managers need to monitor and analyze the dynamics in the office and the field. Organizing daily site meetings for close coordination can help with quality control and provides an arena in which problems with team members can be resolved efficiently. The key word in this process is integration.


You need to understand your staff and consider their welfare. Accidents are more frequent when and where people are overworked, so consider the specifics of your team's time-related stress factors: What conditions are they working in? What can you do to help? Ensuring that your team members understand they will be properly compensated for their additional efforts (through the provision of extra days off) can make all the difference.


Even the best of schedules can change.

Visit to read November 2014's edition of PM Network about when a project schedule changes and the scope does not.


Finally, the success of all projects is related to how we lead people and manage stress during critical moments. Despite the sense of urgency that triggers the schedule compression, the project manager must effectively communicate, coordinate and consider the team to deliver results. PM



Ricardo Viana Vargas, PMI-RMP, PMI-SP, PMP, a past PMI chair, is the director of the Sustainable Project Management Group at the United Nations Office for Project Services in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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