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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Improving  50% is easy, improving 5% is difficult

It is with this enigmatic sentence that one of my Japanese mentors introduced the growing difficulty with continuous improvement.

What it means is that at the beginning of an improvement program or when starting in a new area, the first and usually the easiest actions bring big improvement, hence the “easy” 50%.

This is also known as “reaping the low hanging fruits“, another metaphor for earning easy results with very reasonable effort.

Once these easy and quick wins are done, what is left to improve requires more effort, more time or more investment.

The improvement curve is therefore asymptotic and it is increasingly difficult and expensive to squeeze out the last improvement potential, hence the “difficulty to improve (the last) 5%”

The graph shows the 3 stages of improvement

Continuous ImprovementA: quick and easy, few actions, visible results, big leverage, usually a leap in performance. Excellent Return On Investment (ROI).

B: second stage in continuous improvement, more effort and investment is necessary, but the ROI is still worth it

C: “chasing the decimals” : huge efforts and investment are required to squeeze out the last potential. The ROI is not worth it.

At some point, the Return On Investment (ROI) is not worth going on. This means that improving further what exists and/or the way it has been done until now is no more meaningful. What is required is a breakthrough, a radical change.

This is where kaizen (continuous incremental improvement) must give way to kaikaku (radical change), or in other words: as the old process or usual way cannot be further reasonably improved, it must be totally reconsidered.

Yet in many cases this is the upper limit of improvement as the process cannot be changed. Too often redesigning the product or process is not possible:

  • Design has to be approved or the new product/process has to undergo lengthy and costly qualification (pharma, automotive, aerospace…)
  • Remaining life is not long enough to pay for
  • Facilities are not flexible, can’t be modified
  • The modification would break some contract

The continuous improvement is often limited by options and decision made in early design and development stages, a fact I discuss in >this post<


Related: Stuck with continuous improvement?


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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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Lean Engineering and the myth of multitasking

Chris HOHMANN

Multitasking is a praised ability in a world needing constant adjustments. Critics challenge the ability of humans to multitask, while others still believe in and praise it.

I know for long time now that I am no good at multitasking and felt somewhat ungifted until the day I attended a training session in which an experiment settled the case.

Experimenting mono and multitasking performances

The experiment is made of a series of simple single tasks, each having an equal number of elementary operations, such as adding 1 to the previous number, list a series of odd or even numbers, write the letters of the alphabet, etc.

In order to compare the performance between mono and multitasking, the time to complete all task is measured as well as the number of errors.

The first test is done in mono tasking mode, which means the tester does all the basic operations of the task # 1 , then passes to the successive elementary operations of Task No. 2, and so on.
The stopwatch is stopped at the last step of the last task.

The second test is performed in multitasking mode: the timer is triggered then the candidate performs the first elementary operation of the task # 1 , then goes to the first elementary operation of the task # 2 and so on. The stopwatch is stopped at the last step of the last task.

Test results

Compared performances

 Time in
seconds
Total time
monotasking
Total time
multitasking
Rate
multi/mono
Task 1 16
163
10
Task 2
35
170
5
Task 3
60
176
3
Task 4
77
155
2
TOTAL
190
665
3,5

Besides, multitasking led to many errors even the operations were very simple, elementary.

Accepted disturbances

Accepted disturbances are commonplace in our work environment; interruption by unexpected arrival of a visitor, a conversation initiated by a colleague, request for a superior or question from a subordinate, the phone ringing , incoming e -mail , etc.

To add to these, many persons keep checking their smartphone for incoming tweets or e-mail, the sound signal, when activated, irresistibly attracts attention and distracts form probably more valuable occupation.

All these disturbances are derivatives mobilizing our attention and mental capacity. This constant zapping causes the same effects as those described in the experiment; loss of time, deterioration of quality and over consumption of our energy.

Lean Engineering

Striving for Leanness in engineering means striving for efficiency. Accepting being disturbed believing multitasking is an efficient approach to good work is nonsense. All these task switching are just like handoffs in a production line: waste.

————–

To learn more about bad distracting habits, read “The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time ” ( Harvard Business Review Blog ) post from Tony Schwartz

You may experiment by yourself online with a >simple game<

And watch this video