Can CCPM reinforce Parkinson’s law?

In this post I share a post-mortem analysis of a situation we’ve encountered while helping a company to improve its performance. This company was specialized in custom-made machine engineering and asked for help to improve its On-Time Deliveries performance. We proposed to install Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM), an obvious choice given the circumstances.

Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) is supposed to supersede Critical Path Method (CPM) with its capability to deliver projects on time, something CPM has consistently failed to do for more than sixty years now.

Among the obstacles to on-time project termination is the Parkinson’s law. This law – not to be confused with the disease of the same name – states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”,

The Critical Chain Project Management approach recognizes this specific behavior consisting of refining the work, add unrequired features or perform additional tests instead of handing the task over to the next person in charge when finishing a project task ahead of time.

The main reasons for this behavior refered to as “Parkinson’s law” are that someone finishing earlier will:

  • fear to see the allocated time to achieve the task reduced by management the next time
  • fear to appear unable to give a trustworthy estimation of the time necessary to complete a task
  • enjoy the extra time when finishing earlier instead of being late and under pressure
  • enjoy to seemingly deliver just-in time and as predicted something that is ready and waiting for a while

Critical Chain Project Management being aware of the Parkinson’s law, its proponents educate the project members about the consequences of this behavior and put the relay race principles as well as common project buffer in place.

The relay race principles state that when a task on the Critical Chain is nearing its completion, a signal is sent to the next resource that will take over. This resource is then using this early warning to make sure to be ready on the high priority task that soon will be handed over. This is like the relay runner starting to run when the baton is approaching in order to be at top speed when it’s handed over.

The common buffer is a shared protection of the finishing date made of the sum of roughly the half of all individual protection margins. Please see Introduction to Critical Chain Project Management for more details about CCPM protective buffer.

So far so good. Now here is a developers team that was working in constant hassle, with chaotic and permanent priority changes and countless interruptions. Multitasking was so bad that some of the members could not work on a given task more than 3 minutes in average before the next interruption occurred.

Thanks to CCPM, multitasking was banned, interruptions prevented and focusing on one single project at a time became the new rule. The team members soon acknowledged the positive change and the comfort of getting rid of all the hassle and the multitasking.

Yet top management was not happy because the development team did not deliver more by finishing projects earlier, and taking a closer look concluded that CCPM reenforced Parkinson’s law. Indeed, the team members took it easy and did not really rush to the next priority job once their current task on the critical chain was completed.

What went wrong?

Well, nothing went really wrong, simply putting the system under control and stopping the constant chaos let the true problem show up: the team was not managed.

As long as everyone could influence the work on the projects, mainly sales managers and general manager worrying about the delivery date, someone was giving orders. Under such a pressure the developers managed to push the projects to their completion, even they finished late. As things were progressing, even in a total uncoordinated way, there was a general feeling that the process was delivering.

Once the CCPM rules were agreed and installed, sales managers and the general manager refrained to interfere with development team and developers had their list of priorities to work on. What they did not have was a manager taking care about work intensity (another word for productivity), cadence, challenging for continuous improvement. In one word: a manager.

Without the management’s constant challenge and care, the developers simply laid back, feeling legit to do so after all the years of stress and bad working conditions.

Insufficient cause

Reflecting on this story I realized that the top management was assuming that CCPM principles of stopping multitasking and keep focusing on the critical chain priorities was enough to squeeze out the unnecessary individual margins and consequently speed up the development process. This in turn would allow to increase throughput with the same resources.

In the Logical Thinking Process (LTP) lingo, this is an insufficient cause, meaning that by itself it will not be sufficient to cause the expected effect; increasing throughput.

What we consultants, and probably the general manager, considered a given was that this team was managed. As well this was clearly a Necessary Condition, we felt it was “oxygen”, another LTP term for conditions that are supposed so obvious that it is not necessary to express them, just as oxygen is necessary for humans to breath.

Conclusion

The CCPM principles worked well. The chaos was tamed and the developments could finish within the estimated time, now based on so-called focused durations.

The Throughput did increase, but not dramatically. There a three reasons for this:

  1. First reason is that the increase of throughput allowed new projects to start earlier, but given the average length of a project (10-12weeks), the speeding up was not very noticeable.
  2. Second, CCPM was applied on the work packages without challenging the work package contents nor engaging continuous improvement at once. The local management chose to collect data about buffer consumption first, in order to understand where and what to improve. Given the projects durations, this is a slow process.
  3. Third, there was no incentive to improve due to the lack of team management. This later becoming blatant once all other disturbing factors have been neutralized.

So CCPM did not enforce Parkinson’s law. CCPM did what it is supposed to: set the scene for efficient focused work and deliver the projects on promised dates.

CCPM is no cure for everything and no substitute for failing management.


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My takeaways from Breakthrough Project Management conference

Paris, October 17th, 2016. Ian Heptinstall, co-author of “The Executive Guide to Breakthrough Project Management, Capital & Construction Projects on-time in less time, on budget at lower cost without compromise” (full title), was there to deliver his conference on the subject.

Before you turn away thinking this has nothing to do with my industry, you should ask yourself if yours too struggles to deliver on time, in full, on budget. If yes, the ideas shared in this conference should be of interest, whatever your trade is.

Ian’s claim is to introduce a way to deliver in less time and less budget, without compromising on scope, quality and risks, no longer trading off.

The conference

The time indications are related to the video

Many project managers do not realize their projects go wrong, but several studies show that most (capex) projects do not fulfil their requirements (2:26). Ian goes through the major reasons at macro and micro level for projects to miss all their targets. Three issues are found at the heart of the problem (8:10); the way to contract, the way to plan and the way to execute.

Ian, together with co-author Robert Bolton, believe they’ve found an easy, repeatable and sustainable way to overcome these issues. The shift from traditional project management to Breakthrough Project Management is presented from 10:00.

Among the things to change is the methodology shift to Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) briefly introduced at 14:32. The project’s monitoring Fever Chart is explained at 22:20. The proven CCPM methodology will face a major obstacle: the way of contracting and purchase (26:06).

The new way to consider contracting is introduced at 29:16 and starts with the issues related to fixed pricing. For instance, complex problems involving high-tech or some new technology are tricky to estimate in terms of costs. Second, buyers want to have fixed prices. Contractors subcontract and ask for fixed prices as well. The buyer is usually the winner on the expenses of the contractor.

Instead of a hierarchy of contractors, the new approach promotes alliancing, i.e. putting stakeholders in a single team aligned onto a common goal and paid in the same way: “cost-fixed-variable” (34:17). Cost are expenses to be covered, without markup. The fees are fixed and variable and not related to costs. The only way for the partners to make more money once the project is started is to get the variable fees, thus have a successful project. What the success is made of is left to the client to decide: time, quality, safety.. This changes the team members behaviors.

The characteristics of project alliances are summarized at 37:45. Project alliancing does not mean the bidding is not competitively sourced (39:10).

The conference summary is presented at 39:50.

My takeaways

The whole conference is presented in a lively way, with some funny and true everyday’s examples of the ridiculous requirements or expectations in traditional project management. It makes the conference anything but boring!

Being knowledgeable about Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM), it is not the CCPM discovery that raised my interest, but the simple way Ian presented it. It is consistent with the book’s aim: being an executive guide, thus give concise necessary insight and explanation, without boring the audience.

Alliancing was new to me and raised my interest, reminding the issues I’ve seen with the usual hierarchical buyer-supplier relationship.

Finally, I’ve found the whole conference (content and presentation) worth a post to promote it. I hope it will do.

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Critical Chain Project Management alone is not enough

Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) alone is not enough to drastically reduce a project’s duration and improve the development process efficiency.

CCPM is a proven Project Management approach to ensure a project, any project, will meet its finishing date without compromising quality nor any of the requirements, and even though CCPM can lead to terminate projects earlier, CCPM alone will not squeeze out all improvement potential still hidden in the development process.

What CCPM does well is reconsider in a very smart way the project protection against delaying. Individual protective margins will be confiscated and mutualized in a project buffer, allowing everyone to benefit from this shared and common protection.

There is a bit more than this protective project buffer, but for the sake of simplicity let us just be that… simple.

The visual progress monitoring with a Fever Chart will provide early warning if the project completion date may be at risk and help spot where the trouble is.

Fever Chart

Fever Chart in a nutshell: x axis = project completion rate, y axis = protective buffer burn rate. Green zone = all ok, don’t worry, Amber zone = watch out, the project is drifting and finishing date may be jeopardized. Red zone = alert, project likely to be delayed if no action bring the plot into Amber and preferably Green zone.

After a while, with the proof that all projects can finish without burning up all the protective buffer, meaning ahead of estimated finish date, this arbitrary margin confiscation can be refined and some tasks durations trimmed down while fixing some of the common flaws in the process, like incomplete Work Breakdown Structures, poor linkage between tasks, ill-defined contents or missing requirements.

When done, the projects may be shorter because of lesser of the original protective margins and the other fixes, but the tasks themselves are seldom challenged about their value.

For instance, many of the project’s gate reviews have been set to monitor progress and give confidence to management. They were countermeasures to the drifts and tunnel effects, the period where management is blind about the progress, but with the early warning and easy visual monitoring through the Fever Chart, and more agility in the process, many of these reviews are now useless.

Thus, the time to prepare the documents, KPIs, presentations and attend meetings can be saved for value-creating activities or simply eliminated.

Other tasks may clutter the project, like legacies of fixes of older issues, long obsolete but still kept as the project template still carry them over. Evolution in technologies, unnecessary or suppressed downstream process steps, never fed back may also let unnecessary tasks in the project.

This is where a Lean Thinking approach completes CCPM, challenging the Added-Value of each task, questioning the resources required (both in qualification or competencies and in quantity) and even the linkage to preceding and following tasks.

When considering a development process, embracing Lean Engineering can even go further. Lean Engineering fosters learning and reuse of proven solutions. Libraries of such solutions and ready-for-use modules can save significant time, which can be reinvested in experimenting for the sake of further learning or to shorten projects and engage more development cycles with same resources and within the same time span.


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TOC, Lean and aviation MRO

In a previous post, “CCPM helps shorten aircrafts MRO”, I explained the benefits of Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) for reducing the aircraft downtime during their mandatory and scheduled MRO.

If CCPM is great and helps a lot meeting the challenge, it will not squeeze out every potential improvement, thus time reduction, on its own.

As I explained in my post Critical Chain and Lean Engineering, a promising pair, “What CCPM per se does not is discriminate added-value tasks and non added value, the wasteful tasks listed in a project in a Lean thinking way.

Conversely, if wasteful tasks remain in the project network, chance are they will be scheduled and add their load (and duration) to the project.

That’s why in aviation MRO (as well as in other businesses), Critical Chain Project Management will not be used as a stand alone but in conjunction with other approaches, like Lean and Six Sigma.

Lean mainly will help to discriminate value-added from non value-added tasks, especially those on the Critical Chain, making them high priorities to optimize, reduce or eliminate.

We did not differently when we started with our client Embraer and while in their service center, I placed Philip Marris in front of the camcorders to present, in situ, two books related to TOC, Critical Chain and Lean in aviation MRO (aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul).


Note: Critical Chain Project Management is part of the Theory of Constraints Body of Knowledge, hence the title of this post where “TOC” is referring to CCPM.


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CCPM helps shorten aircraft MRO

Facts

Aircrafts have to undergo periodic Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO). This is mandatory in order to insure the aircraft’s airworthiness and overall safety. During these inspections and repairs, the aircrafts are grounded.

For the owners and operators, the shorter the turnaround time*, the better. An aircraft is a huge investment and the ROI is only when it can be used in service.

*the time the aircraft is grounded, usually counted in weeks for longer in-depth inspections.

Yet aircraft operational availability is not only a question of Return On Investment, think about relief and the lives saved by medivacs or military forces brought closer to their spot during a crisis.

When an aircraft comes in for its scheduled maintenance, according to the type of inspection (ranging from Check A to Check D, according the depth and importance of inspection, the amount of time or usage…  (see Wikipedia)

The process is scheduled like a project as many tasks can’t be done prior to some others, e.g. access some hydraulic pipes before stripping the surrounding frame.

It is therefore common to use Project Management tools and techniques to organize, carry-out and monitor the whole process.

The challenge

Shortening the turnaround time is therefore a challenge for the service centers, not only to please and retain their customers, but also to attract new ones in order to grow their business and improve their profitability.

Of course the challenge is to be met while remaining compliant to the severe regulations and specific constraints, taking no chances with quality nor safety.

Furthermore, “findings” – unexpected defects of potential issues found once the aircraft is under inspection – or sudden customers requirements may add unscheduled workload.

In the traditional project management way, each task is estimated for its duration and a cautious (and generous) margin of time added. The service centers want to keep their committed due date, even if findings or any other random events (parts shortages, supplies problems…) arise.

It is therefore no surprise that major Checks ground an aircraft for weeks.

The new approach

It wasn’t long before some service centers spotted the improvement potential (turnaround time reduction) with Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM). Delta TechOps, Lufthansa Technik, US Navy and Air Force, French SiAé are cases I’m aware of.

Compared to traditional Critical Path Method (CPM), Critical Chain Project Management takes the resources’ limited capacities into account at once and has a completely different approach regarding margin of time. In short, all margins are shortened based on a statistical rationale and a share of it put into a global protective time buffer.

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CCPM provides also a simple but very effective visual indicator to monitor both project’s achievement and protective buffer consumption, thus indicating instantly when the project may be late. This robust and early warning allows project managers to focus on a very limited number of issues instead of trying to control every single task.

This allows also the mechanics to work in a quieter atmosphere, an important additional benefit in a trade that considers human stress as a major risk for quality.

CCPM has proven great for consistently meeting due dates and often shortening a whole project duration compared to its original estimations.

Our client testimony

I was fortunate to be involved in Embraer’s Business Jets Service Center’s project to reduce turnaround time in Paris (Le-Bourget) and pleased to produce a series of videos of their testimonies about their achievement.

In this video, Sébastien Albouy, Director of Embraer Executive Jets Services center in Paris Le Bourget executive airport, explains how Critical Chain Project Management helped to drastically shorten the aircraft turnaround time, thus increasing aircraft availability and the center’s capacity.


>Related: TOC, Lean and aviation MRO


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Critical Chain and Lean Engineering, a promising pair

Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) has proven its effectiveness to terminate projects on time and even quite often before estimated finish date.

In development, engineering or Maintenance Repair & Overhaul (MRO), using CCPM can give a significant competitive advantage.

It can outperform slower competitors, earn premium for faster achievement and/or allow multiplying projects within similar timeframe and often with same resources.

CCPM is the perfect companion for Lean Engineering, giving the means to win the race-to-market and multiplying new product launches.

True Lean Engineering is something long to develop and “install”, it’s about learning and developing a reusable knowledge base as well as turning engineers into Lean thinkers.

Terminating projects earlier and multiplying them offers the learning opportunities to test and gather knowledge.

CCPM is therefore a good Lean Engineering “forerunner” giving a competitive advantage faster than the sole Lean Engineering initiative.

What CCPM per se does not is discriminate added-value tasks and non added value, the wasteful tasks listed in a project in a Lean thinking way.

Of course, when CCPM takes care about the capacity constrained resources, it invites to check the content of the tasks and scrutinize the proper use of those precious resources, thus calling for Lean-minded scrutiny.

CCPM acts then as a focusing tool for Lean-minded analysis and improvement.

These two, Critical Chain Project Management and Lean Engineering, seem to make a fine, promising pair.
Something to consider.


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Why secret weapons can’t remain secret 

A secret weapon, in its metaphorical or literal meaning, is a means that trumps the actual known ones. It brings a decisive advantage to its user/owner, is more effective and… unknown.

A secret weapon will create a surprise and grant its user a favorable opportunity to exploit,  and if exploited properly can lead to victory.

Once the competition – in warfare or business – aware of the existence of a secret weapon, it will relentlessly try to gather information about it, destroy it or get one too in order to restore balance.

A good reason for the owner to keep on trying keeping it secret and competition to catch up. What eventually will happen.

On the other hand, at some moment it will be politically, strategically or “marketingly” smart to advertise on the competitive advantage and reveal the secret.

For those reasons a secret weapon can’t remain secret.

This is the case with Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM), a “new” approach still somewhat “confidential”.

When we applied it to aircraft MRO and helped our client to halve the aircraft turnaround time, we helped our client to forge a competitive advantage. And when we wanted to advertise about the achievement, the client was reluctant to “give away his secret weapon”.

Well, I thought, how long do you think it will take for word of mouth to spread? How long before your sales team will boast about shorter aircraft grounding? How long before the information will leak via informal channels?

In business it is useless to waste energy trying to keep the secret weapon secret.

On the contrary, focus should be on exploiting the competitive advantage, advertising heavily on it and quickly reap as much profit as possible before competition closes the gap.


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Introduction to Critical Chain Project Management

Welcome to my introduction to Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)!

Critical Chain Project Management is a “new” approach to Project Management, with connections to the Theory of Constraints.

While in the 1980s the production management changed from mainly local unit cost control to a holistic approach that encourages flow (Lean), the project management has not significantly changed* since the introduction of the Critical Path Method  in the 1950s (PERT: USA 1954 Polaris program) and despite its recognized weaknesses regarding reliability and meeting deadlines.

*Agile, Lean IT have brought improvements but the Critical Path Method is still the main model.

In the 1990s, Eli Goldratt, author of the famous business novel the Goal, revisited project management with a Theory of Constraints point of view.

In short, he proposed to shift from a task-focused management to a resources-focused management, taking into account their availability and capacity conflicts. To distinguish the new Critical Path from the previous one, he called it the Critical Chain.

The Critical Chain is the longest path taking into account the resources load levelling.

Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) reviews also how tasks durations are estimated and proposes to set up a global buffer to protect the project achievement on due date instead of protecting every single task.

Here is a brief overview introducing CCPM


another one:

Here is a second video that gets you a bit deeper into CCPM concept

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