Limiting WIP through critical chain project management

Limiting WIP equals reduced lead times

The Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) methodology promotes scheduling projects in a way that is cognizant of resource constraints and avoids multi-tasking. There is a lot of ground to cover on Critical Chain Project Management but in this post I want to focus on a key area that may be one of the hardest to swallow; limiting Work in Progress (WIP) by staggering project schedules.

Any management style that seeks to limit WIP may meet with some resistance within the creative agency. However, research shows that employing these methods can shorten lead times and increase quality. The graphic example above is a simple visual aid to show how staggering project start times can lead to shortened lead time.

Explanation of graphic:

The graphic above depicts four projects to be completed over four weeks. Each week is assumed to be five business days.

Legend of projects ala Reservoir Dogs:

Project Cyan: An e-mail blast
Project Magenta:  A landing page
Project Yellow: Newsletter
Project Amber: Powerpoint template

Projects all assume the following process steps in order:

Resource Phase
Creative Director Concepting
Copy Writer Copy
Art Director Creative
Client Client Approval
Production Artist Production

The Traffic Manager scheduling this campaign in most creative agencies would more likely than not allow the “kill the man with the ball” resource assignments to occur. Resources may begin to multi-task to complete all the deliverables. That is to say resources may begin to work on components of each project in order to meet the overall deadlines. This method is represented by the series of scattered boxes on the bottom of the graphic.

Delivery dates in multi-tasking method:

Project Cyan: 16 days
Project Magenta: 17 days
Project Yellow: 18 days
Project Amber: 20 days

Now let’s look at the example that employs CCPM (the series of waterfall boxes on top of the graphic). By staggering the start dates of each project, we decrease the lead time of project Cyan by 11 days!

Here is our new delivery schedule if we employ the CCPM model:

Project Cyan: 5 days
Project Magenta: 10 days
Project Yellow: 15 days
Project Amber: 20 days

Happy Traffic Managers

CCPM focuses on resource constraints by staggering projects start dates. Another variation on the graphic could stagger the start dates by resource availability. How amazingly awesome would that be?!

Happy clients

The value of the method seems to disipate as time goes by. However, the client is receiving deliveries at an even pace. The lead times, on all but Project Amber, are reduced by a significant amount. This gives them a chance to make all those revisions they are most likely going to make!

At first glance this method may seem unfeasible for the creative agency. Objections could range from unpredictable project mixes, changing scopes, and the iterative nature of creative projects. What CCPM begins to build in the creative agency is the limiting of variability by controlling and in fact creating constraints.

I will be delving into this topic further as it is something that may raise some bristles in the industry. What do you think? You Project Managers, you Traffic Managers, you Production Managers, and even you Account folk… Could this work in your agency?

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