Reduce lead time with CCPM

Critical Chain for Creative Agency Project Management

How does your creative agency estimate task durations?

If you’re like most agencies, you’re using a mixture of historical data tempered with solicited resource input. I.E., I’ll start my estimate by looking at what we did last time (if available) and I’ll ask the resource how long they think it will take. The CCPM method then adds another step that many in the creative agency profession would find shocking: cut those durations estimates in half!

At first glance, this aspect of CCPM may seem a glib, and possibly even dangerous assumptive leap to take. I’ll ask you to suspend your disbelief until we delve into the buffers that counter-balance this seemingly drastic action. First let’s analyze the reason why we are cutting these forecasted durations by half.

Combating Student Syndrome and Parkinson’s Law

Student Syndrome is as anecdotal and horsey as it sounds. It is the theory that the resources will start the assignment as late as possible. Parkinson’s Law postulates that the task will take as long as you schedule it to take. Give the resource a longer estimated duration and well, you get the gist.

In CCPM the Traffic Manager or Project Manager scheduling the creative project would ask the user how certain they were that they could meet the due date. If the resource answers 100%, the next step is to cut that expectation in half. The rationale here being, if the resource is 100% certain they can finish the task in 1 week, then they are 50% certain they will finish the task in 2.5 days duration.

Cutting a task with 100% chance of completion to 50% of it’s forecasted duration is an attempt to nullify depletion of schedule success by creating a sense of a relay race. That is to say each resource ought to attempt to accomplish each leg in the shortest amount of time possible, always cognizant of downstream partners in the process. As with many creative agency projects, the only thing certain is they will certainly go off course at some point. Here is where buffers come in to play in the CCPM method.


Here is the step where we can redeem the losses to our schedule suffered by the step of hacking them to pieces listed above. Take the sum total of your cuts and, once again, apply that seemingly dumb and unrefined chainsaw to that sum by cutting them in half. This is now your project buffer. The project buffer is butted up against that irrefutable and inflexible project intangible: the client expected delivery date. Working backwards from that date you now schedule the project from its completion date, minus the buffer, and minus your adjusted schedule.

Fever Map

Buffer management

As your project progresses, you will invariably begin to go off course. Fear not, for behold here is the value of all this schedule Frankensteining you have done. As each task goes over or under, you are not in danger of missing your delivery, you are only moving the crosshairs up or down in a Fever Map of buffer penetration metrics. We are aiming for 0 here so plus or minuses are mapped in red and green respectively. The ultimate goal is to give your PMO the information to direct attention to danger areas.


  • Project delivery time reduced

    • In the example we see a two day (25%) reduction in lead time
    • In this example that means Thursday afternoon instead of Friday EOD
    • Bigger projects equal bigger returns in economy of scale
  • Early completion of tasks get passed on downstream

    • In the relay frame of mind it is ok to come in late but you will most likely see a reduction in task duration that feed process steps downstream
  • Resources are encouraged to work on a task to completion rather thanĀ multi-tasking

    • Multi-tasking can increase project lead time and reduce quality
    • Focusing effort via shortened task durations helps eliminate waste


So what do you think? Too radical a thought for the creative agency? What objections would you expect to hear from the stakeholders of the project or the executive leadership of the firm? At over 700 words, was this post “Too Long, Didn’t Read” (TLDR)? As always, I’d appreciate your feedback.

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2 thoughts on “Reduce lead time with CCPM

  1. Is there a duration length below which is too small to halve? It seems like this would be a hard policy to utilize when tasks deadlines are measured in hours rather than days

    • I would certainly think that there are some tasks that are too small to benefit from this method. I would also think there are projects too small to benefit from this approach as well. In general it would be beneficial to create project classes by oder of magnitude in the agency. A pick up and release project with task durations that don’t stretch longer than a single day, doesn’t afford a manager much wiggle room. Chopping durations and adding buffers would take longer to produce in your scheduling system than it would to perform the set of tasks themselves. Whereas every agency is different, there must be thresholds that are evident to determine which class of project could and should focus on the critical chain. Scheduling those tactical projects into the stream can be difficult. I would argue that engaging in a system that seeks to limit WIP and reduce lead time, could be a solution to free up resources to handle the smaller, yet no less valuable to the client, class of project.

      Thanks for the comment!

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