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Case Study:  A Typical Critical Chain (CCPM) Implementation

Page Contents


The purpose of this page is to give people who are interested in CCPM a flavor of the methods used and the results achieved through CCPM.

CCPM is not a panacea.  Problems still occur in the CCPM world.  However with CCPM,

  • we have better tools to detect these potential problems before they are reality.  We can then devise back-up plans to prepare us for these eventualities

  • we can put better monitoring & measuring systems to give us early detection & warning if these adverse conditions are growing from possibility towards probability.

  • We can rally the team and quickly respond to a crisis

  • We can track our progress, readily see other opportunities, and with a project post mortum, we can quickly improve our system and habits so next project is even better.  With CCPM, the link between cause & effect is made plainly visible to all.

With 20 years experience in projects and traditional project management methods (ie. Gantt charts, PERT, critical chain, WBS, EV, etc.), I was very thankful that CCPM was available and used for this project.  If CCPM had not been used, then one or more of the following would surely have occurred:

  •  the project would have been refused before being rewarded as no longer possible due to client's delay,

  •  Scope would have been scaled down drastically from original scope,

  •  Wild and impossible promises would have been made to the client that had an extremely low probability of coming true.  The Project Team would have been stressed out throughout the project due to their involvement in the "Big Lie".  The project would have been very late, accusations made, refusal to pay, etc.

  • The customer would have abandoned the project in mid stream due to the situation going from bad to worse, or their realization that they had not been informed the true state of affairs.

Obviously, none of the above would have resulted in maximum profits nor customer satisfaction.

In my opinion, CCPM saved the day and the project.

Fever Chart for This Project

Fever Chart for Deliverable # 5 (Final Report)

The tri-coloured graph located above is called a "Fever Chart".  This chart shows the % Safety Buffer Consumed vs. Calendar Dates for this project.  It graphically shows project status throughout the project's life, week by week.  To see a better, close-up view of the image, click on it, or click here.

The purpose of the chart is to instantly (in 3 seconds or less) tell the project status to the Project Manager, the Client, the Project Team, and Sr. Management.

If the project is in the RED zone, the project is in trouble.  Sr. Management must prepare to intervene. The Project Manager and Sr. Management must meet to discuss immediate corrective action that is required for this project.

If in the YELLOW Zone, the Project Manager must assess the project status carefully .  Corrective action may be needed, but Sr. Manager should leave the Project Team alone to manage their project.

If in the GREEN Zone, all is well with the project.  If the project finishes in the GREEN Zone, most likely the schedule had too much "fat", and was not properly scheduled using CCPM techniques.

As can be seen, the project was in a difficult situation even before the Contractor was awarded the contract (ie. the very first data point plots in the middle of the Yellow Zone).  From there, things got progressively worse.

In the end, all the deliverables were of high quality, & delivered on-time.  This is typical of CCPM projects that are far from perfect:  every task is late but the project finishes on-time, under budget, and with high quality deliverable that meet the original scope & technical content.

Only through CCPM was this "disaster project" saved.

Detailed Chronology for the Project

The following chronology will give you an idea of how you can better manage your projects through Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)

CCPM Project Status

Situation or Event
CCPM Project Response
Lesson's Learned

0% of project's safety buffer has been consumed

0% of Critical Chain is done
Request for Proposal (RFP) is issued by Client.  There are 5 deliverables spread out over the project elapsed time.  All work must be completed before Mar. 31, 2001 due to client's financial year end.
Obtain & review copy of RFP, identify deliverables & scope, do client needs assessment, define project's degree of fit to contractor's expertise & capabilities.  Define project team, develop CCPM project plan, derive estimated costs from project plan.

Client has requested 5 separate deliverables, staggered throughout project.  CCPM schedule is constructed "backwards" by Project Team (Deliverable # 5 is placed at end of schedule, and worked backwards to Deliverable # 1, then to project start) as per CCPM methodology.

CCPM schedule shows that Deliverable # 1 is not possible within customer's requested due date (ie. less than 50% probability due to holidays around Christmas).  Based on initial schedule, overall  finish date  requested by Client (Deliverable # 5) is not possible.  All other Deliverables can be done as Client requested.

Project team uses CCPM schedule & reports to identify critical resources and initial assumptions which create impossibility.  After numerous modifications, project team has a plan that will work for all of Client's requests except for Deliverable # 1.  Adequate safety time is still available in schedule to make due dates for Deliverables 2, 3, 4, & 5 at a probability of occurring on-time of 95%, provided contract is awarded on or before Nov. 15, 2000.

During Needs Assessment phase, the Project Team identified additional work not in the Client's scope of work, but which the Team felt would be essential for achieving maximum value for the Client from this project.  If the safety time was consumed due to delays beyond the control of the Project Team, there would be no time to do this optional work.  If the project were "lucky", the safety time would not be consumed, and this extra work would be able to be done.

The Project Team wanted to do this extras work as an added "bonus" for the Client, as an enticement to choose Contractor over a competitor's proposal, and as a challenge to the Project Team members.  The Project Manager agreed to include this extra work in the proposal, but only as an optional deliverable, not a mandatory part.

CCPM schedule is included in proposal, Nov. 15 approval deadline is clearly emphasized, and an alternative date for Deliverable # 1 is proposed.
Sweat the details or pay the price later.

Many scheduling improvements can be discovered & quickly implemented into the schedule using CCPM methods.

Project team is forced to face "essentials" vs. "nice to do" as schedule is compressed to meet Client's stated needs.

There is a point at which further compression of a schedule is not improving the cost/scope/time triangle, but is modifying project risk almost exclusively.  This is when Project Manager's need to stop compressing.

0% of safety buffer consumed

0% of Critical Chain done
Closing date for proposal submissions
Contractor couriered proposal to client 2 days before deadline for submission.  Delivery of proposal is confirmed via internet.  If there was a lost courier package, there would still be time to print & send a backup copy.  This was also done with CCPM.
Murphy's Law (ie. What can go wrong, will go wrong) applies to courier companies as well as anybody else.  Plan for the unexpected.

CCPM helps make sure we're entered in the race.

0% of safety buffer consumed

0% of Critical Chain done
Deadline for awarding contract as defined in proposal has passed.  Client still has not decided.
Contractor sends e-mail to client reminding them of Nov.15 deadline for approval & starting.  Client said they had not decided yet, & didn't know when they would.

Project team was re-assigned to other projects and proposal was put on follow-up for 1 month later (Dec. 15, 2000).
Delays often occur outside of the Project Manager's control.

CCPM schedule can be immediately reset in seconds by defining the actual contract award date.

41% of project safety buffer is already consumed before project is awarded to Contractor

0% of Critical Chain is done
Client notifies Contractor that they have the preferred proposal.  Client asks for project schedule to be re-done to estimate effect of awarding contract on Dec. 1st. Contractor re-runs schedule.  All dates slide by 16 days as schedule was based on Nov. 15 start.  Numerous phone calls and e-mails occur as schedule is worked again & again.  Client is requested to re-consider some changes in scope & deliverables so as to accommodate late start.

Project Team members are contacted.  Everybody is busy on other projects for other Clients.  Some can start in 3 days, others won't be able to start for 2 weeks (no multi-tasking allowed).  This will further delay start of some tasks as we try to re-assemble the Project Team.

Three days later, Project Team is ready, but contract documents still haven't arrived by fax.  Project Team sent home or assigned other fill-in work, running up Contractor's costs with no project work accomplished.

Contractor gets worried that Client has changed their mind and abandoned contract.
Client enters into determining "essentials" vs. "nice to do" for the first time.

CCPM has excellent tools for "What if ..." for a schedule.  The Christmas shutdown is immediately identified as a major problem due to Client's delay.

Project officially started

47% of safety buffer consumed

0% of Critical Chain is done

Fever Chart in YELLOW ZONE
Client sends contract documents to  Contractor's office by fax.  
Contract documents are signed and immediately faxed back within 30 minutes. Project has been officially launched. Project Team recalled again.

CCPM schedule is re-run immediately after award of contract.  Original safety time that was scheduled into schedule attached to Contractor's proposal is already 50% consumed.  Deliverable #2 has already entered "Red Zone" on Fever Chart.  This means that Contractor's Sr. Management needs to intervene with Project Manager to determine the bottleneck with the Project Team, and initiate immediate corrective action.

Guaranteed date for Deliverable # 3 needs to be scheduled immediately and broadcast to all stakeholders.  If too much safety time is allowed, work will complete well in advance of Deliverable # 3 date, and project team will be left with nothing to do until fixed date arrives.  If too little safety time is allowed, project team will not be done prior to scheduled Deliverable # 3 date, and it will have to be postponed & re-scheduled with at least a 1 month notice period; delaying entire project and all subsequent Deliverables.

Long animated discussions are held by Project Team members.  Team agrees to trim 2 weeks off CCPM safety time estimates and will work overtime to recover if problems actually arise.
Client will usually insist on original delivery dates in spite of proposal wording,

 "Delivery x weeks after approval and purchase order"

Client's approval should have been sought to de-couple Deliverable # 3 from rest of Contractor's work so that safety time guessing game could be eliminated.

CCPM allows immediate focus on scheduling problems and identifies possible solutions for management.

100% of safety buffer  is consumed

28% of Critical Chain is done

Fever Chart in RED ZONE
Re-evaluate scope & optional components
Project was initially scheduled so that critical work that depended on outside Suppliers would be completed before the Christmas holiday period.  Due to delays by the Client, critical tasks slid into the holidays and wouldn't be started until the new year.  A considerable amount of safety time was consumed, leaving nothing for the next three months.  There was less than a 50:50 chance of finishing the project on-time.  In accordance with CCPM rules, Sr. Management needed to take action again.

Proposal had included optional (but recommended) scope that would be done if other problems and delays had not consumed the safety time.  As all the safety time had been consumed by other events beyond the Team's control, the Team agreed to delete the optional components from the scope.  This decision recovered 20% of the project's total safety time.

By end of day, 78% of safety buffer is consumed, 33% of critical chain (man-hrs scheduled effort) has been completed.
Optional part should have been dropped when discussions were being held to award contract.

There was less than a 1% chance of getting adequate safety time recovery to be able to accomplish.

Delay built unrealistic expectations in Client's mind; a dangerous event.

CCPM allows opinions and "gut feel" to be shown and proven to Client.  Client informed 2 months in advance about pending problem.

86% of safety buffer  is consumed

35% of Critical Chain is done

Fever Chart still in RED ZONE
Deliverable # 1 is delivered 2 days late
Murphy's Law strikes.  Suppliers were late getting promised deliveries to the Contractor due to Christmas holiday season (exactly as predicted in CCPM schedule).  When they finally arrive, Project Team works night & day as promised, but there is insufficient time left to make full recovery.  Team finishes 2 days late of official delivery date, but was successful at trimming off 2 weeks from overall schedule & all subsequent Deliverables.
Over 90% of Supplier's deliveries had occurred prior to Christmas break.

Project Team slavishly held to comprehensiveness goal instead of practicality & additional delay caused by waiting for final 10% to arrive.

CCPM proven correct again, predicting 2 months in advance.

83% of safety buffer is consumed

54% of Critical Chain is done

Fever Chart still in RED ZONE
Deliverable # 2 is due
Project Team continue to work on critical chain tasks with no multi-tasking.  Team members are scheduled like relay racers; so there is no delay between hand-offs from one team member and the next.  Deliverable # 2 is made on-time.
Team members were able to step in and assist Critical Task implementation without being asked.

They automatically knew what needed to be done & how they could help.

This effort enabled higher throughput and regaining more safety buffer.

Stress is minimized and productivity maximized through CCPM's elimination of multi-tasking.

82% of safety buffer consumed

57% of Critical Chain is done

Fever Chart still in RED ZONE

Political upheaval within the Client's organization delays the project.

Client's personnel who are managing the project are happy with Deliverable # 1, and circulated it to Client's Sr. Management for their information.  As report is circulated among Sr. Management, others become aware of project's details.  Some remote Sr. Managers feel this project's scope of work was already previously done, this project is not necessary, and should be stopped immediately.

Delivery of Deliverable # 2 to Client prompts an immediate response from the Client.

Contractor is asked to "Stop Work" while Client reviews scope of work for this contract, and previous work that was supposedly already done on a previous contract.
Contractor re-assigns project team to other work and project comes to a screeching halt for 3 weeks.  Clock keeps ticking in the mean time.

Client received draft version of Deliverable # 2 and approved form & content.  Client approved distribution of Deliverable # 2 to all Stakeholders.  Contractor prepares distribution and completes.

Within 2 days, Client is bombarded by Stakeholders with complaints; questions; queries; concerns about wording, intent, and political correctness of Deliverable # 2; and complaints about invasion and interference of federal government into local governmental affairs.

Client requests Contractor to immediately withdraw Deliverable # 2, and re-work, re-approve, and re-distribute Deliverable # 2 according to modified scope of work for contract (based on feedback).

Completed tasks (100% done) are reset to 0% done and repeated as required by modified scope and new instructions from Client.

Schedule receives significant setback again.  
Map of Stakeholders was prepared at Needs Assessment phase prior to making proposal.  It could have been used here to identify potential for political fallout before it happened.  Hind sight is 20/20.

In spite of Client approval, consider unofficial review of Deliverables or drafts by key Stakeholders before full distribution.

Needs assessment and risk assessment need to be considered when developing CCPM schedule.

100% of safety buffer is consumed

57% of Critical Chain is done

Fever Chart still in RED ZONE
Client finishes internal review and removes "Stop Work" order.

Previous contract was similar as to topic, but scope was completely different.  Sr. Manager was mistaken in wanting project stopped.

Client insists that all original delivery dates for Deliverable # 3, 4, & 5 be still maintained.
Contractor immediately communicates concern about maintaining original schedule and delivery dates.

Contractor's Sr. Management reviews schedule status with Project Manager.  It is determined that all safety time has been consumed due to 3 week Stop Work order from Client.  All remaining Deliverables are predicted to be 1 to 2 weeks late.  Schedule is communicated to Client.  Client is not happy as late completion may not be able to use funds from current budget year.

Client considers canceling balance of contract to ensure that all deliverables are completed before end of year.

Contractor re-calculates project schedule.  Based on better vantage point after completion of over 300 man-hrs of work, project team is able to suggest other schedule changes that will simplify Deliverable # 5 and get it completed prior to Mar. 31 "drop dead" date.

Contractor contacts Client and discusses proposed solution to scheduling problem.  Contractor assures Client that there is over a 90% probability of completing the schedule based on these changes in scope and method that are proposed.

Client agrees to proceed to completion on project.
CCPM and its ability to accurately predict future completion dates saved the contract.

CCPM reports every week for 3 months (13 weeks) had built a bond between the Client and the Contractor.  When the Contractor said, "This is what we did this week, and this is what we will accomplish next week", the Client learned that it came true as predicted.

When the Contractor said they would complete on-time, the Client believed them.  Contractor was allowed to complete the contract.

Only 57% of the contracted work was already done at this point.  Cancellation would have meant a significant loss of cash flow for the Contractor.

CCPM helped ensure the Contractor's cash flow.

92% of safety buffer is consumed

75% of Critical Chain is done

Fever Chart still in RED ZONE
Weekly report
Buffer safety time is continuing to be recouped as Project Team works at a faster pace than planned.  The pressure is on and the Team feels it.  Team repeatedly requests to go from weekly reporting of schedule & buffers to a daily report.

Project Managers agrees to update schedule daily, but will only do formal report to Client on weekly basis.
Schedule updates should be done so that only 14% or less of activity has occurred before an update is scheduled.  This allows Project Managers to react before it's too late.

89% of safety buffer is consumed

94% of Critical Chain is done

Fever Chart has moved into YELLOW ZONE
Weekly Report
Team is very excited and has achieved a substantial block of work completed in just 1 week (19% of total project man-hrs).  Everybody is pitching in.  Constraining task is doing write-up.  Discussion held about speech-to-text capability for word processor instead of being limited by typing speed.

One Team Member tries out voice recognition software at home that evening, but finds training the software will be significant, and time lost in correcting errors will cost more than gains made.

Team members are doing Figure & Diagram preparation and summary blocks of text for quick inclusion by person drafting main report.  This allowed multiple parallel streams feeding main stream & higher throughput.
Project Team Members continue to innovate so that no multi-tasking is occurring, and everything is prepared well in advance of each hand-off of task responsibility.

It's amazing what motivated, informed people can accomplish.

96% of safety buffer is consumed

98% of Critical Chain is done

Fever Chart is back into RED ZONE.
Weekly Report
Progress on completing Critical Chain tasks has slowed down, but pace is still high.  Numerous times tasks have been worked on all day but are still reported as 6 hrs. more work to be done to complete (same as day before).

Project Team is confident, but worried &/or concerned.  Some informal discussions occur among Team Members about the project schedule and task completion.

All the small details & finishing touches that take a long time to do and only gain small percentages in completion (ie. man-hr estimates were way off).  Buffer safety time starts to be consumed again after weeks of improvement.

Team starts to get scared again that all the little problems and details will never end.  Group worries that they may get caught at end and be forced to choose between deadline compliance and quality of work that they can be proud of.
In traditional Project Management, 90% of the task takes the first half of the allotted time, and the last 10% of the task takes up the second half of the available time.

This is sometimes true for CCPM projects as well.

Project Manager is constantly faced with getting clear definitions for "Is it good enough?" well in advance of when these definitions are needed.

100% of safety buffer is consumed

99% of Critical Chain is done

Fever Chart is still in RED ZONE.
Final Report draft is declared complete.  Internal Review process is started
In spite of RED ZONE, team is confident of finishing on time.  They know exactly what needs to be done, and are taking appropriate steps to ensure disaster doesn't strike (ie. safe new versions each half hour in case of computer crash, save files on 2 or more computers, backup tapes each day, etc.).

Each Team Member who has technical expertise is assigned a section of the report to do detailed review & corrections on technical content of the report.  One non-technical person is assigned responsibility for review of overall report for clarity, consistency, flow, and constant voice, rather than technical content.

Word processing file is divided into chapters to all simultaneous editing by multiple people.  First technical draft review is done in 6 hrs.  Second technical review is done in 4 hrs. by everyone rotating chapters amongst team members.  Third review (non-technical) is done in 12 hrs (2 hrs. after second review is completed).  Fourth review (not scheduled) is deemed necessary as reviews were found to be somewhat dis-connected from each other (fourth review was scheduled as third review needing extra time to complete), rather than changing the schedule).
Team work is an amazing thing.

All of these ideas were invented by Team Members and implemented on their own without Sr. Management intervention.

99% of safety buffer is consumed

100% of Critical Chain is done.

Fever Chart finishes in YELLOW ZONE.
Project Completed
Final report is printed & couriered to Client a full day before deadline.  By completing the review process faster than scheduled, safety time was re-created, allowing project to finish in Yellow Zone.

Project Team celebrates a job Well Done !

On-time delivery in spite of numerous problems outside the control of the Contractor.

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