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Monitoring Phase Tracking Critical Chain Tasks and Managing Scheduled Buffers


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Monitoring, the final, third phase of the CCPM lifecycle focuses your project manager on reviewing scheduled buffers and tracking time-related characteristics of tasks combined into the critical chain. In some way, this phase gives advantages to the management process by simplifying task tracking and monitoring because the manager has no need to try to force every critical chain task to "on time" completion. The methodology admits that estimates can never be perfect so the project manager will only need to monitor status of buffers per task and measure time remaining to successful completion.

The Monitoring phase regards buffers as a unique function of project completion. It means that your project manager needs to monitor status or consumption rate of every scheduled buffer. If the rate is low, then the project is on target (meaning there’s still an amount of safety time the team can consume for completing critical chain tasks). If it is exceeded or expected to be completely consumed before the end of the project, then there are some troubles and the manager needs to take corrective actions to avoid delays and late (out-of-schedule) completion.

In general, the Monitoring phase can be divided into two high-level activities, such as:

  • Tracking Critical Chain
  • Managing Scheduled Buffers

Both activities as well as the whole phase are easier to track and manage by using simple tasks. With help of VIP Task Manager you can plan the activities by creating to-do lists, task hierarchies and separate tasks. Let’s find out what sample tasks you can create to plan and manage the activities and how VIP Task Manager can be helpful for you.

Critical Chain Tracking
First of all, your project manager needs to focus on date-related parameters of critical chain tasks. For each task of the chain, the manager will collect the following information:

  • Actual start date
  • Time remaining
  • Actual completion date

Then by evaluating these parameters, the manager calculates the total impact of the critical chain to the project and feeding buffers as well. In case the calculations show that a critical chain task is late or expected to be late, the manager needs to subtract or consume time (days or working hours) from the appropriate buffer and then document reasons for doing this. If the task is done early (ahead of the estimated completion date), the manager needs to replenish the appropriate buffer and document this decision as well. All changes made to buffers should be added to the project schedule.

In such a way, by monitoring actual start date, time remaining and actual completion date, you can track trends in buffer utilization and determine issues requiring immediate solutions. Changes made to buffers of your project can be represented visually by creating a fever chart. Such a chart will help you get a clear visual representation of buffer changes over a period of time and assess project health.

Managing Scheduled Buffers
Buffer management allows your project manager to monitor and control the team environment during the Monitoring phase and get team feedback that may be required for making future decisions regarding improving existing configuration of the critical chain. In general, managing buffers placed on the project schedule means focusing on how safety margins (buffers) are consumed when tasks of the critical chain are aggressively performed by the team.

The term "buffer consumption" will be central. It is equivalent to the term "buffer status." During the Monitoring phase, your project manager needs to continuously review the schedule, monitor status of every buffer, and determine an amount of time consumed by the team to an appropriate task. The purpose is to ensure that there is still a safety margin remaining for every task of the critical chain, so the project remains feasible and the team can continue doing project tasks.

Actually, the project and its tasks should be performed according to current buffer status because consumption of buffers indicates the health of your project and the feasibility of tasks added to the critical chain. It’s recommended to use three colors to determine current status of a buffer:

  • "Green" status – everything is ok; the project proceeds according to the schedule and the buffer is consumed by less than 5% (a 5% buffer consumption).
  • "Yellow" status – an alert comes up; the project is under a risk of delay and the buffer is consumed by more than 5% but less than 10% (a 5-10% buffer consumption).
  • "Red" status – a critical sign meaning that there is an increased probability of delays occurred; the buffer is consumed more than 10 % (a 10%+ buffer consumption).

During the monitoring process, the project manager can change buffer status to one of the three colors in order to show team members efficiency of their efforts. For example, in case a buffer gets the green status, the team can continue doing tasks of the critical chain with the same amount of effort. If the status is yellow, the team needs to do critical chain tasks more aggressively. And when the status turns red, it’s time for the project manager to develop a corrective action plan and focus the team on implementing this plan as soon as possible.

Using VIP Task Manager
The software helps you carry out the activities of the Monitoring phase by using custom workflows and filters. VIP Task Manager lets your project manager highlight tasks having various rates of buffer consumption. There’s Workflow Editor to develop custom workflows which are combinations of statuses that a task can take. For example, when the manager determines that buffers of some critical chain task are almost consumed (so there’s no safety margin and the task gets under a higher risk of late completion), he/she can change current status of the task to the Red status. In such a way, the manager focuses team members on the critical task and forces them to work on the task more aggressively. Perhaps, the manager will develop a corrective action plan if needed.

Following this example, Workflow Editor allows you to create three types of status, Green, Yellow and Red. These statuses can be gathered into a workflow called "Buffer Status". You can create as many custom workflows and statutes as you want. If there are many statuses created for tasks of your project (so it becomes harder to focus on certain tasks), you can use filters for easier tracking and monitoring. You can filter by certain statuses and many other attributes, such as Priority, Assignment, Due Date, ID, etc.

Below you can see a screenshot demonstrating sample tasks of the Monitoring phase and the features of VIP Task Manager – Workflow Editor and Filters.

Monitoring Phase

  • Limit or eliminate multitasking through continuous monitoring of task performance.
  • Subordinate execution of non-critical chain tasks to the critical chain.
  • Determine status of feeding buffers at points where non-critical tasks intersect the critical chain.
  • Determine status of resource buffers to reduce the probability that a critical resource is unavailable.
  • Insert capacity buffers to tasks with higher consumption rates.
  • Develop a corrective action plan for every task having buffers with higher consumption rates.
  • Use the colors to assign buffer consumption to the tasks placed on the schedule.
  • Manage consumed buffers to support preventive and corrective actions.
  • Track implementation status of corrective action plans.
  • Extend the project buffer in case the critical chain seems to be unfeasible after the statuses are assigned.

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