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Buffer Your Morning Routine With Critical Chain Project Management

andrew huckey
By Andrew M. Huckey, CMfgE Project Engineer, N. Charleston, SC

Theory of Constraints practitioners teach habitually via anecdote, to explain this often intimidating, mathematics-based management philosophy. While superior to conventional production and project management practices, simple storytelling is required to increase its business use.

Like many readers, my family slogged through the daily morning ritual. A frantic, stressful series of unfortunate events which lead invariably to being late for work (gasp!). The critical path looked something like this:

  1. Get ready
  2. Eat breakfast
  3. Make lunches
  4. Brush teeth
  5. Gather work/school items

Critical Chain Project Management teaches us that it is not merely the longest sequence of tasks in a project that determine our finish date (or getting out of the door on time). In the case of my family, task assignments for the parents, our son and daughter must be accounted for.

There are a handful of tricks we can employ to optimize the family’s schedule. The first step is to cut lead times, and set a clear expectation of reasonable task duration. We aim for a 50% chance of getting out the door on time, and set the alarm clock both mindfully and aggressively. Too much slack in the family schedule opens us up to more risk, and opportunities for compounded inefficiencies.

The next trick is to lay out family tasks, being mindful of resource contentions. Adding this detail uncovers the critical chain, a series of time and resource dependent tasks crucial to the plan’s success. This step identifies the bottleneck. This constraint imparts a significant drain on the morning routine, and determines its overall success. My wife and I do most of our preparation the night before, knowing full well where the constraint lies in the morning: our daughter.

Having identified the snag in our a.m. ritual, the next trick is to break off non-resource constrained tasks from the critical chain and feed them into that path. Remember to buffer those night-before tasks, too. In the morning, my wife does her hair and makeup while I shave, two tasks off of the critical chain. Our son never ceases to amaze us, as his morning ritual is rife with capacity, and is always ready to marshal his little sister through the paces.

We also buffer the entire morning ritual from unforeseen events: those little nuances which delay our project plan through direct attribution or accumulation. A few minutes of routine buffer allow for the perfect hair bow to be selected by my daughter or a discussion with my son on the nutritional benefits of trail mix over a granola bar.

Buffering the resource constraint is perhaps the trickiest step in CCPM. Waking up our daughter, and getting her on-task first thing in the morning was the real challenge. Simple buffering tasks were enough to prime her routine: having her laundry done and put away, choosing a cereal ahead of time, and answering one of her exceedingly important preschooler questions. Our big girl has settled into this new process.

Another key to executing the morning plan is incentivizing early task completion. Most traditional project plans protect their start and end times rigorously, which yields little benefit from early finishes. Sharing success in the morning routine is easy for our children. If we get to school ahead of the morning bell, they can watch a silly video on YouTube.

The daily morning routine is a simple example of how Critical Chain Project Management can be applied to a human system. Connecting the Theory of Constraints to commonplace situations, reinforces the foundational principles and promotes wider usage of the management concept. A laymen’s application of CCPM has made my family’s morning ritual considerably more organized and less stressful.

This article was first published in the October 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

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