Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) on the Salesforce Platform

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Anyone who is working on projects and is concerned about on-time delivery should care about CCPM. Therefore, those who should care include CIO’s, PMO leaders, portfolio managers, program managers and project managers.” – Gartner, April 2016

What if you could …

  • dramatically shorten overall project duration (without adding resources);
  • significantly improve project delivery date reliability;
  • provide highly effective “early warning” of threats to project delivery; and
  • enable earlier, less drastic, more focused responses to potential problems? 

These are some of the benefits offered by Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM). CCPM is a method of planning and managing projects that significantly increases the speed at which processes can be completed, by reducing the impact of negative behavior, uncertainty, and limited resource availability.

And yet …

So few project managers have even heard of CCPM, let alone use it.

If you would have asked a project manager 60+ years ago to talk about their project management problems, the complaints you heard would not be much different from what you would hear today. Which is not surprising, since project management has not significantly changed in the last 60 years. The Gantt chart was invented in the early 1900’s, and critical path in the late 1950’s. MS Project dates back to the 1980’s, and while it has lots of new functionality, the basic approach it uses hasn’t really changed. And sure, there is agile for software development, but this is not about software development projects.

The problem with conventional project management

This lack of advancement is odd, because for one thing, conventional project management encourages bad behavior:

  • Task deadlines are counterproductive
    • Resources held accountable for meeting their estimates have strong incentive to pad those estimates with “safety time” to assure ~90% success probability.
    • Once estimates have been padded, perverse incentives arise:
      • Student syndrome
        • When people think they have extra time on a task, they tend to begin it late (if busy).
      • Parkinson Law
        • Work expands to fill available time (if less busy).
      • Murphy’s Law
        • People tend to underestimate the amount of safety time they need, then overcompensate.
        • No time to cope with unexpected obstacles if safety time has already been used up by starting late or increasing scope.
  • There is little incentive to finish tasks early
    • Early finish may lead managers to discount future estimates
      • Similar to syndrome of government agencies using their budgets.
    • If a task does finish early, usually little benefit to project
      • Resources to begin successor task not available until scheduled start date.
  • Bad multitasking is encouraged
    • Each project management wants to see some progress, even if small.
    • If one has safety time on a task, one may decide to interrupt it to work on something else that may have an earlier deadline.
  • Bad multitasking leads to inefficiency
    • Repeated context switching overhead due to loss of focus.
    • Tasks not completed, so successor tasks can’t start.
    • Large amount of work-in-process (WIP) which hasn’t earned any revenue.

Upshot:

  • Accountability for estimates causes people to waste time, increase scope and work inefficiently.
  • Safety time nearly always used up.
  • Even padded estimates are often exceeded (or met only through heroics).

chain-project-feels-wrong.pngWhy is CCPM not more mainstream?

In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted. – Bertrand Russell, British philosopher

There are a number of reasons why CCPM is not mainstream: 

CCPM has lousy marketing

The typical definition of critical chain project management is this: Critical chain project management (CCPM) is a method of planning and managing projects that emphasizes the resources required to execute project tasks. (Wikipedia) Not only does this not convey the real benefits of CCPM, it is highly unlikely to get a project manager very excited.

CCPM has manufacturing roots

A lot of the material on CCPM applies to manufacturing environments, since it is based on the Theory of Constraints (TOC), which was developed for manufacturing. This is likely to be off putting to project managers in non-manufacturing environments. 

CCPM is induces discomfort

People grow comfortable with the old ways of doing things. They have been doing it this way for years. They are very good at doing it this way. Now you want them to change to do it a different way. Even if it’s better, it takes them out of their comfort zone and all they see is more work.

CCPM literature is not easily accessible to average project managers

There are some great books out there on CCPM. But they aren’t the kind of books that the average project manager is going to wade through.

CCPM threatens traditional project management

There are many project management consultants, and others who makes a living in project management education, who are invested in the perpetuation of traditional project management, and therefore have no interest in change.

CCPM is counter intuitive

CCPM cuts across decades of past experience and training, formal processes, customer demands, and performance measures. It all sounds pretty crazy!

CCPM is not needed because we already know how to run projects

Project managers who have excellent track records based on hitting milestones don’t think they need to change. However, simply hitting deadlines hardly tells the full story. Like cruise control, the project will speed up if it is running late (by team members working hard to get it back on track, sometimes working weekends and evenings to make it happen), or slow down if the project is early (people relax, maybe shuffling resources to something more urgent). Projects seek equilibrium around their dates – there is pressure to move things earlier and later. Most project organizations are self-correcting as they try to hit their dates. What actually had to take place to get there is hidden from view, and there is no impetus to finishing projects faster. (See The Tyranny of Deadlines , by Rob Newbold).

People don’t want to change

When you share a new direction with your team, the people in the room may appreciate your logic for change. They may agree with you intellectually. And yet there is a more emotional side of them that has grown comfortable with the old way of doing things. They’ve been practicing routine A for years. They are very good at routine A. Now, you’re trying to get them to change to routine B. Even if they agree that B is better than A, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy the next day. (Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath).

Other reasons:

  • Lack of awareness. You can’t choose what you are unaware of.
  • Improving throughput is not important. Improving project throughput may not be highly valuable in all project environments. Cost management, for example, may be the factor organizations are focusing on rather than project throughput.
  • It’s “too hard”. Project managers have looked at CCPM and decided it would be too hard to implement in their environment.
  • Don’t see the value. Project managers don’t believe CCPM has anything new or better to offer.
  • No constrained resources. The organization has unlimited resources.
  • Resources not shared across projects. Each project has its own set of resources.

Implementation on the Salesforce platform

We originally added CCPM to our Salesforce-based product Xpeditor at the request of one of our clients, a global CRO responsible for large numbers of complex, long-running clinical trials for pharmaceutical companies.

But it soon became apparent that CCPM can (and should) be used in many cases where project throughput and on-time completion are key factors.

There have been thousands of successful CCPM projects in different national cultures, business cultures, industry groups, product lines and company sizes. Many organizations have standardized their processes on it, and have made great gains in project delivery as a result.

Anyone responsible for process-driven projects – project that are based on varied yet repeatable pattern – should take a serious look at CCPM. More on this in coming blog posts.

One thing is clear: I have seen first hand how using CCPM in a service industry can provide a significant competitive edge over competitors. You should now assume that your competitors are using it to improve their throughput and quality and dramatically reduce project lead times. If you are not using it yet, that gap will likely continue to grow. – Critical Chain Project Management, Lawrence P. Leach

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