Section - Symptoms

It is easily forgotten that implementing a change just makes sense when problems actually exist which require to be resolved. Critical Chain is all about projects and managing them well. There are more than 300 'negative effects' known in project management. Out of this huge amount we selected 5 very important ones that indicate root causes.

The slider below the scale can be dragged to any position until it feels right. There is no precise measure.

If you have to state that you are experiencing two or more symptoms in the orange or red area it is certain that you have root causes that can be addressed by applying Critical Chain.

“Due date reliability”

Do you know the word for “delivering something later than planned?” Obviously it is 'delayed'. Do you know a single word for “delivering something earlier than planned?” Ok – if you found one please give me a hint – I didn’t find a single word.

What about your projects? How reliable are your due dates?

This question has some variances. It is not just about the due date of the whole project. Sometimes it is about milestones where you have to finish an important piece of work to deliver to someone outside of the project (e.g. customer) – so it can be the due date reliability of milestones too. Sometimes we get the answer “We deliver always on time!” but the quality is poor. In this case you have no reliability either – you have a lot of rework to be done. So the delivery counts as “really finished”. And sometimes we get the answer “We are very reliable to the last revision of the plan!” That does not count either! Out of the perspective of the customer the first committed due date is the relevant one, if nothing was changed on his side.

If you can really say “We deliver at the time promised without comprimising on quality!” then you can pull the slider to the right and at least this symptom is no problem for you.

“Project lead time”

If you want to buy something (e.g. a car or some electronic device), how do you feel if the vendor says: “Sorry guy you have to wait a little!” – You would not be pleased. And what will happen if you know that the competitor is faster? Of Course you’ll buy there!

How fast are you compared to your competitor?

So if you have some competitors it’s even critical I you are as fast/slow as your competitors. The customer will always choose the fastest one. You are green if you are faster and red if you are just slightly slower!

If you can really say “We are faster or even we need half of the time to deliver than our competitor!” then you can pull the slider to the right – otherwise you have to accept that this symptom is orange or even red.

Very often this Symptom is correlated with the due date reliability. Either you are reliable or you are fast. Critical Chain helps to achieve both – speed and reliability.

“Project managers have the urge to start a.s.a.p.”

Now we are going a little into people business and how the roles, in the project management, deals with the daily challenges.

What about the view of a project manager when he gets a new project. Does he feel that he has to start immediately to get the resources on time to even have a small chance to meet the dead line?

This symptom indicates that there is a fight for resources. You have to be fast to secure your resources and you will never give them away. Often this is correlated with strong budget thinking. Such a situation hinders flexible use of resources by projects when they are needed. It also leads to high WIP because everything is started early and consumes attention.

If you can really say “We start work packages and projects as late as possible (of course never too late)” then you can pull the slider to the right. If your project managers have the urge to get resources a.s.a.p. then it is more in orange or red.

“Negative Multitasking”

Uhh ohhh – who does not know this? In a perfect world it should be possible to start a work package, do all that is needed without interruption and then finish it as fast as possible.

So negative multitasking is interrupted working on a work package – either from other projects or even daily work.

It can become really negative if you have a work package of about 10 hours and you have to interrupt this several times for other projects. The result is that the work package takes one or two weeks. Very often we get statements like this “I have so much multitasking that a task with two hours takes weeks to accomplish” or “If I want to get a task finished then I do it after the normal working time or even at the weekend!”

Of course you can switch between projects. As an expert it is often like this – you have just small consulting tasks. So you can serve more than one project. It is becoming negative if the projects have to wait for you or if you have to interrupt the preparation or even the task itself.

If you can really say “If I start a task I’m allowed to concentrate on that and finish it without interruption as fast as possible!” Then you can pull the slider to the right – otherwise you have to accept that this symptom is orange or even red. In most organisations this is deep red.

One of the most important effects of Critical Chain is that the work load is organised in a way that no team/person is overloaded any more. This allows concentrated work! The productivity and quality increases so more can be done with less and with less pressure.

“Thin resource spreading”

Besides the project manager there is another important role in projects – the team leader. He is responsible for allocating his resources in an optimal way to the upcoming projects. He also decides which of his employees will work on what projects.

Very often, if there is too much work in progress and the project managers fight for resources, the best strategy for the team leader is to distribute their resources equally on the projects. It is not about pushing all team members on one project. It is not about the Chinese-Principle. It is about concentrating resources optimally. For example – if three employees can work efficiently on one project then it should be so. In many companies there are so many projects that it is easier to give one employee to each project to avoid long discussions.

There is a variation too. Some companies have strong priorities. Every time a top manager comes around, he clearly give priority to his project. So all resources were focused on this project. But after a while another manager comes around and the priority changes. So changing priorities are the same as no priority and after a while it looks like thin resource spreading.

If you can really say “We are able to concentrate the resources in an optimal way on projects, as if it is the only project in the company!” Then you can pull the slider to the right – otherwise you have to accept that this symptom is orange or even red.