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What Is Critical Chain Project Management?

Critical chain project management is the application of behavioral and mathematical science to the management of a project involving multiple people and processes.
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  • Written By: Jan Fletcher
  • Edited By: S. Pike
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2014
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Critical chain project management is the application of behavioral and mathematical science to the management of a project involving multiple people and processes. Undesirable aspects in human behavior affecting productivity may arise in large-group endeavors. Manufacturing processes may be structured inefficiently: Critical chain project management manages and plans for statistically probable variations that occur as the work proceeds.

The Theory of Constraints Thinking Processes is applied in critical chain project management. Management employs this theory in an effort to avoid undesirable behaviors, which may cause drifting from the target production goals. According to the theory, throughout the production process there are not as many limitations to achieving the end goal as commonly believed by management and workers. As a result, constant opportunities exist to gain benefit from the slack within the system.

Multiple buffers are applied in critical chain management. Project managers analyze and attempt to optimize these buffers to protect production activity from degradation in efficiency. An example of a project buffer is a task-completion deadline. This gives managers a task-completion accountability tool.

Another buffer is the capacity buffer. If a team is working on many projects simultaneously, managers need the ability to calculate performance measures by isolating each project. A feeding buffer protects against delays to other workers downstream caused by upstream activities. The upstream activity flow has buffers along the stream to provide a constant predictable flow.

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Although the ability to multitask may be beneficial in other settings, in critical chain project management, it is a hindrance. An individual worker’s continual focus on the main task at hand is the goal in critical chain management. Since the process of work involves a chain of individuals, in which each individual receives the processing done by another individual up the chain, there is an inherent dependency in the activity. So, if a worker juggles several tasks simultaneously, everyone dependent on that worker’s efficient completion of an individual task may experience idle time.

Curtailing Parkinson’s Law is another strategic advantage in critical chain project management. Parkinson’s Law refers to the tendency for a task to consume the entire time allowed to the task, including slack time built into the system. If the time allowed is actually greater than it need be, the workers may slow down, exceeding the time actually needed to complete the task. As a result, opportunities are lost to bank and recapture that time and apply it to other aspects of a larger project where a delay in production may be unavoidable. This increases the likelihood of delays as the work proceeds down the chain.

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