7 questions to help you reduce projects‘ duration

On one hand, in current competitive environment, time to market and speed to respond to customers’ needs is a Critical Success Factor, often more important than sales price.

On the other hand, projects templates used in companies have “grown fat” over time with an inflation of additional tasks, milestones and reviews, thus extending project’s’ duration.

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Why templates grew “fat”

Organizations dealing repeatedly with projects will soon develop templates of Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) holding the most current tasks and milestones. These canvasses speed up somewhat the project initiation and insure some degree of standardization.

Over time though, the copy-pasting from one project to the next, the addition of “improvements” and requirements as well as countermeasures to problems kind of inflate the templates and the projects. This in turn extends the project’s duration as every additional task not only adds its allocated time to completion, but also the safety margin(s) the doer and/or project manager will add on top.

Most of the countermeasures and special reviews were meant to be temporary, only for fixing specific problems. But hassle and lack of rigor soon let them in the next copy-paste template and over time their original purpose gets forgotten and those specific and temporary fixes end up being… standardized!

This is how loads of unnecessary tasks extend project duration without anyone noticing it.

In order to stick to delivering on due date, and in some extend reduce the project duration, Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) proposes some solutions. Yet those solutions mainly concentrate on a smarter use of the margins without challenging the value and necessity of the tasks themselves.

Therefore, reducing the margins and sharing the risks with a common project buffer, everything else remaining equal, the reduction of the total project duration is limited.

Now, combining CCPM with a Lean-inspired approach, projects can be shortened even more.

Challenging every task

The proposed approach is to scrutinize every task and investigate about its usefulness and its added value, as well as about the allocated resources to achieve it.

The idea is to get rid of unnecessary or low-value adding tasks cluttering the WBS and reduce the workload placed upon the scarcest and most expert resources, reduce the related costs and most of all reduce the time required for completing the whole project.

In a Lean Thinking way these kinds of tasks are wastes of resources and time and should be eliminated. If it’s not possible to eliminate them, is it at least possible to to reduce them to the bare minimum?

Here are 7 questions to help you surface these kind of resource drainers and waste generators in your WBS

1. Is this task really necessary? Why?

As soon as the purpose of one task is not obvious and cannot be simply demonstrated, some investigation is advised. Before rushing to the conclusion it useless and can be eliminated, one must verify that the outcome of this task is not required elsewhere in the project as an answer to some regulatory, standard or technical requirement.

The next question can help to answer this one.

2. What would happen if this task wouldn’t been completed?

A really useful task should answer a need. This one can be explicitly expressed in the requirements or in a procedure for example. It can also be implicit and naturally impose itself.

Most projects embed lots of reviews, gates and reporting points. These are resources and time drainer added by anxious project managers and customers. Yet not every project has very high stakes neither is jeopardized. What can make sense for a very sensitive project is not necessarily required for EVERY project.

What would happen if tasks and deliverables related to these reviews, gates and reporting would be omitted?
If a try shows nothing happens, it’s either an evidence of:

  • the no/low value
  • the lack of rigor in project management and follow-up
  • the lost sense of reviews as a management ritual

I remember a manager having put on hold projects for which project managers didn’t demand reports or reviews several weeks after voluntarily stopping to report progress.

It ultimately led to unclutter the project portfolio of several “nice-to-have” or “to-be-done-when-we-have-time” projects and free valuable capacity for sellable ones.

3. Who will benefit the outcome of the task?

In a well structured WBS no task should end “nowhere”. Who benefits from a task, usually the successor, should be directly readable in the WBS.If it isn’t the case, the value of a task as well as the robustness of the WBS must be challenged.

4. Is this task adding any value?

Value-Added is something the customer is willing to pay for. When assessing the value of a task, the right question is: can the outcome of this task be sold? Is anybody ready to pay for it?

An alternative in product, process or software development exists though, which is creating new, reusable knowledge (Lean Engineering/Lean Product and Process Development). This is considered a kind of investment.

If a task adds nothing worthy to a paying customer nor new knowledge to the company, it adds no value. To keep it or not sends back to question 1.

5. Does this task really require this resource? Why?

Once the task is assessed as useful, the next question is about the allocated resource.

One good practice is to allocate the lowest qualified resources to any task in order to save the more competent and expert resources, which are scarcer and thus more precious, from the mundane tasks that can be achieved by more common and cheaper resources.

If a task requires a scarce, expert resource, the next question is: how come?

Overburdening scarce and precious resources is one major reason for projects taking long time as the flushing of their tasks backlog requires the project managers to level the load, thus push back the completion of staggered tasks.

Many project managers compete to have the best resources allocated to their projects. Success and reliability attract attention and any project manager wants the best team in order to achieve his/her challenge. Always picking the same best ones ends up with overburdening them. Besides, not challenging the lower performers will not help them to improve.

6. Can it be done differently?

The alternate ways to consider here are both technical solutions as well as alternate resources.

  • Technically: can it be done differently so that the scarce bottleneck resource(s) is/are less required? Simpler solution may require less expert resource to implement it, for instance.
  • At the resource level, is it possible to delegate to a lesser constraint resource? Is it possible to subcontract?

These alternates should be considered for the sake of project’s duration reduction first, then for cost efficiency.

7. Must this task be done at that moment/stage of the project?

Some tasks have some degree of liberty with regards to when they must be fulfilled. Moving their relative place in the project structure may help limiting the overload and load levelling.

Wrapping up

Challenging necessity and contribution of all tasks in a project helps reveal those useless and of low added-value. Getting rid of them shortens the project’s duration accordingly, provided those task are on the Critical Chain.

This reservation is a hint about where to look first: the string of tasks on the Critical Chain.

The second benefit of this approach is to reduce the workload of the scarcest, most constrained resources, thus reducing the effect of load-leveling, hence project duration.

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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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The Executive Guide to Breakthrough Project Management – Book Review

The Executive Guide to Breakthrough Project Management is about combining Critical Chain Project Management and “alliancing” or collaborative contracting for a win-win efficient way to manage huge (or small) construction projects.

Soon when reading the guide, it becomes obvious that what the authors describe as efficient in construction and capex projects can be used in many other trades.

Watch the author’s conference

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.


Chris Hohmann

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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.

Chris Hohmann

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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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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