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Critical Chain & Project Management the TOC Way

If your business suffers from . . .

  • Projects over budget, not providing planned specs or scope
  • Too long lead times of projects
  • Chaotic hoop-jumping and midnight oil-burning to meet project due dates
  • Reluctance to take on new projects

. . . then chances are good that your constraint is the way that your projects are managed.

Typically, projects are managed by focusing on the delivery of the tasks that make up the project, in the seemingly reasonable belief that if these tasks are done on time, the project will be done on time as well.

But all too often, project management becomes a chaotic exercise, resulting in inordinate pressure to meet task due dates and frequent replanning of the project. Apparently, in too many cases, and for a variety of reasons, the long-established strategy of focusing on task completion does not seem to work too well.

Stuck Between Parkinson's Rock and Murphy's Hard Place

At the root of problematic systems like projects, one typically finds conflicts between two competing aspects of the system that each support needed requirements. One such dilemma is illustrated here:

Too often, this "safety" conflict is addressed by risk management efforts that provides little more than compromise or "optimization." Trim a little safety in one task, risk a little lateness against the promise. Add a little safety in another task, extend the project a little. There is never really a satisfactory compromise.

In any event, most project schedules then take these negotiated compromise numbers for task estimates and nail them to the calendar, resulting in target dates that resources shoot for to complete their tasks. As soon as a target date is set, the stage is set for Parkinson's Law ("Work expands to fill the time allotted for it.") to set in, resulting in the rarity of beating or even meeting task due dates and jeopardy for the entire project.

And this is only one such conflict. There are a variety of others. Consider the plethora of conflicts and dilemmas in a multi-project environment. No wonder project management is such a challenging endeavor.

Critical Chain Scheduling and Buffer Management

"Critical Chain Scheduling and Buffer Management" is a proven "whole system" approach to project management that doesn't rely on managing a project based on a series of supposedly "safe" task estimates.

A project schedule can now be designed to protect the project due date by taking "safety" that was spread among the tasks and concentrating it where it does the most good - as buffers at the end of the critical path and where others paths feed that critical path.

Thanks to the statistics of aggregation, these buffers can be much shorter than the sum of the spread out safeties they replace, hence shortening the overall lead-time of the project.

Task behaviors are also impacted favorably; with safety reduced, the now shortened expected durations drive a sense of urgency and help to drive out resource distractions and the urge to multi-task.

Most importantly, the resulting schedule is now largely immunized from variation and uncertainty not by a futile effort to predict it at an unrealistic level of detail, but by protecting the project's promise against its inevitability.

Implementations of "Critical Chain Scheduling and Buffer Management" typically result in project schedules that can be 15-25% shorter than traditional schedules, but with considerably more reliability of the promised final project due date with less chaos and rescheduling.

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly. - William Shakespeare

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:

Critical Chain and Risk Management - Protecting Project Value from Uncertainty -- Project management is the practice of turning uncertain events into certain promises. If so, then project management is an extended excersie in risk management. The core concepts underlying Critical Chain-based project management directly support risk management and are described in this paper, expanded from one presented at PMI's 2001 National Symposium.

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.


"Quick and Dirty" Commentary . . .

Critical Chain Basics

A Critical Chain Schedule

The Sooner You Start, The Later You Finish

Multitasking Multiplies Lead Time


Discuss Critical Chain - An email-based discussion group

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