RIP Critical Chain?  

Critical chain is not dead, but after many years of it being the primary technique for analyzing schedules and prioritizing tasks, there’s a better alternative today.  As many project managers increasingly abandoned the much-hated, cumbersome to maintain, too long, and unclear Gantt chart, they subsequently discontinued using critical chain.

A typical Gantt chart could easily have hundreds of similar dependencies, and the critical chain analysis helped distinguish one from the other. As there wasn’t a better method available, critical chain was used, but it was all wrong from the get-go (as explained in a previous blog).

The negative sentiments towards Gantt charts are not the only reason for the decline in critical chain, which also can be attributed to the rise of the Agile methodology and various cyclic concepts like Scrum, which make critical chain irrelevant or impossible to calculate.

Instead, today, the revolutionary “Projectmap” is proving to be a viable alternative, rising to the challenges of improved project management planning, collaborating, analyzing, and tracking. Why? How does it work?

Traffic at the intersection

Pause for a minute to consider what is the weakest point in any project, one that which is discussed at every meeting but no application has managed to resolve it yet. A most frequently suggested answer is the dependencies between teams, which is usually harder to manage than within a specific team.

For example, it is easier to provide strong management within a graphics team, but as soon as they turn deliverables over to the marketing team, that hand-off becomes a point of focus.

Here’s another workplace example: Without blinking, the software team can regularly run hundreds of tickets using its own development tools. But when it needs to deliver a version to QA or load the software onto an electronic board newly-arrived from the factory, the cross-team coordination items require different considerations and procedures within a broader project management process.

Think about it as a street map: If you are driving down a road as the driver of a lone car on a single lane street, you can have great control of how fast or slow you drive, or when you choose to look out the window at the scenery, etc. But as soon as you get to an intersection where traffic is coming from different directions, how you proceed becomes slightly more complicated and involves greater consideration of other drivers and increased decision making.

Out with the old and in with the new

The below diagram represents a typical project flow. Can you identify the weak points? Of course not.

typical project flow

First, we need to separate different tasks to different workstreams. Workstreams can be identified as teams, locations, or functional areas. Regardless of what the workstream is, the result of the analysis is the same: as soon as a dependency is created between multiple workstreams, it becomes an area for focus.

In the past, you could identify 1000 dependencies, pull out the critical chain, and focus on it. Looking towards a better solution today, now you can identify 1000 dependencies, analyze the workstreams, and pull cross-team dependencies. Simple, WOW!

What this means to solution-driven project managers is taking the focus on the points that are often responsible for project failures and using a new tool that replaces the bothersome “techy” critical chain analysis.

Critical Chain

Is critical chain dead or useless?

No, it’s actually still a good way to analyze a project structure. Knowing where your critical chain is can be one factor among others, and critical chain is also a way to optimize the project schedule.

Critical chain became less relevant in more modern or recent projects where there exist several chains of the same length. In the past, when resources were more stable, a critical chain could be significantly longer than any other chain of activities. Today, if the critical chain is really that long, it will often be reduced by outsourcing activities. The location of the critical chain is moving all the time as projects get condensed.

 Proggio finds the weak points

With Proggio, all activities and tasks are placed in a workstream. An activity sequence that is built into the workstream contains many links, which are not visible on screen and which we consider less critical.

As soon as a link is created between workstreams, Proggio automatically assigns a coordination plan to it, asking the team to think about this challenge and to handle it. Unlike the internal workstream dependencies, cross workstream dependencies are visible on screen. The below plan illustrates an example where relevant dependencies are visible:

Proggio ProjectMap for planning

With the release of Proggio’s alternative to critical chain, projects now can be analyzed without Gantt charts. For those who find it hard to say goodbye to critical chain, we challenge you to spend two months with Proggio…you will never look back. And FYI, if you begin to have critical chain withdrawal, you can find it in Proggio’s “Project Tools” menu and still use it to conduct analyses. As we said, it is not dead. There’s just a better alternative!