Forget about fast track. Construction schedules today have accelerated so quickly that the old distinction between traditional and fast-track scheduling has all but disappeared. Today, fast track is the norm, and what is some- times called "hypertrack" is growing. And our industry is suffering.

Without speed limits, the road grows perilous. Having worked on some hypertrack jobs, we can see the perils pretty clearly. We can suggest some ways of fending off danger but some of these solutions carry drawbacks of their own.


Usually there is a compelling reason for putting a job on hypertrack: A business is renting space until its new facility is completed and must vacate that space by a certain date; A college must open a new academic building by the start of the term; A casino’s investors are hemorrhaging money every day roulette wheels aren’t spinning.

But there are equally compelling reasons for approaching hypertrack with extreme care. With hypertrack, construction begins before design is completed. Once construction starts, the program can’t be changed and design can’t be significantly altered without causing huge change orders or seriously impeding the schedule.

Success depends on just-in-time delivery of materials and equipment and on the meticulous sequencing of trades. Even a slight delivery delay or sequencing snafu can spell disaster. Hypertrack renovations are especially risky. A skin-of-your-teeth schedule may leave no time for an adequate survey of existing conditions and there is no telling what problems you will run into once you look behind walls, above ceilings and under floors.

Granted, there are strategies for controlling risks, such as prepurchasing long-lead equipment and materials and sticking wherever possible to standard, locally available materials. Limiting design statements to a building’s public areas–everything else should be plain vanilla–also helps, as does choosing a construction manager who already has a good working relationship with the architect and insisting that the job be run by top-level personnel with previous hypertrack experience.

Make sure the onsite materials-staging area is adequate so that early or late deliveries won’t wreak havoc. And never undertake a hypertrack renovation without a comprehensive exploration of existing conditions.

But even if every precaution is taken, there is still reason for worry about the outcome of a project and the long-term effect of the hypertrack approach on the construction design professions. For instance, putting an owner’s rep- resentative on site every day might speed up a project, but only if the owner’s rep actually has the power to call the shots for the owner. If not, you are uselessly adding another bureaucratic layer and the schedule will suffer.

Hypertrack’s overreliance on top-level, experienced personnel also has its downside. It gives junior architects and engineers too little chance to "get their hands dirty." Sure, you wouldn’t put a student driver in a NASCAR race, but because hypertrack projects don’t allow for a learning curve they interrupt traditional apprentice processes needed to train the next generation of designers. The simplified, cookie-cutter approach to design that hypertrack projects require also handcuffs architects’ creativity and can stifle younger designers’ ambition for excellence.

Hypertrack’s greatest perils emerge when owners are unaware of all the risks. It is incumbent on designers and CMs to tell owners about all of the hurdles a hypertrack project faces. If an architect or CM agrees to a hypertrack job too readily without raising any red flags, an owner ought to be suspicious. Such eagerness might signal inexperience, or simple desperation.

Still, hypertrack scheduling might be the only option for some projects. But owners should proceed with caution. And we believe the design and construction management professions should put the brakes on the trend toward making hypertrack the industry standard. Sometimes there is such a thing as going too fast.

James E. Stenqvist is chief plumbing and fire protection engineer for
Fletcher-Thompson Inc., Shelton, Conn.
John D. Jenney is a construction support specialist with the firm.