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Critical Chain and Risk Management
-- Protecting Project Value from Uncertainty (Part 5)

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

In the previous section, the avoidance of distraction from the task at hand was identified as a critical component of “relay race” resource behaviors. Any time working on something other than the task will extend the time of completion of that task, delay handoffs, and threaten the ability to accrue maximum value from the project.

Most project environments do not have the luxury of being able to focus on only one effort. Most project environments are multi-project environments, where key resources are shared across projects and have to deal with contention for their attention. As a result, while a particular single project may be carefully planned, with effective risk management applied within its borders, it may still be subject to programmatic risk, particularly related to availability of resources that are involved in other, equally important projects.

Synchronization - Scheduling multiple projects

The TOC multi-project solution recognizes that the effectiveness of individual projects can be threatened if the organization tries to push more projects through its pipeline than it is capable of. Scheduling -- the actual promising of individual project completions -- must take into account any constraining aspects of that pipeline. While the common existence of practices like multi-tasking or due-date behaviors typically prove out to outstrip any actual resource constraint, the possibility of such a constraint is useful as an implementation tool for the multi-project aspect of the approach (Patrick, 1999b).

The process of synchronizing project launches to the ability of a commonly, heavily used resource to deal with those projects helps to minimize pressures to multi-task from the start. This process starts with a review of projects in the portfolio for the identification of potential candidates for the choice of a gating/synchronizing resource. The choice of one that is commonly used across projects and relatively heavily used compared to other resources will suffice.

The second step is to prioritize the current projects, in terms of criticality of current commitments, value to the organization, and use of the synchronizing resource. To the extent that there is no easy consensus of strategic priority for existing projects (a rare occurrence), basic TOC principles of throughput per constraint unit and throughput dollar days can be applied to this effort. The objective of this prioritization is to provide an order in which projects are scheduled through the synchronizing resource.

Once these priorities, procedures and processes are in place, individual project schedules can be developed and put into the calendar through the synchronizer schedule. If chosen correctly, and further protected with capacity buffers, the careful scheduling of this commonly, heavily used resource will result in a set of schedules in which any concerns about contention for other resources will be with the ability of buffer management to provide direction.

Synchronization and Risk Avoidance

When you consider the duration-multiplying effect of multi-tasking, it should be clear that multi-project risks of cross-project interference could dwarf risks associated with the individual projects. If project value is time-sensitive, the delays suffered by projects due to resource time slicing across projects can be very expensive indeed.

The replacement of systemic pressure to multi-task with synchronization, combined with the management of resources for “relay race” behaviors will go a long way to reduce programmatic risk and to speed project completions across the portfolio. The combination of the two will help avoid having to deal with hard-to-predict cross-project risks. In addition, the required careful consideration of the makeup of the pipeline and the active management of the critical resources identified and used as the synchronization mechanism will aid in understanding potential weak links for future improvement.

Most importantly, if combined with effective and supporting processes for planning, scheduling, and control, synchronization of a project portfolio serves to minimize the overall risks to optimum bottom line performance of the organization that owns the projects and their outcomes.


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


To do two things at once is to do neither. - Publius Syrus

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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