What Is Critical Chain Project Management in 2024?

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Key Takeaways: Critical Chain Method in Project Management

  • Critical chain project management is a methodology used in the manufacturing, construction and production industries that helps managers remove project constraints and manage resources efficiently.
  • The CCPM method uses three types of buffers — project buffers, feeding buffers and resource buffers. These buffers help ensure that task completion and project due dates are not overshot and that resources are available when needed.
  • Those looking to implement CCPM will need project management software that supports Gantt charts. We recommend monday.com, ClickUp and Zoho Projects.

Facts & Expert Analysis About CCPM Meaning:

  • Success rates: According to studies, CCPM can lead to a 39% increase in time savings, a project delivery success rate of 70% and a 50% increase in throughput. 2 
  • Competing methods: The critical path method (CPM), which is often confused with CCPM, also uses the critical chain approach to project management. However, it doesn’t factor in resources and constraints that can delay a project.
  • Popularity: CCPM is used by many large manufacturing companies including Eli Lilly, IBM and Mazda. 1 Mazda has been particularly vocal about its use of CCPM, which it credits for helping turn the company around during a difficult period. 3

When used with the best project management software, critical chain project management (CCPM) can help project teams manage resources, control scope creep, increase efficiency, and handle project constraints and risks. We’ll look closer at CCPM and explain why you should consider adopting it if you work in the manufacturing or construction industries.

Below, we’ll introduce the methodology, explain the underlying theory of constraints, show an example of a CCPM schedule and give tips to help you implement the methodology in your workplace.

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CCPM Meaning: What Is Critical Chain Project Management?

Developed by Eliyahu M. Goldratt in 1997, critical chain project management (CCPM) is a project management methodology that focuses on monitoring project tasks, resources and task dependencies.

A fundamental concept in CCPM is the theory of constraints (TOC). Covered later in the article, this theory examines limiting factors and explores how to systematically improve constraints that impede project progress.

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Project management methodologies, such as CCPM, CPM and Waterfall,
utilize Gantt charts to create project timelines.

The goal of CCPM is to identify project steps, timelines and the resources needed to complete the project. Once a project plan is made, project managers should have a robust roadmap. The roadmaps are then plotted on a Gantt chart to clearly show due dates and dependencies. This helps ensure that projects finish on time and within budget, and aids in avoiding scope creep.

Managers use CCPM as an alternative to project management methodologies like Waterfall and Critical Path, which the Project Management Institute covers in its Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) and Project Management Professional (PMP) course. CCPM is favored because of its focus on resource management.

critical chain diagram

 In critical path project management, the critical chain is
the longest path to project completion.

The critical chain is the longest sequence of tasks required to complete a project. Unlike the critical path method, which works on the assumption of unlimited resources, CCPM factors in the resources (people, equipment and materials) required to complete the project.

CCPM also uses buffers (which we’ll cover later) to ensure that projects run smoothly. A project manager places buffers within critical and feeder chains to add extra time to tasks (if needed) and to make sure that all tasks and activities have the required resources for completion.

Critical Chain (CCPM) and the Theory of Constraints

The critical chain method makes it clear that identifying and resolving constraints is a key component of managing projects; this is where the theory of constraints comes into play. TOC aims to improve processes and systems by finding constraints that impact production or work. This is achieved by plotting how to fix the issues on diagram trees or mind maps.

clickup mindmap

Mind maps, like those in ClickUp, can help you create
diagrams that show current constraints.

An example of a constraint would be an electronics manufacturer wanting to produce 1,000 televisions daily. The company has five machines that can produce 200 units each, but one isn’t working correctly and can only produce 50 units per day. Until the constraint (or weak link) is fixed, the 1,000-unit goal is unachievable.

Many other types of constraints can derail a project schedule, blow budgets and hinder overall project success. We’ll examine some other constraints below.

Types of Constraints

  • Material constraints: If you have a shortage of raw materials due to supply chain or financial issues, you won’t be able to meet production goals or deadlines.
  • Policy constraints: Meeting tight deadlines and staying on budget becomes harder if your organization cuts labor hours, eliminates overtime or reduces resource budgets.
  • Market constraints: The laws of supply and demand, new competitors charging less for similar items, and other factors can have a significant impact on sales, profitability, the ease of procuring critical resources and more.
  • Dummy or simple constraints: These are constraints that are easy for a project manager to fix, such as a factory that shuts down because all its employees take lunch together.

Buffer Types in Critical Chain Project Management

Project buffers work to ensure that critical chain tasks have no resource constraints and plenty of extra time to help you stay on schedule, even if unforeseen events occur. Below, we’ll look at the three project buffers that leaders must build into the critical path and feeder timelines to help their project team stay on track.

Project Buffer

A project buffer consists of time placed between the last scheduled task and the project’s completion date on the critical chain. Any delay through the critical chain will eat away at the project buffer. The flip side is that any time gained from finishing critical tasks early will be added to the buffer. The project buffer always starts at 50% of the calculated project duration.

Feeding Buffer

A feeding buffer is a period of time added to a group of non-critical activities or tasks that merge into the critical chain. The buffers, which also start at 50% of the duration of the group of tasks, are added so that any delays in non-critical activities do not interfere with critical tasks in the critical chain.

Resource Buffer

Resource buffers are implemented to alert a project team member that a task will soon require resources. The buffers allocate resources (people, machines, materials) to tasks and ensure they’re available when needed. They are placed in the timeline before the task that requires the resources.

What Are the Steps in Critical Chain Scheduling?

Many manufacturing and production juggernauts, like Mazda, Eli Lilly and IBM [2], use the critical chain project management method to run their projects successfully. The following seven steps could help you achieve CCPM success, too.

1. Identify the Critical Chain

Before the project begins, project managers must identify the sequence of project tasks that will take the longest to complete. The tasks you list during this step will form the project’s critical chain. Feeder chains for non-critical activities, such as choosing the best Gantt project management software, should also be developed during this step.

2. Identify Potential Resource Constraints

After identifying the critical chain, start assigning team members to tasks and identifying production lines, machines and materials that will be used. As you go, consider any constraints surrounding these resources that could delay or derail the project.

monday risk

Project management software templates make it easy
to create detailed risk management plans.

Project managers should check if team members have vacations planned and ensure that new employees have received adequate training. They should also confirm that the materials supply chain is free-flowing, the machines are working properly and that contingency plans exist in case of production line failures. This level of risk management planning can keep a project on track.

3. Develop the As-Late-As-Possible Schedule

Project leaders should use any of the best free project management software platforms, or a software of their choice, to create a schedule that works backward from the completion date. Every listed task should be given the latest possible start date. This is contrary to other project management methodologies that assign dates based on the earliest start times.

The idea behind the as-late-as-possible schedule is to prevent rework, which happens when a team starts working on a task without the knowledge needed to complete it successfully. Giving each task a late start date ensures that previous and dependent tasks, which can impact the tasks following them, are completed fully.

4. Eliminate Multitasking

Like other traditional project management methodologies, such as Waterfall and CPM, CCPM does not champion multitasking. Assigning team members more than one task at a time can reduce productivity, increase risks and issues, and lower morale. Make sure you assign only one task to each team member at a time.

The critical chain project management method follows a straight, linear path whenever possible. This working style helps keep employees focused on the task at hand, so they can potentially complete tasks faster and add time to the project buffer.

5. Add Buffers

With the critical chain developed and feeder chains in place, you’ll need to decide where to insert resource, project and feeding buffers. This way, if the unexpected happens, you’ll have plenty of time to rectify mistakes and solve issues.

6. Create a Detailed Project Plan

Projects using the CCPM method are often incredibly complex. For projects like this to run smoothly, every team member must be on the same page. To ensure everyone knows what’s happening, project managers should develop a detailed project plan or charter. This can be shared with the team during kickoff meetings and throughout the project.

clickup raci

RACI charts let entire teams see who is responsible for which tasks and who should be contacted when things don’t go according to plan.

A project plan should include a description of the project’s goal, a list of project tasks and the team members assigned to them, task descriptions, the allocated resources, time and resource buffers, and estimated completion dates. RACI charts should also be used so everyone can see who to contact should problems arise.

If you need software that can help you create detailed project plans — along with responsible, accountable, consulted and informed (RACI) charts — our team of experts recommends monday.com and ClickUp. You can find out more about monday.com in our monday.com review, or learn more about ClickUp and its many project templates in our ClickUp review.

7. Manage the Project

Once the project has begun, project leaders need to manage it and ensure that everything is running smoothly. Managers should check the status of tasks, look for completed milestones, manage resources, buffers and budgets, communicate with and motivate the team, and manage risks and issues as needed.

monday dashboard

Customizable dashboards can help project managers keep track of
team productivity, due dates and more.

Managers should also use the full capabilities of their project management software to manage time, productivity, approaching deadlines, resources and more. Most project management software platforms offer detailed reports and customizable dashboards that display key project metrics, which can help you improve poor project performance.

CCPM Scheduling Example

Let’s examine a schedule for a simple project to paint a room. The schedule uses the same methods that would be used to create a detailed CCPM schedule for a complex project.

Start by writing down all the tasks and required resources associated with the project. Next, estimate task durations using aggressive estimates. For example, buying paint could take two hours or more if you want to visit a boutique DIY shop across town, but you can say with 50% certainty that it would only take 35 minutes if you visit a local big-box retailer instead.

Project Task Task Length* Previous Task(s) Required Resources
1. Buy paint, brushes & other supplies 35 N/A Person to buy supplies, car for transport, money
2. Prepare the room for paint 10 1 One person, ladder, masking tape
3. Mix the paint 5 1 One person, paint stirring stick
4. Paint the walls 60 1, 3 One person, paint, paintbrushes, ladder
5. Let the first coat dry 180 4 N/A
6. Apply the second coat 60 4, 5 One person, paint, paintbrushes, ladder
7. Paint the trim 30 1, 3, 6 One person, paint, paintbrushes
8. Remove the masking tape & clean up 30 2, 6, 7 One person, trash bags

*Minutes, 50% confidence

Then, figure out how to shorten the project duration by completing tasks in tandem. For example, while one person prepares the room for paint (a critical task), another could mix the paint so it’s ready to be used. Mixing the paint would be moved from the critical chain to a feeder chain that rejoins the critical path at step four: painting the walls.

After that, you’ll add your buffers. The total time needed to complete tasks in this sample critical chain is 405 minutes, so you’d add a buffer of 202.5 minutes to the end of the project. You’d then add a buffer of 2.5 minutes to your feeder chain, as the task of mixing paint takes five minutes. The buffers will help keep you on schedule should you run into problems.

You’ll also need to note the previous or dependent tasks so that you can determine what needs to happen before the next task begins. This is an oversimplification of what can be a complex project management technique, but it should give a good idea of what a schedule in CCPM looks like.

Tips to Follow for Successful Critical Chain Project Management

If you have decided to implement the critical chain methodology, the following five tips will help ensure that critical chain activities and project progress don’t suffer.   

  1. Use decentralized planning: Critical chain project management works best with organizational structures that favor decentralized planning. Decentralized planning allows middle managers and team members to make important decisions, enabling teams to remain agile and respond to issues faster.
  2. Don’t pad individual tasks: It’s easy to fall into the trap of padding individual tasks that you think will take longer to complete. Instead, build your buffers and create a shared buffer pool. This will allow you to see which tasks are falling behind schedule and which employees may need help.
  3. Don’t overwork individuals: Avoid the habit of resource overloading. Pushing team members to their absolute limit will lead to burnout, mistakes, low morale and low-quality work. This is why assigning one task per team member and avoiding multitasking is essential in CCPM.
  4. Optimize resources: If you want tasks to be finished on time or ahead of schedule, let team members focus on their work. Don’t overload them with meaningless meetings, stop unnecessary interruptions, and assign less-critical items like document production to non-critical team members.
  5. Ensure everyone understands the critical path: Project tasks that are on the critical path will have the majority of the constraints. Part of the critical chain process is ensuring that everyone knows what the critical path is, what constraints should be expected and how to handle them so that work can continue at a steady pace.

Critical Chain Project Management vs Critical Path Method

It can be easy to confuse critical chain project management (CCPM) with the critical path method (CPM). Although they sound similar, CCPM is more advanced and introduces tools to help project managers manage critical resources and limit the chances of scope creep. The table below lists the differences between these traditional methods of managing projects.

Critical Chain Critical Path
The time to complete individual tasks is estimated with 50% confidence. Tasks in the critical path are estimated with 80-90% confidence, which leaves little room for error.
Individual tasks don’t have buffers attached to them. Instead, a buffer pool is added to the end of the project that all tasks can utilize. Feeder buffers are also located at predetermined points. Task slack or buffers are built into each task to help them stay on track.
Leaders focus on resource availability, potential constraints and the well-being of the entire team. Project managers focus all of their time on specific tasks that drive the project forward, not on examining potential constraints and resource availability.
Tasks are only assigned one start and finish date. Tasks are assigned early and late start and finish dates.
If a task is finished ahead of time, the next task may be started, and any saved time will be added to the buffer pool. If a critical task is finished early, the next task cannot start before its early start date, otherwise the entire project schedule will be affected.

Final Thoughts

Installing a critical chain project network can help managers schedule tasks for complex projects, effectively manage resources and scope creep, and ensure that projects don’t slip past their delivery date. 

Implementing CCPM can be time-consuming, and by design, CCPM isn’t as flexible as Agile frameworks. However, it is still one of the best methods for completing challenging manufacturing and construction projects. If you need software for your next construction project, check out our roundup of the best construction project management software.

We hope you found our guide to critical chain project management helpful. Do you use the CCPM method? What project management software do you use to help manage CCPM projects? Do you have any tips for successfully implementing CCPM? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading.

FAQ: CCPM Definition

  • Critical chain project management is a methodology that project leaders use to plan tasks, manage resources, remove project constraints and prevent scope creep.

  • Both are considered traditional project management methods and are similar in some ways, but they do have a few key differences. CPM uses a critical path to guide teams to the end of a project but doesn’t account for resources or constraints. CCPM also uses a critical path, but there is an increased focus on resources and potential constraints that could delay the project.

  • The benefits of critical chain project management include enhanced resource management, better focus on individual tasks, increased risk management measures and project buffers.

  • The most critical thing in project management is delivering your project on time — on or under budget — and appeasing stakeholders and clients.

Critical chain project management is a methodology that project leaders use to plan tasks, manage resources, remove project constraints and prevent scope creep.n”}},{“@type”:”Question”,”name”:”What Is Critical Chain vs Critical Path?”,”acceptedAnswer”:{“@type”:”Answer”,”text”:”

Both are considered traditional project management methods and are similar in some ways, but they do have a few key differences. CPM uses a critical path to guide teams to the end of a project but doesnu2019t account for resources or constraints. CCPM also uses a critical path, but there is an increased focus on resources and potential constraints that could delay the project.n”}},{“@type”:”Question”,”name”:”What Are the Benefits of Critical Chain Project Management?”,”acceptedAnswer”:{“@type”:”Answer”,”text”:”

The benefits of critical chain project management include enhanced resource management, better focus on individual tasks, increased risk management measures and project buffers.n”}},{“@type”:”Question”,”name”:”What Is Critical in Project Management?”,”acceptedAnswer”:{“@type”:”Answer”,”text”:”

The most critical thing in project management is delivering your project on time — on or under budget — and appeasing stakeholders and clients.n”}}]}]]>


  1. Improving focus and predictability with critical chain project management – PMI
  2. Boosting Construction Project Timeline: The Case of Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) – Livia Anastasiu, MDPI
  3. Mazda Executive Credits Theory of Constraints for Company Turnaround – pr.com

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