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Critical chain project management

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Gary Palmer introduced the topic of ‘Critical Chain Project Management’ (CCPM) to a room-full of APM members and volunteers at the recent Midlands Branch event in Birmingham.

CCPM is an emerging method based upon Eli Goldratt’s well-established principles of the ‘Theory of Constraints’ and, in particular, his business novel ‘Critical Chain’ which was published in 1997.

Gary described CCPM as a set of tools and techniques that work together to improve scheduling and managing a project, or equally a programme.

One of the key problems with traditional methods is that each work stream has contingency built in and this can create a distorted project programme, often with much longer timescales than necessary. The transparency of progress is also less clear. One of the ways in which CCPM improves scheduling is ‘buffering’. For example, additional duration is added to the end of the project, rather than against individual tasks in order to mitigate against several typical behaviours – including Parkinson’s law (work expands to fill time) and the ‘Student’s syndrome’ (leaving work until the last possible moment it is due).

One of the typical constraints that Gary pointed out was the lack of clarity of direction from the executive level. Using the analogy of a Rugby team, he explained how the team needs to know their roles and purpose before starting the game, during which the coach will be powerless, simply sitting in the stands with no further contact with the players.

Brian Wernham, RPP FAPM, attending the event said: “Gary explained the importance of cutting down unnecessary ‘work in progress’, and delivering early – two key concepts in both critical chain thinking and also agile project management.  A revolution in thinking? Perhaps... common sense? Certainly!”

Gary took an extended session of question and answers and also gave away a free copy of Goldratt’s ‘Critical Chain’ book as a prize in a ‘business card’ draw. 


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  1. Paul Andrews
    Paul Andrews 16 December 2019, 12:02 PM

    Great presentation! It's interesting that CCPM uses buffer management instead of earned value management when it comes to assessing the performance of the project. This is of course due to the fact that the earned value management technique doesn't distinguish progress on the project constraint from progress on non-constraints. Have a great day, cheers! Paul - HUSH Project Management & Consulting Limited