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  • Dave
  • February 8, 2012

Critical Chain – Common Sense By A Visionary?

If you stumbled across this article thinking that this was going to be a technical synopsis of the art of critical chain application, then you would be dead wrong.

I would rather like to think that it is a large chunk of common sense applied to an innovative technique.

You see, up until now, project managers would determine the activities, their sequences and dependencies, in the form a project schedule with the focus on the time-critical aspects.

So far so good.

But here is the thing.  This schedule was the plan, and a good project manager would track what has actually happened, compare this to the plan, and based on any variance, take corrective action and forecast the future.  This still works.

The main problem with this approach was assuming that all resources were just robotic sheep.

Whereas critical path analysis focused on task duration and their scheduled start and finish dates, critical chain method for more emphasis on the resources – those are required to execute the plan, and also their availability. 

The ‘peaking’ of resource levelling is seen as a problem, and the focus is on levelling down while being flexible in their start times while being able to quickly switch between tasks to keep the whole plan on schedule.

So far still so good.  The secret all along was something that I had already learned many years ago from smart project managers.

And that was to keep some ‘time and effort fat’ up your sleeve as a contingency in times of need.

It turns out that at the heart of critical chain is the use of ‘buffers’ in the form of extra time that is kept secret from the specialist team.

This buffer time is either added as a time-chunk at the end of the project, at the end of the stage, or at the end of a package of work.  The key is in their flexibility on start times, and their ability to quickly switch between tasks when needed to do so.

All the time, the project manager has planned in some form of buffer at key points within the plan, so that the team are working to an agreed end date, while the project manager has this buffer in terms of time and effort, to apply as and when needed.

I have simplified the description of critical chain here, but its principle remains intact.

Our brains are hard wired to find food, to reduce risk, find partners, and to survive.  As part of being human we also have a tendency to use available time to fill the tasks and activities that we need to do.  A self fulfilling prophecy if you will.

Why should projects be any different?  And the answer is that they are not.

Give a team a critical week to carry out an activity, and they will creatively find the effort to fill it. If they finish early, they will ‘gold plate’ the task to use the time available.

Seth Godin tells of the lizard brain that we all have – surrounded by the evolutionary layers that separate human kind from animals – such as lizards and chickens…

Human-kind is creative and believes that this is the secret to success. Maybe it is.

But once we get near to task completion, Lizard Brain kicks in. We thrash around and do extra stuff that stops us completing. We are wired this way, and it gets in the way of success.

I guess we would not need critical chain if we could stifle Lizard Brain from mouthing off…

So, I celebrate critical chain, not from the perspective of the brilliant mind that thought it up, but rather to celebrate the pragmatic thinking that lay behind it…

  • December 3, 2011

How To Projectize Work Assignments

I was surfing Google the other day, and ended up looking at discussions on the ‘next big thing’ in project management. Turns out that the world of quality has its fair share of gurus with the likes of Demming and Juran, but the world of projects does less well – Henry Gantt is about the only one that comes to mind…

But what piqued my interest was a statement not pointed directly about projects at all.

It talked about the need for a generally transferrable organizational model for projectizing work. It was something I had dabbled with years ago, but had not fully nailed down…

My subconscious must have picked up on this, because I awoke very early for several mornings thinking about how that could come about. I did some research, and found out  that although a typical organization might have a handful of high visibility projects, it also had a whopping 90% of its enterprise success coming from simple personal assignments given to individuals just like you.

This type of thing, “Dave come into my office for a moment, I’ve got something I want you to take a shot at”. Maybe you’ve been asked to write a report, give a presentation, resolve some operational problem or prepare for a special event. Whatever.

These are certainly not projects, but you know full well that the equation:

Your Career = Assignment Success is at play here….

Goof it up and your reputation and career are lower than the stomach contents of a whale.

It doesn’t matter what your job or position is within an organization – you’ll get assignments at many points in your professional life – do them right and you’ll become the Assignment Hero!

Over a period of two weeks sweat, blood and toil, I knew I had found and developed it – a universal model for projectizing work assignments. I harnessed a tailored and simplified version of the framework and controls that projects used, but one which will bring success to any personal assignment, and I named it TaskPack. It takes just moments to apply and is an easy to follow step-by-step system.

It will put you ahead of the pack and turn you into the ‘go-to guy or gal’ – the person who gets things done and delivers every time.

You can find the result and see how it works HERE


  • October 23, 2011

Sculpture Gareth Knowles iTribute to Steve Jobs

There were many good rerasons for me to live on one of the three Montepego mountains in the mediteranean Spanish costas, lifestyle, climate and the views for a start. But the micro-climate that engulfs the mountains seems to atract it’s own share of celebrities too…

A few doors up from my villa is the amazing comedian Dave Spikey, and yet further up the mountain lives the music producer who introduced the UK to reggie via the likes of Desmond Dekker.

But I want to talk about my near neighbour buddie the sculpter Gareth Knowles who was born with  an incredible talent, and with the very recent passing of Steve Jobs has created a sculpture bust of Steve. He started by taking a bite out of an apple, and built the sculpture around it.

I couldn’t believe my luck when I discovered that Gareth had been time-lapse videoed as he sculpted Steve Jobs ‘back to life’ via his iTribute creation.

You really should check out Gareth’s website at, but first enjoy his video here:

  • Dave
  • October 14, 2011


I’ll be brief.

Amongst the first activities a project manager will normally be focussed on with a new project, is determining what its scope and objectives are. And this is usually the first point at which confusion arises – mainly because different folks have different opinions, but also because your customers/users will not have thought this through.

Typically in the world of IT, the project will have been based on a pile of requirements or functionalities. This is fine and good as these will lead to determining the design, but they are downright dangerous if used alone.

A good mental approach here is to use the “So What?” test. For each specification or requirement, ask ‘so what?’ This is lead to articulating what the end game is for each. Take for example a system needing a certain speed of response. Asking ‘so what?’ repeatedly, will lead to an understanding of why such speed is critical.

But what I really want to talk about is the nest step. Writing S-M-A-R-T project goals and objectives (these also work brilliantly to develop you as an individual too!).

So for each project goal or objective, you write down clearly:

  • Specific. describe exactly what this goal is…
  • Measurable. capture the measurable units, how you will measure and who will measure
  • Attainable. discus with customer/team and ensure that this objective is realistic
  • Relevant.  this ties back to the scope, make sure it is within the boundaries of the project
  • Time Bound. state the time frame of the objective itself as well as any timings within the objective

These are often best obtained in a workshop where discussion/trade-offs, and ultimately agreement between the stakeholders, can be agreed.



  • October 5, 2011

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Drop me a quick email to and I’ll give you a jaw-dropping price deal that you won’t want to refuse!

  • September 17, 2011

Can 25 Million Project Managers Be Wrong?

So it’s Sunday morning, I’m waiting for the coffee to perculate, and I’m fooling around with Google…

It just so happens that I’m starting to assemble the bare bones of what will become my latest primer product – Microsoft Project 2010…I’m grabing graphic shots of MS Project in action, I’m writing a case study, designing PowerPoint Slides, authoring the detailed Workbook, building in a project management 101, I’m…well, Getting Excited!

See, I have been using MS Project since around version 2.0 way back in the late ’80’s. I thought it was a good app even then, because even though the competition was often more powerful, they were complex and difficult to use. Back then PM’s often needed a support office to run such software, but times have changed in my opinion.

MS Project 2010 is the ‘must-have’ app for ALL project managers, from ‘just-starting novice’ to an ‘in the trenches’ pro. Check out the powerful features of the latest 2010 incarnation. I know you’ll agree with me that it is a powerful and intuitive PM app, with a brand-new sleek user interface that fits right in with the rest of the MS Office suite. Working with it will be like shaking hands with an old friend.

I’m willing to bet that if you don’t like MS Project 2010, it’s because you don’t understand how it thinks and works. How can I be so sure?

Well, I ran hundreds of MS Project training courses from the  ’90’s and on into the 2000’s, and I reckon I know as much as anyone about how to teach it, how to help you learn it, but most important of all, I can teach you how to apply it.

I’ve given thousands of dollars worth of consultation to large multinationals advising and demonstrating how to embed the MS Project tool in their organizations. I can talk the talk and walk the walk.

I’m seeing a huge market of project managers who need to implement more detailed, realistic, and  achievable plans in order to get better control of their projects. For small projects some folks are still using Excel as a sort of graphic spreadsheet in place of a proper planning tool. Trouble is, they are all hand-cranked, with the upshot that forecasting and resourcing is a hit and miss affair because the thing is not inter-active…

Frankly, if you shop around, you can get the latest MS Project Professional for around a hundred bucks (I paid $75 for mine and had it shipped from Hong Kong!). So even if your organization is not prepared to stump up the cash – it’s a no-brainer that you should grab yourself a copy…

But back to why I’m excited.

See, I found out that around 25 Million of you are ‘googling’ for ‘MS Project 2010’, and a further 3.6 Million of you are searching for ‘MS Project 2010 tutorial‘ – and that’s an awful lot of hungry minds that need feeding. In the last month alone nearly 10,000 of you searched for that term!

It’s not created yet, but bookmark my new site:

So I’d better start burning the midnight oil and get my Microsoft Project 2010 Primer on the interweb streets – pronto!

Onwards and Upwards.

  • August 21, 2011