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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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There is an old saying: To a carpenter, every problem looks like a nail.
Having now read two of Mr. Goldratt's books, it appears that to him every management issue is a scheduling and coordination problem. While that's true, product development management of difficult tasks is also sensitive to many other things like getting competent resources, having the right amount of input from each function early in the process, and developing the ability to produce the finished product efficiently and effectively. Those other issues are essentially untouched in this book.
Think of this book as applying the system coordination and optimization concepts of Mr. Goldratt's famous novel, The Goal, to project management.
If you have already read The Goal, this book will be much easier to understand than if you have not. Although many of the same concepts are explained here as in The Goal, the explanations in this book are not nearly as thorough and clear. Also, the plot and plot line in this book will probably not be as enjoyable to you as The Goal. I rated the book down two stars for these kinds of weaknesses.
If you have read The Goal, Mr. Goldratt basically substitutes scheduling safety margins for work-in-progress inventory, and then applies the same debottlenecking concepts as in The Goal.
If you have not read The Goal, Mr. Goldratt's argument is that schedules are put together with too much slack. Everyone wants to be almost sure they can meet a deadline. The deadkube date they pick usually relates to the most they can get away with. Usually, that much time is not needed and people start late. If they end early, they never tell anyone. So any delay puts the whole project back because there is no project scheduling slack. With many tasks going on simultaneously, often none of them get done well.
The solution is to cut back on each individual schedule in favor of having all of the slack managed for the whole project, and communicating frequently about when the work really will be done so the next step can be ready to take up the baton. Then focus all measurements on project completion, rather than task completion. Give priority to whatever can hold the whole project back. Add resources there, too, if possible. In doing this, focus on both activities and resources as potential bottlenecks.
The book also has some good sections on how to negotiate with external suppliers to improve performance, and how to think about the tradeoffs between speed and cost as a supplier and as a purchaser of supplies and services.
Without changes in top management policies, most project managers will not be allowed to use all of these principles. So be sure to share this book upward, as well as sideways, and downward in the organization. If you are in a small company, it will be much easier to do.
After you have finished reading this book, I suggest that you look at the last 20 projects that your organization has done. What was done well? What was not? Which of these issues can be helped by Mr. Goldratt's ideas? Which cannot? For these latter, I suggest you look for best practices and imagine what perfection could look like to design a simple, but effective, alternative with better communications. The new book, It's Not the BIG etc., may be helpful to you in this regard.
May you continuously improve your effectiveness in project management!
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on 27 November 1998
I enjoyed reading it - and learnt a lot from it. There are some real nuggets and it changes the way you think about constraints on improving performance. It's set in a project management context, yet the potential application of the thinking is much wider than that. Not many books you can read this easily and yet get so much from. At times it's a little patronising, but you get more than enough out of it to forgive this.
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on 20 June 2010
Unlike other project management guides or BoKs, it uses real life like examples to introduce Critical Chain (Theory of Constraints) approach to project management.

Storyline is around an executive MBA Project Management class, where the professor (Richard Silver, main character) discusses and tries to address issues in project management using real life example from the class. In the process, they evolve "Critical Chain" approach to project management by applying principles of Theory of Constraints.

The book is written very much like a fast paced novel with quite a few plots; struggle of a professor at work and home, shortcomings of teaching methodologies, project management using theory of constraints and few more.

good: fast-paced, like novel not a guide, challenges thinking process
bad: bit difficult to follow without understanding of Theory of Constraints, not as good as The Goal.

Must read for all project managers, as it gives another perspective or approach to project management, and can be applied to their existing framework.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 December 2015
I was reading Critical Chain when I heard the news that the author, Dr Eliyahu Goldratt died. The Theory of Constraints guru focuses his attention on project management in this book after looking at constraints in the production process in The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement and in the marketing strategy in It's Not Luck.

Again it is written as a business novel, this times from the perspective of an assistant professor at a small university whose job is at risk. The hero is offered a chance to teach on project management course on the executive MBA program. It's a subject he doesn't know much about so he has to learn as he goes and his ideas clashes with traditional project management theory.

Projects are measured on three criteria - Time, Quality and Budget. As a general rule, projects are delivered late, not up to the original standard and over budget. They cost you more, give you back less and what you get is much later than expected.

Eli Goldratt is pushing against an open door - there's huge demand for a new way to manage projects that delivers on the original promises and commitments... and according to the author, that means managing the critical chain.

If you've done any project management, you'll know of the critical path - the longest sequence of dependent activities which must be done for the project to be completed. The critical chain builds on the critical path and also assumes that one resource will be the constraint or bottleneck and activities by this resource are likely to be delayed. That constrained resource is the focus.

The author makes some interesting points about why project performance is so bad. Slack is built into the time estimates because we don't go for an expected 50% success but 90% success and then miss it because we delay starting things we think we've got time on.

The way around this is to take away the spare time from the individual project tasks and instead have a time buffer on the project and a buffer on individual critical activities. I like the idea and certainly agree that built in slack does happen. Many people will give themselves extra time to complete a task and still miss the deadline. I've also known people chronically underestimate the time it takes people to do a task when working on it full time and I've even done it myself.

Few people will admit to padding out their time estimates when challenged but probably will confess to a high degree of confidence in getting the task done before their estimate. Few tasks get finished early because there's always a little extra you can do to make it better. Using the ideas of the normal distribution curve, you can prove the logic that time must be padded away from the median, 50% of the time.

I really liked the emphasis on the cost of project time overruns because there's a temptation to scrimp and save on the resources because keeping within budget seems more important than hitting the project deadlines. The cost is much more visible than the missed revenue and profit streams that come from the project but in reality, cost may be tiny in comparison.

I enjoyed reading Critical Chain but it's not as compelling as the classic book, The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement. I had a few aha moments as I was reading it and wished that I'd known about some of the ideas when I was managing large projects. This book will challenge the way you traditionally think about and plan projects.

My one concern is that the book is fiction so it's easy to have a story of project chaos without critical chain thinking, and peaceful sanity using the ideas of the critical chain. The real world is a much harder taskmaster.

About my book reviews - I aim to be a tough reviewer because the main cost of a book is not the money to buy it but the time needed to read it and absorb the key messages. 4 stars means this is a good to very good book.
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on 12 March 1999
This is an absolute must for all IT professionals/managers. Since some 75 plus percent of all projects are either killed or delievered late by the IT departments. Project management as taught in this book will show you how to deliver on time, without sacrificing quality. Three simple steps, limit multi-tasking, end procrastination, and plan for dependencies are just the beginning, as Eliyahu Goldratt walks you through an entertaining story filled with detailed examples of what it takes to improve your delievery time. IT departments all over the world need to read this book, they need to become more efficient and they need to deliever on time. Critical Chain will make this happen.
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on 21 June 1998
TOC is OK for simple operations that are run by really stupid managers, but fails to offer a lot of assistance for real world problems in a moderately complex organization. I think the book High-Mix Low Volume Manufactring by Mahoney does a much better, if much more boring, job of explaining the complex decision making process that is really needed. For example, it is rare that operations or logistics knows the status of jobs, or the operators, or the equipment, or the material, as well as is needed to take full advantage of any of the techniques, even in a fairly small plant. This results in information "noise". Add to this variable delay time, and the combination acts to reduce the effectiveness of any control system: this is basic feedback theory. TOC works well in stable (low mix) environments, but may not lead to the most efficient operation in other settings.
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on 27 August 2015
If targeted at managers, the book suffers from dilluting every sign of useful information with pages and pages of cringeworthy fluff. If targeted at readers fancying a good corporate drama, the novel doesn't deliver either - the writing is poor and lacking any sense of tension, relatability or reasons why would one care for the protagonists.
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on 17 June 1998
40% of this novel is story, 60% is information. Half of the latter is a repetition of The Goal (explaining the Theory of Constraints). This, however, makes this new book so easy to read. It is almost like a follow-up to the setting at the plant.
Really interesting are the last two pages: two independent variables are needed to describe investment (unit is "dollar-days"). But this, of course, means that TIME ISN'T MONEY...
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on 18 May 1997
If you only buy one book this year, this is it! Take the Theory of Constraints [TOC] and apply it to Project Management and you have Critical Chain. Set in a university with numerous business connections and you have the perfect environment for his latest business novel about TOC.

As good [if not better] than The Goal. It stands alone; one does not need to read The Goal or It's Not Luck to apprecaite this exciting new release.
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on 17 November 2013
Great concepts but is the platform of a novel really necessary? The substance of critical chain could be condensed into one concise chapter without any loss of content or understanding.
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