What Is Critical Chain Project Management ?

As projects become more and more complex, mismanagement or delay of even one of the steps can lead to delay of the whole megaproject. This has given rise to a new stream of management science called Critical Chain Project Management. With rising sophistication of business management processes, this is gradually becoming one of the most important skills of a business manager.
What is Critical Chain Project Management ?
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Critical chain project management or CCPM is a management strategy devised to ensure timely completion of a multi-step project, by focussing on the critical task and planning all other steps with an equal probability of delay or early completion.


The rationale behind critical chain project management is that if more time is assigned to each task in order to take care of possible delays from exigencies, then even if the exigencies do not exist, the team working on it will generally use the whole time at its disposal. In such a situation, the

completion of project gets automatically delayed. Further, if the most important time consuming task is delayed further, even the scheduled completion is not attainable. This, in terms of CCPM philosophy, is the primary reason of delays in project completion.

To counter this challenge, the CCPM philosophy comes out with a unique answer that lies at the core of all CCPM strategies. It suggests managing projects in a manner where the various tasks, which are part of the project, are scheduled with an expectation that delay in some of them will be compensated by early completion of other processes. The buffer periods are thereby considerably reduced for the whole project and kept at the end of the critical chain process, thereby creating a sense of urgency in each and every task. It also creates an incentive for completing processes before time, to take care of delays elsewhere.


Developed by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, who introduced it in his book, 'Critical Chain' in 1997, CCPM derives heavily from the methods and algorithms used by him in his earlier book, 'The goal', published in 1984, which introduced the 'theory of constraints.'


Various studies have indicated that CCPM significantly reduces project delay, and if properly implemented it leads to 'in-time, within budget' completion of projects in 95% cases. This reflects marked improvement over the traditional project management, wherein delays are observed in over 50 % projects, and the final budget consumption is more than double of original allocation.

One of the main reasons of delay in the traditional project management is that buffers are given for each and every process, thereby removing any urgency in their expedient completion. Another problem often seen with them is that often there is multi-tasking, with same team trying to execute two processes with shared resources and manpower in a haphazard and unplanned manner that allows focus to keep shifting from one process to another and allows a lax attitude to develop, which combined with lack of accountability, becomes a major hurdle in optimum use of time as well as other resources.

Thus the major problems

in project management are providing too long periods of completion of individual processes, bad multi-tasking, Parkinson's Law ("Work expands to fill the time allotted for it") and Student syndrome, which refers to the phenomenon of people starting to fully apply themselves to a task just at the last possible moment before a deadline. CCPM adopts a methodology that takes care of these problems.


PLANNING: In CCPM, planning starts backwards from the completion date with each task starting as late as possible. For this purpose the time allotted to each task is taken as a duration with 50% probability of completion of that task in that period. It is expected that delays in some tasks will be compensated by earlier completion of other tasks. The longest chain of resource dependent tasks is then defined as the 'critical chain'. As delays in the various processes are always more likely than earlier completion, 'buffers of time' are added for the whole project and added to the end of the critical chain.

EXECUTION: As each task is devoid of individual buffer, the sense of urgency for its completion ensures a focused execution. The same urgency prevents bad multi-tasking, and once a process is started the same is required to be given full attention and priority till it is completed, after which only some other task is undertaken.

MONITORING: Completion of various tasks in CCPM is monitored, and the delays are observed as 'consumption of buffer'. If the consumption of buffer is low, the project is said to be 'on-target' while if the consumption of buffer is heavy, the project suffers serious risk of delay and escalation of budget. Acceleration in consumption of buffer is a signal to expedite all processes and save time.


One advantage of CCPM is that it avoids the need for complex data analysis for the purpose of accurately determining time line for individual processes, as delays in some are likely to be compensated by timed saved in others, even in case of less than accurate estimations. Another advantage of CCPM is that the system of 'buffer management' is simpler than other methods like 'earned value management' which consume more resources and time without significantly adding to improvement in project completion.

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