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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 16, 2003

Down 'n Dirty with TOC and PM (Part 4) -- If the previous set of entries in this series was about dealing with excessive work waiting for resource attention, then this fourth set is about resources waiting for work, or similarly, tasks waiting for inputs. As such, Hal has introduced what might be considered "planning conversations," which he is putting forth as a solution for short-term, detail-level, even on-site planning performed weekly, and looking out for a month or so. The "conversation" is, as one should recognize, all about dependencies (handoffs of outputs that become inputs, and resources) and, if a structured conversation is desired, it might be worth focusing on the following questions....

1. Looking out as far as you are comfortable planning, ask "What's the last thing we need to do to deliver what is needed at that point?"

2. "Who needs to be involved in it?"

3. Turning to someone associated with the answer to number 2, "What inputs are needed to start [the task of number 1]?"

4. Once a list of inputs is developed, confirm they're enough; "Are these [from number 3] sufficient to do [the task of number 1]?" Add anything else that this triggers.

5. Pick one of the inputs and repeat the four questions.

6. Repeat for a single chain of inputs and tasks until the answer to number 3 is "Nothing...we can start it now."

7. Go back to any inputs that need stuff to be done and complete remaining chains of needed inputs and tasks to deliver them.

8. If you get the sense that any of the possible parallel work will result in resource contention, either from explicitly estimating and scheduling this plan, or from intuition, be prepared to determine whether any and which of the tasks should be assigned a sequential priority.

This approach to planning can be used, as suggested for fleshing out details of near term events. It is equally effective in planning the bigger picture of the whole project at its outset. In either case, its emphasis on inputs and outputs, preparations, and resources -- what is needed to do subsequent work -- helps to assure that key dependencies won't be missed, which can happen if planning is focused on individual components of the work at hand.

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An aside -- So far in this discussion, I've tried to stay away from promoting specific aspects of Critical Chain-based project management as solutions for what we're talking about, although readers familiar with the approach can probably read between a lot of my lines, I'm sure. But at this point, our general discussion of constraints in projects combined with the topic of assuring that inputs are ready when needed to keep value-adding work moving will force me to dip into CCPM for a bit.

Specifically, the concept of the Feeding Buffer is a scheduling mechanism to allow the project to "keep the critical critical." In the language of this series, this piece of a Critical Chain schedule allows the project's managers and team to focus on a consistent project constraint -- a consistent chain of dependent tasks that, if it is allow to move apace, will assure that the project is done in the minimum feasible amount of time. It does so by assessing the foreseeable uncertainty or variation in a non-critical chain of tasks, and by assuring that that chain starts early enough to protect the ability of the critical chain to keep moving without having to wait for inputs coming from the "non-critical" tasks. But this series was not supposed to be a Critical Chain tutorial. For more on the specifics of the Feeding Buffer's role, click here or here.

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