Change is in the air. In much the same way that constraint-related concepts have become standard in manufacturing, critical chain-related concepts continue to gain popularity in the project world. Even if “Critical Chain” doesn’t become standard practice, its important elements will.
For example, consider project buffers: protection time added after project endpoints to protect project deliveries against uncertainty. This concept is known in non-Critical Chain circles as schedule margin or schedule reserve. A few years ago this was not a popular concept, but that has changed. For example, we typically regard government “best practices” as lagging indicators, but NASA (see, for example, p.44) talks a great deal about schedule margin, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office (p. 223) calls schedule reserve a “best practice.” More and more, buffering is being recognized as essential to good management.
Where are these kinds of changes leading? First, I think people will have to pay more attention to the individual concepts like buffers, resource leveling, or task gating than to the overall categories they’re put into, such as Critical Chain or Earned Value Management (EVM). Whether (for example) buffers become part of EVM, or analysis of work completed becomes part of Critical Chain, the concepts that make sense will eventually rise to the top with or without the labels. This is good news.
Second, groups of concepts that together can be applied in the real world to get practical results – methodologies – will continue to be put together into new buckets and given both old and new names. That’s inevitable: we label things, and we like to use popular labels. But it will also serve to create more confusion. Practitioners must understand what practices people refer to when they use a particular label; whether the label is CPM, Critical Chain, EVM, or Monte Carlo. A holistic view of how the methodology fits together to get results will be more and more essential.
Third, project management will continue to improve. Why do I say “continue,” when organizations like the Standish Group “continue” to tell us how poor project results are? Because, on the whole, our ability to manage projects is clearly improving. Project complexity is increasing dramatically year after year: drug development and approval, chip design, and software are far more complex than they were 20 years ago. Meanwhile, new products must hit the market more and more quickly. While project successes across industries may not be at a level we’d like or know to be possible, in a world of increasing complexity and speed, holding steady implies that improvements are going on.
Last, companies and their methodologies will have to become more and more adaptable. That’s because new ideas are going to be tried and integrated, the best will eventually float to the top, and competition will require their adoption. The best new ideas will be more and more essential, both for companies that need to complete their projects more reliably and quickly, and for vendors like ProChain that need to provide that competitive advantage. Your organization should have in place a process for ongoing project management evaluation and improvement.
- On April 18, 2010