Optimizing Project Delivery
Is your job to deliver project-based work? Then your process work is just that: to deliver the projects. In other words, while projects may have a distinct beginning and endpoint, the job of project delivery doesn’t. Once a team finishes a project, they should be ready to start another one right away. To increase the throughput of your projects, map out a flow. Break the project down into its basic components—not necessarily individual tasks, but the major steps. For instance, a standard project at SUCCESS generally follows this flow:
scoping > quoting > procurement > delivery > migration > support > release > production
The major steps of your project delivery process may vary from ours, but you get the idea. Once you map that flow, the next step is to find out where you’re getting tripped up with delays. Delay can happen at many points, but most people have an intuition about where to start looking. In the Theory of Constraints, they call this step “identifying the constraint,” and it’s step one in our improvement efforts.
Step 1: Identify the bottleneck
The constraint is the point in the process which, for better or for worse, controls the workflow. For the SUCCESS example above, this might be ordering equipment. Generally (but not always) it’s the point in the project delivery process that has an excessive amount of work in front of it. It’s the bottleneck of the entire workflow. Some would say this is a bad thing and we need to improve the “efficiencies” of that area. I argue that this is a golden opportunity, and you should forget the word “efficiencies” when it comes to optimizing workflow. Making all areas of a workflow “efficient” tends to decrease production. A balanced system where we have just enough resources to do the work will never produce the desired throughput.
Step 2 and 3: Exploit then subordinate the constraint.
Once you have identified your constraint, you want to exploit it. This means keeping that constraint busy doing what it is supposed to. Next, you subordinate to the constraint, which means offloading any other work the constraint is doing that isn’t critical to project completion. This part of the process-improvement analysis is called “drum, buffer, rope.”
“Drum” means you want a consistent workflow to and from the constraint; “buffer” means to keep the constraint busy by ensuring there is always work for the constraint to do. “Rope” refers to releasing the next project into the workflow only when the constraint is ready to work on it. Releasing work/projects too early simply clogs the system and increases lead times on all open projects.
Step 4: Elevate the constraint
The fourth step is to elevate the constraint, which means adding more capacity. Once we have identified the constraint, kept it busy doing what it’s supposed to be doing, and offloaded the remaining work to other resources, our throughput will be at its highest level. To drive more throughput then requires additional capacity at our constraint.
Step 5: Repeat
The first constraint you identify is rarely the last one. Once you go through this process, you might even find the constraint shifts. That’s why the fifth step is to go back to the beginning and run through the process again. The promise of continuous process improvement is significant and can be measured in terms of the speed of delivery, the predictability of outcome, and project budget margins. There will also be reduced stress, errors, and wasted time. Think about these concepts concerning your organization. To become better at project delivery, continuously, consider the following five steps, and watch your throughput flourish.
Our 5 Steps for Improving Your Project Delivery Processes:
- Identify the Constraint (Bottleneck)
- Exploit the Constraint (Keep the Constraint Busy doing only constraint related work)
- Subordinate to the Constraint (Offload all other work from the constraint)
- Elevate the Constraint (add more constraint capacity)
- Avoid Inertia (Continued Improvement – go back to step one)
If you have any questions about the process or the Theory of Constraints, contact us at 763-593-3000. We have an experienced team waiting to answer your questions and help your business flourish.