We all have been working on projects in different industries, with widely different scopes and resource constraints. We are proud of our achievements as project managers and we often have an idea about what was behind the success or otherwise of a project. But, the truth about all projects across all industries, is that 30% of all projects are cancelled before delivering their goals. Functioning projects, on the other hand, fail at an alarming rate to deliver project goals or fall far behind their scopes. The sheer waste of money due to cancelled and failed projects amount to millions of dollars across the world. The bottom line is that, the advances made in project management are not on a par with those in other industries such as technology and communication. Underdelivered goals, overrun budgets, overrun schedules and unhappy clients are frequent manifestations of projects as we have best known.
Improvement in any human endeavor is possible only if we are courageous enough to critically analyze our rate of success. Though unpleasant, we need to accept the reality that we have a problem in project management. How well we define the problem will determine the eventual solutions we find.
When asked why so many projects fail, the responses received do not show consistency. Commonly stated reasons are the uncertainties lying outside the system and considered beyond control such as bad weather, suppliers problems and bureaucracy at government level. Some attribute failure to conflict between senior managers and project managers. Reference to the well documented reasons for project failure testify to but one thing: there is no commonly agreed cohesive set of factors contributing to project failure that we can learn from. Interestingly though, they all imply two common characteristics of all projects. First, all projects assume that projects deliverables can be precisely estimated and operations, exactly implemented. Consequently, any deviation is considered as a weakness at the planning stage. The next crucial assumption is the undue reverence to the system. The project system itself has never been doubted but accepted as trouble free.
Dr Goldratt, proponent of the Critical Chain Method, put the problem, for the first time, in the proper context. He asked what problems, in the system, cause so many project failures. He pointed out a direct relationship between project failure and the system used.
In order to understand the relevance and importance of Critical Chain Method as an alternative to the Critical Path Method, let’s first have a look at the various attempts taken over the past 40 years to improve project performance. As Dr Goldratt himself points out, previous solutions predominantly focused on increasing the detail at each level of a project. Earned value and derivative cost schedule control systems, for example, produced hundreds of pages of procedure and thousands of activities, with some activities of few hours in duration. Unsuccessful results made the project planners to create more detail and activities as solution. It activated a vicious circle, in which the fundamental belief that the project failure is caused by insufficient detail, drive managers to load project with ever increasing details. Results were the mounting costs, ever expanding schedules and project, at most, failing to meet essential technical requirements.
Furthering the subject of previous solutions, we find none of the solutions so far advanced to be effectively dealing with the uncertainty inherent in any project. Traditionally, what we are accustomed to as a measure of reducing uncertainty, is to put more effort into estimates, on the one hand, increase project detail and depth on the other hand. Again the same scenario of ‘more documentation and more detail’.
Finally, all attempts at solving project performance problems could be described as trials to improve implementation while the system itself at fault.
In this backdrop comes the new theory, sometimes known as a method or concept, Critical Chain Method of project management, CCMP. Though it can not be thought of as a panacea for all ills of modern project management, evidence from its implementation in projects point to the following benefits in contrast to traditional Critical Path Method.
Following the Critical Chain Method of Project Management, the biggest achievement is improved project success demonstrated by projects completed on time, within budget and full scope, while helping improve business growth. Most projects following CCMP were reported to have been completed in half the time that similar projects took in the Critical Path Method.
The debate about the usefulness and practicality of Critical Chain method against Critical Path method is not yet over. However, there are several key problems inherent in CP method and CCMP has shown promise. Though the existing evidence of success does not prove the theory of Critical Chain Method of Project Management comprehensively, as a competing new theory and solution to ever present problems of Critical Path Method, it is advisable that today’s project manager go beyond his comfort zone and restructure his ‘thinking’ in line with CCPM. We must never lose chance of a critical evaluation of a promising new theory, however ingrained in convention we are.