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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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