What Is Critical Chain Project Management? The Critical Chain Project Management In A Nutshell

Critical chain project management was created by business management expert Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt in 1997. It is based on the theory of constraints (TOC), a similar methodology also created by Goldratt focusing on the most important limiting factor in achieving a goal. Critical chain project management (CCPM) is an approach that organizes tasks and resources to realize the most efficient path to project completion.

Understanding critical chain project management

Fundamentally, critical chain project management is a project planning strategy with an emphasis on resolving project resource constraints. Indeed, most project bottlenecks are caused by a lack of people, money, equipment, or physical space. 

In a project plan, the critical chain describes a sequence of resource-dependent tasks that prevent a project from being completed in a shorter time. To determine the critical chain, the business must start with the critical path – or the longest sequence of tasks that need to be completed to successfully conclude a project. Resources are then assigned to the critical path which in turn highlights resource constraints. This resource-constrained critical path is the critical chain.

Why is critical chain project management important?

CCPM identifies required resources and any pre-existing constraints to determine the most efficient manner for completing a project. Here, efficiency is defined as the highest number of tasks the business can complete while operating at its maximum capacity. 

Using CCPM, dependencies between tasks and resources are taken into account when planning projects. This allows project managers to navigate uncertainty and unforeseen circumstances by:

  • Determining resource constraints invariably related to employees, workstations, materials, and so forth. Which sets of activities, if delayed, have the potential to extend the end date of the project?
  • Planning a task schedule backward from the completion date to ensure tasks are done as required. This creates a sense of urgency in the project team and motivates them to realize their full potential.
  • Implementing buffers to insulate the project. As a general rule, the bigger the risk or degree of uncertainty, the bigger the buffer needs to be.
  • Eliminating multitasking – when employees constantly switch between tasks, a productivity decrease causes task durations to increase.
  • Monitoring the buffers, checking for completed milestones, and ensuring the project is progressing according to plan. A detailed project model should also be shared with the entire project team to measure progress.

CCPM also seeks to address a major disadvantage of critical path project management (CPM), which does not consider the impact of finite project resources and real-life constraints or bottlenecks.

The role of buffers in critical chain project management

Critical chain project management uses buffers to reduce uncertainty and ensure tasks are completed on time. The buffer itself is a strategic safeguard inserted into the critical chain to maintain efficient project progression.

There are three types of buffers:

  1. Project buffers – these buffers are inserted between the last task and the completion date of the project. In this way, a project buffer absorbs critical chain delays without impacting the completion date.
  2. Feeding buffers – these are placed between the last task on a non-critical (feeding) chain and the critical chain. This ensures any delays on a feeding chain do not impact the critical chain.
  3. Resource buffers – or any buffer placed on the critical chain to ensure the appropriate resources are available when required. These resources are referred to as critical resources.

Key takeaways:

  • Critical chain project management is an approach that organizes tasks and resources to realize the most efficient path to project completion.
  • Critical chain project management has an emphasis on resolving project resource constraints. These are usually related to people, money, equipment, and physical space, among other things.
  • Critical chain project management incorporates buffers to reduce uncertainty and increase efficiency. Buffers are inserted directly into the critical chain and come in three types: project buffers, feeding buffers, and resource buffers.

Other Management Frameworks

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An effective risk management framework is crucial for any organization. The framework endeavors to protect the organization’s capital base and revenue generation capability without hindering growth. A risk management framework (RMF) allows businesses to strike a balance between taking risks and reducing them.
Timeboxing is a simple yet powerful time-management technique for improving productivity. Timeboxing describes the process of proactively scheduling a block of time to spend on a task in the future. It was first described by author James Martin in a book about agile software development.
Herzberg’s two-factor theory argues that certain workplace factors cause job satisfaction while others cause job dissatisfaction. The theory was developed by American psychologist and business management analyst Frederick Herzberg. Until his death in 2000, Herzberg was widely regarded as a pioneering thinker in motivational theory.
The Kepner-Tregoe matrix was created by management consultants Charles H. Kepner and Benjamin B. Tregoe in the 1960s, developed to help businesses navigate the decisions they make daily, the Kepner-Tregoe matrix is a root cause analysis used in organizational decision making.
The ADKAR model is a management tool designed to assist employees and businesses in transitioning through organizational change. To maximize the chances of employees embracing change, the ADKAR model was developed by author and engineer Jeff Hiatt in 2003. The model seeks to guide people through the change process and importantly, ensure that people do not revert to habitual ways of operating after some time has passed.
The CATWOE analysis is a problem-solving strategy that asks businesses to look at an issue from six different perspectives. The CATWOE analysis is an in-depth and holistic approach to problem-solving because it enables businesses to consider all perspectives. This often forces management out of habitual ways of thinking that would otherwise hinder growth and profitability. Most importantly, the CATWOE analysis allows businesses to combine multiple perspectives into a single, unifying solution.
Agile project management (APM) is a strategy that breaks large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. In the APM methodology, each project is completed in small sections – often referred to as iterations. Each iteration is completed according to its project life cycle, beginning with the initial design and progressing to testing and then quality assurance.
A holacracy is a management strategy and an organizational structure where the power to make important decisions is distributed throughout an organization. It differs from conventional management hierarchies where power is in the hands of a select few. The core principle of a holacracy is self-organization where employees organize into several teams and then work in a self-directed fashion toward a common goal.
The CAGE Distance Framework was developed by management strategist Pankaj Ghemawat as a way for businesses to evaluate the differences between countries when developing international strategies. Therefore, be able to better execute a business strategy at the international level.
First proposed by accounting academic Robert Kaplan, the balanced scorecard is a management system that allows an organization to focus on big-picture strategic goals. The four perspectives of the balanced scorecard include financial, customer, business process, and organizational capacity. From there, according to the balanced scorecard, it’s possible to have a holistic view of the business.
Scrum is a methodology co-created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland for effective team collaboration on complex products. Scrum was primarily thought for software development projects to deliver new software capability every 2-4 weeks. It is a sub-group of agile also used in project management to improve startups’ productivity.
Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.
The Pomodoro Technique was created by Italian business consultant Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management system where work is performed in 25-minute intervals.
Andy Grove, helped Intel become among the most valuable companies by 1997. In his years at Intel, he conceived a management and goal-setting system, called OKR, standing for “objectives and key results.” Venture capitalist and early investor in Google, John Doerr, systematized in the book “Measure What Matters.”

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