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Critical chain

From Academic Kids

In project management, the critical chain is the sequence of both precedence- and resource-dependent terminal elements that prevents a project from being completed in a shorter time, given finite resources. If resource availability is not a constraint, then a project's critical chain is identical to its critical path.

Critical chain is used as an alternative to critical path analysis. The main features that distinguish the critical chain from the critical path are:

  1. The use of (often implicit) resource dependencies. Implicit means that they are not included in the project network but have to be identified by looking at the resource requirements.
  2. Lack of search for an optimum solution. This means that a "good enough" solution is enough because:
    1. As far as is known, there is no analytical method of finding an absolute optimum (i.e. having the overall shortest critical chain).
    2. The inherent uncertainty in estimates is much greater than the difference between the optimum and near-optimum ("good enough" solutions).
  3. The identification and insertion of buffers:
    • project buffer
    • feeding buffers
    • resource buffers.

It aggregates the large amounts of safety time added to many subprojects in project buffers to protect due-date performance, and to avoid wasting this safety time through bad multitasking, student syndrome, and poorly synchronised integration.

Critical chain project management uses buffer management instead of earned value management to assess the performance of a project. Some project managers feel that the earned value management technique is misleading, because it does not distinguish progress on the project constraint (i.e. on the critical chain) from progress on non-constraints (i.e. on other paths).

The critical chain concept was developed by Eliyahu M. Goldratt as an application of his theory of constraints.

So far, none of the major project management software packages directly support critical chain planning and monitoring, although add-ons are available.

See also: project planning

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