Sunday, October 13, 2013

Focus and Leverage Part 258

Although our POOGI relies heavily on the use of TOC, many times key areas within organizations (e.g. maintenance, project management, etc.) need more.  Consider a scheduled maintenance process for a company whose function is to maintain helicopters.  Each helicopter was considered an individual project with individual tasks that must be completed in a specific period of time.  Because the scheduled maintenance process is an iterative, repetitive process with inevitable uncertainty present, we need a project management method that not only considers this uncertainty, but also helps us deal with it,

Most companies use a methodology referred to as the Critical Path Method (CPM) and although it’s presumably a good method, we still see many projects coming in late, over budget and many times the original scope has been reduced in an attempt to bring the project in on time.  In the next several postings I want to talk a bit about a different project management methodology known as Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM).  And the way I will do so is via a head to head comparison between CPM and CCPM.  CCPM is a Theory of Constraints based method which was first written about in a book written by Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt appropriately entitled, Critical Chain Project Management.  If you work in a project management based organization, then I highly recommend this book.  I might add that this next series of postings is a combination of material Bruce Nelson wrote that is found in the Appendix of Epiphanized and a paper that my son John Sproull and I wrote.

Several years ago I worked for a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO_ contractor to the US Army.  The contractor was charged with maintaining the Army’s fleet of helicopters and when I arrived there, I must say things were a mess.  The contractor was responsible for having a set number of ready-to-fly helicopters several times throughout the day.  If the contractor fell short of this number, then penalties were assessed.  Most of the helicopters came directly from the contractor’s unscheduled maintenance area, but some came from their scheduled maintenance area.  In the scheduled maintenance area, there were a set number of days that the aircraft could be in scheduled maintenance, and I must say, for the most part, the contractor was not delivering the contracted amount.  It is the scheduled maintenance process that I want to direct my writing to for the next series of posting.

When I first walked into my first aircraft hangar to observe the scheduled maintenance process, I was amazed.  I had no prior MRO experience, so I had no frame of reference to compare it to.  What I saw were mechanics crawling all over the Blackhawk helicopters, doing something.  There were large graphs in front of each helicopter telling whoever wanted to know the status of these beautiful birds and in almost every case, the contractor was behind schedule.  I spoke with many of the mechanics and they told me that if I think this is bad, take a look outside.  I walked outside and found 12 helicopters wrapped in foil indicating that they had been frozen and not being worked.  The overall WIP in just this one hangar was nearly 20 aircraft, meaning that they were in a partial state of overhaul and could not be flown.  It was immediately obvious to me why they were missing their contractual obligations since 20 birds in the fleet were tied up in scheduled maintenance.

The contractor had been using Critical Path Project Management (CPM) and it was clear to me that it simply wasn’t working.  For those of you not familiar with CPM, I want to start by explaining how it actually works.  If you ask a typical project manager about what factors delayed a completed project, most will tell you that something they hadn’t planned for or even had no control over cropped up in some of the tasks and delayed them.  This is another way of saying that uncertainty or the Murphy bug bit them!  We know that every project from virtually every environment has uncertainty associated with it and how this uncertainty is dealt with determines the ultimate success or failure of the project.  So in order for a project to be successful, there must be a way to protect it from uncertainty. 

In my next few series of posting we’ll take a look at how traditional project management (CPM) attempts to protect a project from inevitable uncertainty and then compare it to TOC’s version of project management referred to as Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM).

Bob Sproull


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