Monday, January 13, 2014

Dear PM Advisor. Jan 13, 2014

Dear PM Advisor,

I am working at a client to help them implement their new owner's policies and procedures since they were acquired.  I am an individual contributor and not the PM.  They are following the new owner's PM philosophy of Critical Chain Project Management.  They have purchased a tool for MS Project from ProChain.  Have you heard of this approach?  I see some issues with it and am curious to see how this will play out.  But overall I really don't see any advantage to it over our practices.  Or am I missing something?  Here is a link to the demo:


Unchained in Wayne, NJ

Dear Unchained,

I've always loved the critical chain technique but have been unsuccessful implementing it since it requires serious senior management support. Looking at the video, I'd say your client has an excellent opportunity for gaining the value of this wonderful technique.

First of all, I LOVE the video! In 15 minutes they completely explain the technique, the software and the management support required. If you are unclear how the system works, watch it again.

If you need me to explain it to you, I'll try to do so in my words:

  1. All tasks have an uncertainty, so those committing to task deadlines include that buffer in that duration.
  2. Buffer taken is rarely given back so tasks rarely finish ahead of schedule.
  3. Critical chain project management consolidates all those individual task buffers and puts it under the control of the PM who gives it out and takes it back from task owners as needed.
  4. People work to priorities rather than deadlines. 
  5. All projects must be prioritized for this system to work.
  6. People must be allowed to finish tasks late if priorities demand it.
  7. Project management focuses on buffer management.
The software ProChain sells allows management to focus on buffer management within prioritized projects.

My advice is to embrace this technique and learn all you can while you have this rare opportunity. Then let me know how you liked it. 

Good luck.

PM Advisor. 

Send your questions to


  1. Unchained in WayneJanuary 27, 2014 at 7:35 AM

    Thanks! But the issue I see with this style is that the under laying assumption is incorrect: all members of the team are only project based workers. In other words they do not have a normal day job to take care of and address issues. This technique would be great for construction type work where the workers are working on one project at a time or the projects can be clearly prioritized. But if I have a day job and am asked to work on a project with this technique the a assumption is I drop my daily tasks when my task on this project comes up.

    1. That shouldn’t be true.

      Operations work is always higher priority than project work. Operations make money while projects invest in the future of more efficient and bigger operations. Unless your project is designed to fix broken operations like manufacturing lines down, regulatory mandates etc.

      If you have a regular job, you are only available X% of your time on projects. If you are working on several projects, they must be prioritized so you know which project’s work is most important. Then the tasks within each project should also be prioritized by the PM so you know what task is most important.

      Given that, if you are asked to complete a task, you need to take all the above into account.

      • Let’s say you have only 10 hours a week to work on projects given your day job
      • This is the only project you are working on
      • It is the most important task on this project
      • It will take you 20 hours to complete.
      • You tell the PM that it will take you two weeks with a buffer of one week.

      If you finish early, you let the PM know in advance so the next person in the relay can start working on their task.
      If you finish late, you need to take some time from the PM’s buffer.



    2. Unchained in WayneJanuary 27, 2014 at 7:39 AM

      So the PM we are working with is not applying the technique properly. She is telling the workers how much heads-down time will it take you to finish the task? Then she applies a 50% buffer. There is no time allotted for their other job. Also these people are on multiple project streams but I have encouraged them to have a master schedule so they can do resource leveling on this project at least.


      Unchained in Wayne

    3. You are right that the PM is not applying the techniques correctly. It ONLY works if you have correct prioritization within projects and between projects and ongoing operations.