Critical Chain Project Management

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ALL Projects Have Problems

If your organization is like many, you continue to experience failure delivering projects to schedule, budget, and scope, and may experience cancelled projects at an alarming rate. It affects all projects from basic R&D to construction, in all industries. Those who implement Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) report:

  • Project lead time reduction projects completed in less than 25% of benchmarked performance
  • Increased output- more projects completed in the same amount of time
  • Improved resource productivity fewer hours required to complete projects, as much as 35% fewer
  • On time delivery almost all projects completed early or on time
  • Significant reductions in capital requirements much less work in process

CCPM users also report an improved quality of work life for project team members, more meaningful work accomplished with less firefighting.

What’s Happening

The most common responses to late delivery during a project are to reduce scope, take features out until the next release of the product, identify some aspects are not that important, or sacrifice reliability. Of course, none of these responses are acceptable for the customer or for the enterprise. Clearly, something must be done.

The most common responses to the project management process problem are:

  • Require more detailed planning
  • Assign more project managers to manage smaller chunks of the project.
  • Reclaim delegated authority that has been pushed down to lower levels in the organization>
  • Move accountability further down the organization.
  • Re-plan the project more frequently.
  • Implement sophisticated planning models
  • Longer, more intense prayers!!

These approaches have been tried for years, and do not achieve the results people are looking for. These solutions simply do not address the root cause of poor project performance, only the symptoms.

The root cause of many project management problems is found in how people manage the uncertainty inherent in projects. The most common approach to deal with uncertainty is to add safety time into the task estimates used to plan and manage projects. In fact, so much time is added to individual tasks that safety time comprises the lion’s share of the planned project duration.

“We cut almost 50% out of the cycle time of that tree assembly and we managed to hold onto that gain and continue to improve.”


Simply fixing the project task estimation strategy is not enough. There is a similar improper response to uncertainty in project execution as well. Since it is nearly impossible to determine the actual progress of the project and risk of completing late (due to poor task estimates, the actual remaining work time is extremely difficult to quantify), project managers oscillate between extremes of tight control (managing the due dates of every task) or loose control (realizing that there is plenty of padding in task estimates), either spending too much time getting lost in the details of the project or missing important indicators of project lateness. The result is that delays that occur during one step get passed on to the next step, but the converse is not true extra progress made during a step is rarely passed along. So, delays accumulate in projects, but early completions do not. The result is that projects are almost always late and / or exceed budget.

It is these two elements of dealing with uncertainty, planning the work and dealing with the unexpected, that create the reality that we have; projects are almost always late and over budget. Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) deals with the root cause of project performance, creating repeatable project success, and accelerating project completion; usually by at least one half your previous times.

Organizations that commit to implementing the Critical Chain Project Management processes typically experience:

  • Doubling of project output with the same resources
  • Halving the average project lead times
  • Increased profits.

Making the Switch

A CCPM implementation is not much to fear. It is a disciplined approach to managing the work we already do. Even if you do a localized or partial implementation, you get favorable results. The work of your firm does not change. CCPM is simply addition and subtraction.

You’re adding new behaviors:

  • Planning with different task estimates
  • A different approach to dealing with uncertainty in planning
  • Focusing execution effort on buffer penetration, instead of the telephone

You’re subtracting others:

  • Multi-tasking
  • Managing to task completion dates
  • Planning without considering resource capacity

The most significant element in a CCPM implementation is not the technology, but managing the change; changing behavior in the face of an uncertain outcome (the devil you know syndrome). It’s primarily a leadership challenge, rather than a technical one.

By purposefully developing your managers and the processes they use, you change the very core of how things are done; thus facilitating real, focused improvements in many different parts of your organization.

Download the white paper Critical Chain and Critical Path; Can They Coexist? and learn:

  • Why Projects Fail to Deliver
  • The Importance and Role of Project Planning
  • A Project Execution Methodology that consistently yields good results
  • Comparison and Contrast of Critical Chain and Critical Path Methods