12 May Part 3 Project performance – Get on the path to continuous improvement
TOC – Why common sense in project management isn’t always so common
Despite more than 40 years of critical path-project scheduling, most projects are still late, over budget and without the results they promised. What’s the problem? What should we do? After the project is over we rationalize that there wasn’t enough time to complete it; that the estimates forced upon the project team were ridiculous. But when you research and analyze the facts, the conclusion is something quite different.
Dr. Eli Goldratt recognized that people, not computer programs, plan and execute projects when he developed his critical-chain project management methodology, the Theory of Constraints (TOC). It is based upon insight into human nature and what happens when a project management discipline is applied to people. The typical result is a huge waste of resources and time during the execution of almost every project. How can this be possible when everyone is measured on completing their tasks on time? How can it be possible when people who are late in completing their tasks come under enormous pressure? The answer is a lesson in how common sense is not very common in project management.
Eli Goldratt has been described by Fortune Magazine as a “guru to industry” and by Business Week as a “genius.” He’s an Israel-born business visionary and author of eight books including “Critical Chain” (1997, The North River Press), which applies TOC to project management in a business novel format.
So, what’s it all about? TOC views a project as a chain of interdependent tasks – nothing new here. Each one is completed by somebody, one of the resources assigned to the project.
Goldratt explains that each project has a constraining resource which constitutes the weakest link in the chain of project tasks. And constraints limit possibilities. Because there is a limited supply of the constraining resource, the project’s duration is dependent upon it. He calls it the drum resource because it sets the pace for the entire project and determines the project’s completion date.
Take a simple example: a chain has six links, each link capable of holding a maximum weight of five, seven, four, eight, 12 and six tons respectively. The maximum weight the chain can hold is clearly four tons – the limit imposed by the weakest link. In this case, all six links have limits to their strength, but the third link is the constraint because it is the greatest restriction on the system.
Another example: My project will be built in visual basic and use Crystal Reports. It doesn’t matter that I have plenty of visual basic developers, data base analysts sitting around looking for work or project managers playing solitaire if I don’t have people with Crystal Report-writing skills. The Crystal Report writers will set the pace for the entire project and progress will stop until they are available. They beat the drum that sets the pace for project completion.
The only way you can ensure the goals of the project (deliverables, cost and schedule) are achieved is by defining the constraint and figuring out how to eliminate it. Once it’s eliminated, another resource becomes the constraint. You eliminate it. Then another one becomes the constraint. You eliminate it. Get the point? The process never ends – and you continuously improve. Don’t become complacent; the cycle never ends. But beware of inertia! TOC suggests that the major problem with Deming and the concepts surrounding Total Quality Management is inertia. TQM can’t be maintained over long periods of time because people get complacent. TOC provides the needed focus to sustain the continuous improvement process.
Goldratt provides a number of tools that address three questions: What needs to changel, what does it need to change to and how can we make the change happen? His five sequential steps concentrate improvement efforts on the component that’s capable of producing the most positive impact on the project. One, identify the constraint; two, exploit the constraint; three, subordinate everything else to the constraint; 4four, elevate the constraint and 5five, go back to step one and continuously improve.
Critical-chain project management makes sense. At first blush, it even sounds simple. But recognize the implementation of critical chain is not a simple technical change of how project managers build and monitor projects, but requires broad management changes.
Here are a few principles of TOC:
Task duration estimates are reduced to eliminate the safety time people unconsciously build into them. Part of that safety is added back to protect the critical tasks. These are called buffers.
Normal behaviors that waste time within the project must be stopped. Watch out for Parkinson’s Law that says work expands to fill its time, the 3-Minute Egg Rule that explains it’s not quality if it’s finished before the time is up and the Student Syndrome, we always wait to the last minute to start a task.
Resource multi-tasking and the lead-time multiplication that results must be avoided.
Resource contention must be ended.
Project status reporting is done by tracking drum-time buffer consumption instead of earned value.
Goldratt suggests that measuring people to finish their tasks on time is wrong.
Pushing too many projects into the organization blocks project flow.
Is TOC worth exploring? You bet! It’s common sense. For more information on Goldratt’s theories follow the links found on my Web site, www.pmmaturity.com.
The next article will focus on the control objectives for information and related technology (COBIT). We’ll explore the concepts of IT governance and relate them to project management.
Michael J. Weymier, PMP, is founder of PM Maturity and can be reached at email@example.com.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.