As Project Managers using Critical Chain, we may find ourselves focusing on what’s eating our buffer. We know that there’s a task out there nibbling away at this contingency timeline and we want to find it, address it, and move forward with confidence. And the question of buffer consumption is something that can eat us until we figure it out.
So what’s eating you? Reading recent headlines, one can truly hope that the answer to that question is something project-related and not a zombie!
If you’re old enough or just have an appreciation for 60’s music, you would know “The Zombies” for their hit songs “Time of the Season” or “She’s Not There”. Or perhaps you recall the 1968 movie “Night of the Living Dead” and how it captured the imagination of the day. But in recent years, zombies increasingly have lurched their way into pop culture through movies, video games, and cable TV.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen horrifying headlines and videos about face, heart, and brain-eating “zombies” in our midst. While these actual events are tragic for their own reasons, maybe there are some things we can take from these stories.
In a move to stress preparedness and capitalize on the interest in zombies, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted a blog entry, “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse” (May 2011). It’s a serious article, although a bit tongue-in-decaying-cheek, written by the Assistant Surgeon General, Dr Ali Khan. It addresses how citizens can prepare for a Zombie Apocalypse—should one actually occur. The point of the post is that many of the preparations and precautions you might take against a Zombie Apocalypse would serve you well in the event of other more natural phenomenon such as earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, etc.
The CDC article parallels three phases of Project Management as defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI): (1) Planning and Design, (2) Executing, and (3) Monitoring and Controlling.
Let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and suppose that zombies are real. You wake on Monday morning and switch on the local TV broadcast only to find that a zombie army has taken over major portions of the community in which you live. Roads are blocked and the situation is worsening. Your survival will depend, in part, on how well you have planned for this situation and how solid your design is. You will need to recognize the issues and risks that the primary and potential secondary threats pose. But planning and designing alone are not enough. Imagine an archaeologist finding a set of blue prints in the Egyptian desert where there should be pyramids. Sand is all there is for miles around because the plans were never executed.
And so executing the plan becomes the next key to survival. You have your emergency food and supplies, extra fuel, money, important documents—and your pet chocolate Lab—loaded up in the back of your Kia Soul. You back out of the driveway and know exactly which route you will take to escape the carnage. You have your maps and GPS and are ready to go. You head out of town, turn on your XM satellite radio, and listen for important news and updates as the local authorities work to monitor and control the situation. And so you continue to monitor the situation as well.
Back to the real world: Whether the recent spate of “zombie” attacks continues is anyone’s guess. As for Critical Chain, we know that “eating buffer” is not necessarily a negative. On the other hand, letting a project risk or issue eat you can be. Plan. Design. Execute. Then monitor and control.
In the end, don’t worry about what you cannot control—worrying changes nothing. Don’t let it eat you. And don’t worry about what you can control—control it. The project’s survival may depend on it.
By D Robert Dunn, MBA, PMP, is a decorated Air Force veteran. Robert began managing projects in 1995 shortly after leaving the military; He originally joined BCforward in September 2008. Robert has lived in Indianapolis for the past 11 years along with his wife, Stephanie, and their five children. In addition to blogging, Robert enjoys genealogy.
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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Managing Projects for over 20 years has taught me a few things about what attributes a good project manager must possess. A good part of my role today is to find and place contract project managers. Great PMs have many traits and you can read tons of articles on what attributes comprise a good PM. After reading and reflecting on several of these article and then looking back over my years of project delivery and hiring PMs, I have compiled these 5 attributes I look for in a great contract project manager:
PM Technical Knowledge:
You must be able to demonstrate that you know a little about most PM methods of management, and a lot about a couple. The ability to articulate project management methodology and the classic structured approach to managing a project instill confidence. That is, a good contract project manager MUST be able to articulate and demonstrate that they understand the mechanics of a structured approach to managing a project. This is important to any client who is purchasing PM expertise to supplement their workforce. The understanding of the mechanics instills the confidence that you can pull them through this project and have many methods to choose from in your toolbox. A PM who cannot debate the pros and cons of Critical Path, Critical Chain, Waterfall, Agile/Scrum is not ready to be put in a contract PM position. Secondly, the PM must be highly skilled in the software tools required to manage a project (MSProject, SharePoint, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.)
Contract project managers are not for the faint of heart and to do this well you have to have confidence in yourself. You have to have the ability to be thrust in a situation and say I can do anything given enough time and information.
Demonstrating consistent personal integrity is your golden ticket. Clients need to trust that you will provide what they are paying for. Respect their time and money by giving 110% during your work day. As well, the ability to provide honest information and feedback in a constructive way demonstrates your intention of integrity.
As a contractor you are often looked upon as an outsider in the beginning. You require the ability to win the confidence of your team who might be initially threatened by your presence. Personality and humor work wonders and are a necessary tool of all contractors.
Having a passion for what you do and doing it well is another attribute that is key for contract PM’s. As a contractor a genuine concern for serving the client and the project and making them successful is key.
Of course, there are other attributes that make up a great contract project managers but these are the top five in my, not so humble, opinion.
Patty Cline is a Senior level Project Manager with 20+ years in project delivery. Patty is currently the BCforward PM Engagement Manager. Patty recruits and hires entry, middle and senior level PMs. Her experience in project delivery spans across many industries including, Healthcare, Education, Government, Insurance and Finance.
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