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This Focused Performance Weblog started life as a "business management blog" containing links and commentary related primarily to organizational effectiveness with a "Theory of Constraints" perspective, but is in the process of evolving towards primary content on interactive and mobile marketing. Think of it as about Focusing marketing messages for enhanced Performance. If you are on an archive page, current postings are found here.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Critical Chain Stories (Cutter 3, 4) -- The third and fourth articles in the Cutter IT Journal' special issue on Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) are case studies by members of organizations who have implemented the approach, Douglas Brandt of Abbott Diagnostics Division (ADD) and Matt Gelbwaks of Segway (the high-tech scooter folks).

The first of these reads like a typical CCPM success story. At Abbott, CCPM was first piloted three years ago and is now the standard for all projects at all Diagnostic Division locations. Prior to then, the primary constraints faced at ADD were those common to most product development organizations...
" resources, poorly allocated resources, and conflicts between tasks for shared resources."
To address these presenting issues, the Cutter article reiterates the development of a PMO based on CCPM concepts, emphasizing the importance of dealing with the informal policies -- the culture -- associated with the previous approach to projects. The new culture, including a new respect for "planning, cross-functional cooperation, and the ability to say no when necessary" allowed the PMO to use CCPM to advance their mission of
"...ensuring ADD's leadership by getting quality products to market first [through] excellence in project management. [Brandt affirms that, at ADD, they] "believe that many of these improvements are due to employing the principles of the theory of constraints in our PM methodology."
All in all, a pretty picture of a typical CCPM success story, but not much new.

The Segway CCPM story, chronicled by Matt Gelbwaks, on the other hand, is the first that I've seen that publicly talks about the application of the approach in an "Agile Development" environment. Consistent with my own developing understanding, Gelbwaks points out the common and mutually supporting nature of agile efforts performed under a CCPM umbrella. Pointing out the differences in the approaches, primarily agile's usefulness when final, full details are unclear, but developed over time through "stories," versus CCPM's preference for clarity of dependent tasks throughout the project, Segway creatively combined the two.
"...we created a network of [dependent] stories rather than tasks. The value here is that it was possible to start with the ultimate story -- Mass produce a Segway HT on our assembly line -- and then back all the way up to the initial stories such as Complete proof of concept and Secure funding. Once this network existed, it was clear what the critical chain would be...All other chains of stories would be subjugated [subordinated?] to this one."
Segway came to understand that along the way in a project, one can think of consumption of buffers as symptoms of bottlenecks in the flow of value creation, and that that pinchpoint needs to be addressed to keep things moving. Combining the "network of stories" and the creation of "detail only for those tasks needed by the Critical Chain at the current point in time," appropriate attention is paid where needed.

As I read the article, I realized the serendipity of its message, because in a special series of weblog postings planned for next week, Hal Macomber and I will be discussing this idea of following what could be understood as the constraint of a project as it passes through the Critical Chain tasks and using the TOC focusing steps to manage it. That is exactly what Segway did in their 18 month project from design through production of their unique, innovative product.

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