Saturday, September 17, 2011

Focus and Leverage Part 54

In my last posting I gave you some insight into problems that surface when using Critical Path Project Management (CPM). Specifically, I laid out four common behaviors that all contribute to delayed projects in one way or another.  The four behaviors are:

1. The Student Syndrome

2. Parkinson’s Law

3. Multi-tasking

4. Cherry Picking

So how does Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) address and reduce/eliminate the impact of these four behavioral issues? There are six things that can be done to help mitigate Parkinson’s Law as follows:

1. Eliminate task due dates and durations.

2. Eliminate multi-tasking by focusing on one task at a time without unnecessary distractions.

3. Significantly reduce the built-in task safeties/buffers and create project buffers, feeding buffers and resource buffers.
4. Encourage the relay race mentality so that as soon as something is ready to pass on, notify the recipient in advance that it’s coming.

5. Change the way progress is measured.

6. Hold regular “escalation” meetings to provide timely assistance to workers.

Let’ look at these six things in a bit more detail and see how CCPM works to lessen their impact, but more specifically how to reduce the behavioral issues.

Unlike CPM, schedule building in CCPM requires that the schedule be constructed with only the time required to do the work, thus eliminating the safety time. This action leads to and supports complete elimination of task due dates and durations. Now when someone is notified in advance that work is coming, we can now take advantage of early finishes. Basically we are saying become a relay race runner. Without dates in place, we now know when a resource needs to be available.

One other significant difference between a CPM schedule and a CCPM schedule is that while CPM recognizes the longest path of dependent events (i.e. the critical path), it fails to recognize resource contentions. CCPM also recognizes the longest path, but also considers resource contentions and develops what it calls the critical chain. This is a very significant difference in how the project is managed.

To reduce the behaviors we experience with wasting time because of too much safety embedded, in CCPM we typically cut the actual estimated time by 50%. We actually say that this new time estimate is our 50% confidence interval. Because the task’s targets are 50% confidence estimates, what we are actually saying is that half of the time the task completions will come in early and half will be late. The theory is that the early finishes will offset the late ones so we don’t need all of the protection that was spread throughout the project. Instead we take the 50% removed time and create a project buffer which is inserted at the end of the project. The buffer acts very much like a savings account in that if more time is needed, a withdrawal of time is made from the buffer. Conversely, if a task is finished early, a deposit is made to the buffer bank. Realistically, the buffer is there to guard against Murphy’s inevitable impact on the project.

In addition to the project buffer, there are two other types of buffer that we establish. The first kind is referred to as a feeding buffer which protects task paths that feed into the critical chain. If a feeder chain is late, it will delay the tasks on the critical chain. Like the project buffer, the feeding buffer is typically half the size of the safety time removed from the feeder path. The other buffer is referred to as a resource buffer. These type buffers are created to ensure that the appropriate people and skills are available to work on the critical chain tasks exactly when they are needed.

Earlier I mentioned that CPM uses a simple % complete metric to measure project status and we were concerned about this method because not all tasks take the same amount of time. Typically, with CPM, the first 90% of the project gets completed fairly quickly, but the remaining 10% seem to take forever. One of the primary reasons is this metric. The key to managing a CCPM project is through buffer management. Unlike CPM, CCPM monitors the % of the critical chain completed compared to the % of project buffer consumed. As tasks are completed, we know how much buffer has been withdrawn or deposited in our project buffer. As long as the critical chain is completed without using more than 100% of the project buffer, we know the project is on schedule.

Two are final points to consider when running projects. The first is how CCPM eliminates cherry picking. When using CCPM software, each day a prioritized listing of tasks is presented to the project manager and are color-coded as red tasks. This is the order in which the tasks must be done, thus avoiding the cherry picking that goes on with CPM. The other point to consider is what type of meetings the project manager should have as he/she manages the project. The first meeting is a daily meeting to ask predecessor resources working on a critical chain task how much longer they need to complete the task so that they can inform the successor resource when to expect the new work. This gives the successor resource time to clear his/her workload in time to receive the critical chain task. The second meeting is a project review meeting whereby the team meets to review the status of the project. This meeting usually involves the use of fever charts that graphically display the % of critical chain complete compared to how much buffer has been consumed for each individual project. The project manager usually starts the meeting with a portfolio fever chart which displays all of the projects in work and then reviews each individual project fever chart. This meeting is intended to accentuate any problems with accelerated buffer consumption compared to completing the critical chain tasks. If these meetings are handled properly, the success of projects being completed on time and on budget/scope will increase dramatically.

Bob Sproull

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Focus and Leverage Part 53

In my last blog posting I discussed the negative impact that multi-tasking has on projects and how it extends the time required to complete a project. In this posting, I’d like to talk about two other behaviors that also unnecessarily extend the time required to complete projects, Parkinson’s Law and The Student Syndrome.

Most people using project management use a technique called Critical Path Project Management (CPM). CPM has been around for a long time and the results are actually pretty lousy. Lousy because numerous studies and surveys tell us that the on-time completion rate using CPM is typically reported to be below 50%. I don’t know about you, but in my world, 50% doesn’t quite cut it. Think about it… least half of the projects don’t finish on time. By not finishing on time, the cost of the increases dramatically and it’s not uncommon for the scope to be reduced at the same time.

There is an alternative methodology, the technique that I use, called Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) and I can tell you from experience that the success rate of projects using this method is typically above ninety percent. Let’s see….50% versus 90%....I think I like the higher number better. Let’s look at some of the basic reasons why CPM has problems.

In projects using CPM, individual task estimates are turned into a project schedule….a list of dependent tasks with estimated durations plus start and finish dates defined. People plan their daily activities around these time periods and make every effort possible to start on the start date and deliver whatever they’re working on (i.e. the tasks) by the completion dates which are based upon the estimated durations. These estimates include built-in time buffers or “safeties” to safeguard the individual tasks from the negative impact of Murphy. In reality it is not uncommon for the estimated duration to be twice as long as the tasks actually take because of these added safeties.

These built-in safeties establish fertile ground for a behavior known as Parkinson’s Law. This law states that work expands to fill the available time so the estimated duration for each task is the minimum amount of time that the tasks will take. But because of another common behavior known as the Student Syndrome, most, if not all of this safety buffer is wasted. This behavior is the practice of delaying or procrastinating work on tasks until the last minute because the person knows that a safety buffer has been added to the task estimate. So on one hand we have wasted safety and on the other hand we have work expanding to fill the time available.

We already know about the devastating effects of bad multi-tasking, so are there other things that else extend project completion times? In CPM one of the mortal mistakes is to establish individual task durations and hold people accountable for meeting them. As mentioned earlier, these individual durations include a safety time or task buffer to guard against uncertainty that always seems to always crop up. And while some of the task dates are actually completed on time or even early, most of the time they are late because of the Student Syndrome and Parkinson’s Law. Individual tasks are almost never reported as being completed early. Even if they were completed early, the successor resource probably wouldn’t be ready to accept the work. Why not? One reason is that since the successor resource won’t start the task until it is scheduled to start then if it was received early it would just sit until the current task was completed. So in this case there would be no positive impact for an early finish. The other reason is another behavioral issue. If someone finished a task early and reported it, there is a fear that if there was a similar task on another project, then they would be expected to finish it in the same amount of time. So in reality, there is really no incentive or reward for finishing early. This is the essence of Parkinson’s Law. If I have five days to complete the task, then it’s ok take at least five days.

Because individual tasks have the built-in safety time, it is not uncommon to start tasks as late as possible. These safety times are usually on the order of at least fifty percent, so the duration listed is actually twice as long as the time required to complete it. Knowing this safety exists, people will often procrastinate the start of the task which is, of course, the essence of the Student Syndrome. The problem comes when Murphy enters the picture. Since we’ve already used up our built-in safety by procrastinating the start of the task, there’s no protection to guard against Murphy. The key take-away here is that delays to tasks are passed on, but early finishes are not.

So let’s summarize the problems associated with Critical Path Project Management (CPM):

1. Not starting the task until the last moment (Student Syndrome) because individual task durations have a built-in safety.

2. Not reporting of a completed task until it is due on the schedule (Parkinson’s Law) because the successor won’t be ready and because someone will hold that person accountable for the same completion duration in a similar, future project.

3. Multi-tasking or working on multiple tasks at the same time because of the belief that starting tasks sooner will result in faster projects.

There is one additional behavior that tends to lengthen projects….Cherry Picking. Cherry Picking of tasks is the practice of picking out easier tasks with shorter durations to work on so progress can be reported. Typically reporting of progress in CPM is done so by calculating the percentage of tasks completed, so by completing tasks that have shorter durations, the progress metric might look good, but in reality, little progress has actually been made on completing the project. The problem is that not all tasks have the same durations, so completing a task that only takes a half a day is not the same as completing one that takes five days.

So how does Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) address these behavioral issues just discussed? In my next posting, I’ll discuss in more detail how CCPM is able to counter these behaviors and why CCPM is a superior project management method.

Bob Sproull

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Focus and Leverage Part 52 Supplement

In my last posting I recommended a CCPM book entitled Be Fast or Be Gone written by Andreas Scherer and I hope at least some of you will purchase and begin reading it. One of the key elements of CCPM is the desire to eliminate or at least minimize the harmful effects of multi-tasking. I know we have all been taught that multi-tasking is a good thing, but I want to use an example from Andreas’ book to demonstrate why multi-tasking is not a good thing at all. Just to be clear, multi-tasking is switching from one task to another without finishing the first task and then switching back to the first task or perhaps even another one before finishing the previous one.

The example from Be Fast or Be Gone is one that everyone will be familiar with, attempting to read too many books at the same time. Suppose you have ten books stacked up to read and each of them have 200 pages. When you’re reading, you normally see this as a pleasurable thing and you’re not interested in efficiency. But suppose it was critical for you to read all ten books, maybe to get better at your job. If you read twenty pages and you multi-task, you would have read twenty pages of each book after ten days of reading. You probably won’t have a clue what’s happening in any of them. After twenty days, you’ll be forty pages into each book and you’ll finish them all somewhere between days ninety-one and one hundred. And since you’re probably like most people and don’t have a perfect memory, in all likelihood, you’ll have to go back to remind yourself of what you’ve read. Going back over what you’ve already read is what Scherer refers to as “switching costs.” In the real world, switching costs can easily make up 20 to 30% of the whole task.

On the other hand, if you read in a focused way, that is, starting a book and finishing it, you will have read all of your first book on day ten with much better comprehension. You’ll finish your second book on day twenty, again with much better comprehension and without “switching costs.” At the end of day ninety, you will have read nine out of ten books and be ready to start your tenth one with no redundant reading to do (i.e. no switching costs).

The first takeaway is: Reading in a focused way, you will have read nine out of ten books on day ninety. By multi-tasking (i.e. switching from one book to another back and forth) you won’t have finished any of the books by then. It’s all still work in progress. This means that you can’t fully take advantage of the content of any of the books, nor can you pass any of the books to someone else to read. The more books you read in parallel, the harder it will be to keep track of where you are. If there were a hundred books to read, you would get nothing done. You would have forgotten what was in the first twenty pages of the first book by the time you finished reading the first twenty pages of the hundredth book. You would have to read it all over again.

If you’re in a project management environment, try to keep the lessons in mind from this example. Multi-tasking is simply not a good way to get things done. I hope this helps you in the future.

Bob Sproull

Focus and Leverage Part 52

In my last posting I told you that Bruce Nelson is writing a white paper on how to combine two very important TOC based tools, the Intermediate Objectives Map (IO Map) and the Interference Diagram (ID). Bruce is not yet finished with his paper, but when he’s ready, I’ll post either a link to it or the white paper spread out over several postings. While we’re all waiting for Bruce to finish, I want to do something I haven’t done here before. I want to endorse a book that I am now reading for the third time. The book is written by a man named Andreas Scherer and its title is Be Fast or Be Gone: Racing the Clock with Critical Chain Project Management. This book is perhaps the best book on CCPM that I have ever read…..even better than Goldratt’s book, Critical Chain which I thought could never be outdone.

What makes Scherer’s book such a compelling read? There are two primary reasons. First, it is written in a business novel format with a story line that could apply to many people around the world. It is a gripping novel about a man who is an expert in Project Management or more specifically, Critical Chain Project Management. He works in the semiconductor industry and has been very successful at improving the speed of completion of research projects. He actually has taken the on-time completion rates of projects of this nature to over 95% while reducing the overall time to complete them by over 40%.

Here’s what makes this story line so gripping. He has an 8 year old son who contracts a very rare form of brain cancer. When he meets with the doctors he is disheartened to find out that the survival rate for this type of cancer is very poor because it does not respond well to conventional surgical and chemical methods. When this man questions his son’s doctor about the availability of experimental drugs, he is told that only one company, Altus Drugs (a fictional company), is working on a new treatment drug, but that it’s years away from FDA approval. The drug had been studied in some adults, but never in children and that approval to move into that phase of development wouldn’t be ready in time to help his son. Disheartened, this man contacts the Pharmaceutical Company and asks to meet with the leadership of this company to offer his services to possibly speed up the development process. This is the basic story line and believe me, it is a very touching and movable novel.

The other reason this book is so compelling is that it clearly demonstrates the wide range of application that CCPM offers. My experience with CCPM is in the MRO industry and I’ve had incredible success at reducing cycle times that have improved throughput by over 40%. I know the power of this methodology in improving the success rate of projects, but to see its application as an R & D tool was somewhat of an eye opener for me. I hadn’t thought about adapting it to “knowledge workers” as Scherer calls them to help get research and development projects done faster and more effectively. I had done a lot of reading about CCPM’s application to manufacturing and even the construction industry, but I hadn’t ever read about applications in the “knowledge” industry.

Be Fast or Be Gone clearly takes place in a fictional setting, but after reading this wonderful book, plus my own experiences, there is no doubt in my mind that CCPM will work in virtually every industry. And with the spiraling healthcare costs that seem to have no upper limit, this book offers a way to perhaps slow down this rate of inflation.

I highly recommend this book for both its compelling story line and for the value-added it offers the world of project management. One word of caution however…..if you’re like me, you probably will need a cadre of tissues handy as you read it. It is a touching novel that will grab your heart, especially if you have children or grandchildren like I do. And by the way, the book only costs ~$10 and if you do read it, I welcome your comments.

Bob Sproull