Critical Chain Exercises

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John Kevin Doyle


Critical Chains, simulation exercises, multi-tasking, random effects, classroom instruction


Critical Chains project management focuses on holding buffers at the project level vs. task level, and managing buffers as a project resource.  A number of studies have shown that Critical Chain project management can significantly improve organizational schedule fidelity (i.e., improve the proportion of projects delivered on time) and reduce average project duration, by reducing the unproductive time spent waiting for predecessor tasks to complete.  Classroom exposition of Critical Chains requires mental models.  Manufacturing examples, and particularly work in progress building up in front of specific bottleneck machines on the factory floor, have been effective examples for many years.  Since many fewer practitioners have manufacturing experience than previously, the factory floor mental model does not work well with them.  We describe a series of three “games” which have been used to teach managers and project managers about Critical Chains, and also used by the author in graduate Project Management courses the last two years.  This paper describes more careful preparation for these simulations, to make them more useful in the classroom.  Specifically, we more carefully define the setup, sequencing, instructions, and monitoring of each of the exercises, and develop a set of discussion questions for each exercise designed to lead the students to specific conclusions about the impacts of challenging objectives, multi-tasking, and the impact of randomness and batch size.  We develop a pre-/post-test to assess student learning, and will use these to compare student learning before and after the modified improvements in the games.


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