The Critical Chain Concept

Critical chain theory borrows heavily on integration concepts as it links scope and time management to risk management. The critical chain approach to project planning emphasizes developing a WBS and project network and focuses on identification of dependencies. Dependencies require coordination and integration. From systems theory, we recall that systems will go naturally into disorder, e.g., that the forces of system dynamics tend to push outward, away from the center. Integration, then, acts in contrast to the normal centrifugal forces in a project and its environment. Critical chain focuses on the use of buffers, or allotments of time that are "tapped" upfront by project managers and doled out as necessary to offset risk events and unanticipated problems. Because most networks are highly complex, a statistical analysis of all the inherent risks in starting tasks on time is usually impossible. Chains of tasks typically include a myriad of risks, many of which are the result of disintegration, the opposite of integration. Thus cost and schedule control tend to manage disintegration. For instance, as two components, one software and the other electrical, of a product are being designed, each effort tends to make design assumptions independent of the other, only to find in downstream integration and testing that different assumptions made product integration impossible. Thus the process of integration forces the electrical and software designers to share assumptions upfront, through concurrent work, constant cross-functional communication, information sharing, design reviews, and electronic integration tools.

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