I have had it happen before that someone has overheard discussions of Critical Chain methodology, and commented along the lines of: “Critical Path? Oh yeah, I know what that is!” I’d be more inclined to look down my nose were it not for the fact that I did the same thing the first week I was on the job. Fortunately, my mentor was of a forgiving nature.
So what are the differences?
Critical Path is an important concept. Functionally, it looks at how to get from point A to point Z and what has to occur to get there. The important thing in building a critical path is that you start at the end and work backwards. “Directly, before I can Z, I have to Y.” And so on. This works perfectly for the work of a single person, or a simple line of tasks. If there is more than one work stream going on, the longest one is the most critical path to get the tasks done, hence the name.
In Critical Chain, we concentrate on working only one task at a time to increase efficiency. Avoiding interruptions assists in timely completion. Critical Chain recognizes that when dealing with multiple workstreams and many resources, things get murky. More importantly, it takes into account that humans make mistakes. By making estimates that are only 50% completable and counting on the project to account for the remainder, it frees the employee to just do their best without fear of repercussion for late delivery. But that willingness will fade if you, as the PM, don’t champion their right to go beyond that 50% estimate.
In summation, Critical Path is more of an approach of efficiently connecting tasks, while Critical Chain uses that task order as a basis to better direct human activity, thus managing the most critical asset of the project: the people performing it.
Scott Moreland is a certified Project Manager with 10+ years in project delivery.
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