Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Critical Chain, Agile, and Program Management

I've been doing some research for a project at work on Critical Chain (a result of my articles <here and here> for Projects at Work being noticed within the company). I started by re-reading Goldratt's book Critical Chain. If you haven't read it, I recommend it. It's written as a novel and is an easy read, but still has some good content.

What I've been pondering is how to use Critical Chain in Program Management. I've come across some agilist talking about Critical Chain and Theory of Constraints (TOC-Goldratt's work in manufacturing). Dave Prior recently wrote an article for Projects at Work on transforming to agile where Drum-Buffer-Rope (part of TOC) was mentioned. There was also Mike Cottmeyer's mention of Theory of Constraints I mentioned in a previous post.

So is Critical Chain the answer to scaling agility? When Mike talked about scaling agility at the PMI North America Global Congress last year, he argued that Scrum isn't the answer to scaling agility. Some other tool that can address constraints needs to be used. I think many of us have experienced resources being the big constraint in a program. Critical Chain provides an answer to this.

When using Critical Chain, your first step is to identify the constraint. Let's say it's the number of U/I designers you have. You can't run four projects in parallel because your two designers will be constantly pulled back and forth, and we all know multi-tasking is bad! Critical Chain would say that you need to delay some of your projects to address this constraint, even if this means other resources are idle.

It sounds simple, but will it work? How else can you address constraints across a program? Do we also need to be concerned with buffers? Goldratt spends a lot of time talking about buffers on the project level, including resource buffers. But how does this scale to the program level? Do we need program schedules with resource buffers? I'm going to keep digging in. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Afraid of Falling

I was out climbing with my son earlier this week. He's home from college on break; he got serious about climbing last year and dragged me into it. My first route was pretty technical (for me) and there were a couple points when I was about to stop but I pushed through and made it to the top. When I got down, my son had some wise advice. He said I will improve if I don't worry about falling and If I'm not falling, I'm not pushing myself hard enough. 

I came across a set of videos on Yahoo; The Failure Club. This was created as a reality TV show that never got picked up by a network, but it's along the same lines as my climbing; go do something without fear of failure…even expect failure…and see what happens.

It's easy to play it safe at work. We don't want to stand out as a trouble maker or risk taker, especially during an economic slowdown. But is that the best choice? If we knew our boss wouldn't penalize us if we failed, how much risk would we take? What could we achieve? 

If you're like a lot of people, you came up with some resolutions at New Years. How many risky items are on your list? How many new things are you going to try? How many things that you could fail at? When I'm climbing and not having a good day, it usually isn't because I'm falling; it's usually because I'm afraid to try and I convince myself that I can't do it. So get rid of the self-doubt and don't be afraid. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


I am working in Iowa this week. Today, Iowa is the center of the universe…or at least the US.  For those that don't follow American politics, the Iowa Caucus is the first stage in selecting the candidate that will run against President Obama in November. Winning here is a good first step on a long journey.

How is your project political campaign going? Are you on course to win the election? While a political campaign is a type of project, most project managers have to handle politics as a part of getting the project delivered. A good project manager knows to pay attention to their stakeholders and figure out how to resolve conflicts between parties. They can respond effectively to a negative campaign and win the popular vote.

Ignoring politics can be a mistake. A project can easily be derailed by someone that has the right influence with the right person. This doesn't mean you have to stoop to the level of a mudslinger, but you should at least be aware of the impact they can have on your project.

So after today, Iowa will fade as the political campaign moves on. Good luck in the elections.