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Critical Chain and Risk Management
-- Protecting Project Value from Uncertainty (Part 4)

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4. RESOURCE BEHAVIORS
-- MINIMIZING THE EFFECT OF PARKINSON’S LAW

Non-Critical Chain-based projects often rely on safety embedded within tasks and task due dates (milestone schedules) to schedule and control projects. This approach runs the risk of suffering from the impact of common resource behaviors that will minimize the ability to gain time on the schedule. Parkinson’s Law -- “Work expands to fill the time allowed.” -- is a resulting reflection of these behaviors. Since ultimately, project performance hinges on appropriate behaviors, the underlying purpose of Critical Chain methodologies is to provide policies and procedures that support desired practices.

A Relay Race, not a Train Schedule

Most projects are managed by carefully watching the calendar, comparing where we are today against some baseline schedule. That schedule typically consists of a series of start and due dates for consecutive tasks, with due dates of predecessors matching start dates of successors. Like a train schedule, if a task arrives at its completion on or before its due date, that portion of the project is considered to be “on track.” Successor resources plan other work and their availability around those dates. If the predecessor is finished early, the successor resource may not be available to pick up the handoff. Even if the resource is available, there is commonly little or no urgency for the successor to start (or to focus on it exclusively), since we’re “ahead of schedule,” and that resource will typically tend to other priorities.

The problem with this common practice is that while it is important for trains to arrive at and depart from their stations (their milestones) at appointed times, project value is more often tied to the absolute speed from beginning to end. The sooner the entire project is completed; the sooner project benefits can be accrued. A more appropriate metaphor to guide projects is a relay race, in which resources are encouraged to pick up the input handoff as soon as it is available, “run with it” in a full, focused, sustainable level of effort, and hand off the output as soon as it is complete.

This behavior is exacerbated in environments where schedules are built upon estimates that are considered commitments by the resources, and therefore contain a substantial amount of localized safety in each task to protect that commitment. If a project is deemed “on track,” and a resource realizes that there is chance of completing the work well within the “safe” estimate, the desired sense of urgency is again diminished. As a result, resources are momentarily comfortable sharing their time among several tasks or issues, extending out the time that they would otherwise be able to hand off their output to the next leg of the relay race.

Milestone schedules, like training schedules, become, at best, self-fulfilling prophecies, at least in terms of expectations of speed. They may still (and often do) take longer due to being derailed by Murphy’s Law because they have wasted what might have been early finishes which are now not available to offset tasks that take longer than anticipated.

Critical Chain Schedules, Resource Behaviors and Risk Mitigation

Critical Chain schedules address this question of lost safety in two ways. First, the usual system of task due dates itself is eliminated. The only dates in a critical chain schedule are launch dates for chains of tasks that have no predecessors, and final due dates associated with deliverables that are external to the project and which are protected by project buffers. Start dates of tasks are linked directly to the completion of their predecessors, and communicated through the buffer management project control process, discussed in more detail later in this paper. If you have no due-dates, you have gone a long way in eliminating due-date behaviors and in repealing Parkinson’s Law.

Secondly, the safety is moved out of the tasks to the buffers, thereby eliminating the idea of commitment that needs to be protected on one hand or that is good enough on the other. With the underlying assumption that the work of a task will take as long as it takes, no matter what the schedule model assumes, resources are directed to work on tasks without distraction until complete and handoffs are delivered. At least tasks won’t be delayed by outside influences. More importantly, management also must support the ability to do so, avoiding unnecessary distractions or conflicting priorities. If resources run their leg of the relay race in an effective and efficient manner, some tasks will take longer than anticipated in the schedule and some will take less. The project is in a position to take full advantage of early finishes. In this way, the cumulative risk associated with due-date behaviors is replaced by the consumption and replenishment of buffers.


This article is an expanded version of one originally presented at the national Project Management Institute Symposium (Nashville, November, 2001). It is presented here in linked sections for ease of reading on the web. This version has been accepted for the 2002 World Project Management Week conference (Hong Kong, March, 2002). For off-line reading and sharing, the full article can be downloaded in Adobe Acrobat (pdf) format at ccrisk.pdf or in Microsoft Word format at ccrisk.doc.

1. INTRODUCTION
-- MANAGING UNCERTAIN EVENTS FOR CERTAIN PROMISES

2. PROJECT PLANNING
-- DEPENDENCIES AND DURATIONS

3. PROJECT SCHEDULING
-- INTEGRATIONS, VARIATION, AND RATIONAL PROMISES

4. RESOURCE BEHAVIORS
-- MINIMIZING THE EFFECT OF PARKINSON’S LAW

5. SYNCHRONIZATION OF THE PIPELINE
-- MINIMIZING RISK OF CROSS-PROJECT IMPACTS

6. PROJECT AND RISK RESPONSE CONTROL
-- CLARITY OF PRIORITIES AND CORRECTIVE ACTION

7. THE THEORY OF CONSTRAINTS
-- MORE THAN CRITICAL CHAIN PROJECT MANAGEMENT

8. SUMMARY -- A FORWARD-LOOKING APPROACH TO FUTURE RISKS

9. REFERENCES


The trouble with being punctual is that nobody's there to appreciate it. - Franklin P. Jones

Discuss Critical Chain - An email-based discussion group

Frequently Asked Questions about Critical Chain-based project Management

Top 10 Sources of Project Failure -- A list you probably won't see on Letterman.


Related links:

Check Out the Following Links for More About the TOC Approach to Project Management:

Getting Out From Between Parkinson's Rock and Murphy's Hard Place -- This first link will bring up a paper based on a poster presentation originally given at the 1998 New Jersey PMI Chapter's annual symposium, honored with a "best of the show" award by attendees, and later turned into an article published in PMI's PM Network magazine.

Program Management -- Turning Many Projects into Few Priorities with TOC -- This link will lead to a paper on the key attributes of a TOC Multi-Project Management environment. (Most projects are performed by resources shared with other projects. It can be deadly to ignore the resulting interactions, no matter how well you manage single projects.) This paper was originally presented at PMI's Global Symposium in Philadelphia in October of 1999 and is included in the proceedings of that conference. Audio tapes of the presentation are also available from PMI.

Project Portfolio Management - The First Cut is the Kindest Cut - One of the common problems faced by project-oriented organizations is having too many projects relative to their capacity. Therefore, one of the first things that needs to be done is to determine what can be done is to determine what should be done . . . and what should not be done . . .

Consumption of Effort and Conservation of Energy for Project Success -- This link will lead to an essay on the necessity for managing protective capacity in multi-project environments to get the most organizational throughput from the efforts of project resources.


Critical Chain Basics

A Critical Chain Schedule

The Sooner You Start, The Later You Finish

Multitasking Multiplies Lead Time

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