Project Management Software
Specialists in Project Infrastructure
Controlling a Project
This is one of the most difficult things in project management. Let’s be honest with one-self. How many times have we found ourselves in a situation where-in the project members wait till the very last minute to initiate a task and typically complete it burning the midnight oil? How many times have we asked ourselves the question – why can’t I have a better control over the project? Controlling projects is a nightmare. The bigger they get, the more chaos and uncertainty creeps into them. But this can be managed and controlled using a management methodology called Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) and its tool such as Pro*Chain.
This article focuses on the management philosophy called Theory of Constraints on which CCPM is based on.
Theory of Constraints (TOC)
The Theory of Constraints is a management philosophy that was introduced by Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt, in his 1984 book titled ‘The Goal’. It assists businesses in achieving their goals by providing a mechanism to gain better control of their initiatives. According to Goldratt, the strength of any chain, either a process or a system, is only as good as its weakest link . TOC is a systemic way to identify constraints that hinder system’s success and to effect the changes to remove them.
TOC consists of separate, but interrelated concepts such as – the performance measurement processes, logical thinking processes and logistics. Goldratt also developed the tool, known as ‘the five focusing steps’, to help systems deal with constraints.
Performance Measurement Processes
As per Goldratt, there are three key performance indicators – throughput, inventory and operating expense.
The typical objective of a firm is to increase the throughput
by reducing the inventory and the operating cost, thereby in-turn
increasing the profit, return-on-investment and cash-flow.
Logical Thinking Process
The logical thinking process of TOC gives us a series of steps that combine cause-effect, experience and intuition to gain knowledge. This is known as the ‘five focusing steps’. And they are:
This five-step process allows one to identify the largest constraint that overshadows all of the others. As soon as a constraint is resolved, then the next weakest link becomes a priority and need to be addressed. Thus, this is an ongoing system improvement process.
Now, let’s take a look at a project management methodology called Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) that makes use of the principles of Theory of Constraint (TOC).
Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)
The Gartner Group estimates that companies spend close to $2 billion per year on early generations of project management software and associates services. And even after this much investment, most of the projects are delivered beyond schedule or over budget or under scope. As per the Standish group report in 2009, only 32% are successful, with 44% were challenged and 24% met failure .
So, why do so many projects fail?
Lack of flexibility and resistance to change are the main reasons for project failures. Traditional project management assumes that once a well thought out project plan is created and followed, it will provide good, expected results. It fails to address the practical uncertainties such as requirement change, work not completed on time, delayed approvals, etc. that typically occur in any project.
This is where Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) is different. CCPM focuses on task due dates and interim milestones in a project. It emphasizes on the completion of the most important tasks in the project plan as quickly as possible and delivering of the completed project as quickly as possible. The following two conceptual situations in project management using CCPM - a) Resource Constrained Situations and b) Optimum Usage of Buffer, leads to the creation of three types of buffer between tasks -
The typical steps that would be followed in using CCPM would be –
Traditional Project Management Approach vs CCPM
Successful implementation of CCPM requires significant shift in the approach by the whole team. The following table clearly defines the shift in approach between traditional project management and project management using CCPM.
There are two key objectives in using CCPM -
The above-mentioned objectives can be achieved by adopting the following key management principles -
The following pointers along with the key management principles will provide the basic guideline for ensuring project success by providing a tool for gaining better control of the project.
1 - Creating Credible Schedule
Tasks and resources drive the timeline of a project. The project schedule is initially created by having the tasks needed to deliver an output (deliverable) created and then, the duration needed to complete the task (assuming that 100% effort is spent on doing that task and that all inputs to that task are available) is calculated. Execution of the project is managed by:
2 - Single-task focus
When Critical Chain Schedule is built, it’s assumed that a task can be completed in an aggressive, but achievable duration and we add project buffers to handle risks when they materialize. One other big assumption of schedule creation is that a resource will spent 100% effort in doing an activity. That is, the resource will do and only do one activity at a time and see it through to completion (no multi-tasking).
3 - Clear and Transparent Communication
Clear and transparent communication needs to be done right from the moment the schedule is created and until the project is closed. As tasks are done on a focused manner and the activity passes from one resource to another, the communication between one who completes a task and the one who initiates the following task becomes very important. The main difference of CCPM from the traditional project management is that there’s no deadline for an activity in CCPM. This means that there are no deadlines to hit or miss. When an activity takes more than the planned duration then it eats into the available buffer, and when an activity takes less than the planned duration then it releases the respective buffer duration.
Thus, managing a project using CCPM enables a project team to drive system productivity upwards through its core principles. And it also ensures that the project gets delivered on time and within the planned budget. By using CCPM tools such as Pro*Chain one can get a clear visibility of the activities that are to get delayed (through fever charts), and thus empowering the project manager with the knowledge (buffer status being yellow or red) to take immediate action and rectify the situation that might impact the final project schedule, thereby providing a better control of the project.
Roopesh Kumar, B.E, M.B.A, PMP. is based in Japan and works as a Program
Manager for a leading IT firm. He has 16 years of IT experience of
which 10+ has been either as a project manager or a program manager.
He has worked in several countries such as the U.S, Japan, India and
Singapore. He has been handling IT programs or projects that have had
30 to 40 members distributed in different parts of the world. His management
interests are in human resource management and human interactions in
cross-cultural settings. In his free time, he loves reading science
fiction novels, playing tennis, playing table-tennis and hiking.