The Critical Chain Concept

Critical chain theory borrows heavily from 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 and starting tasks on time. The focus is on doing the work as quickly and correctly as possible, and not locking in on task durations that are often impossible to predict in a new product project. 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 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" up front 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 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 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 eIntegration (electronic) tools.

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