Breakthrough Project Management by Ian Heptinstall and Robert Bolton is a brief guide to getting significantly improved project performance through combining two management approaches: One is Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) and the other is collaborative contracting. CCPM is very familiar to me. Collaborative contracting (specifically Project Alliancing) is new and adds some meat to something I've seen in a lot of CCPM implementations - how to create the collaborative environment that is a bedrock of projects that really flow. Check the book website for more.
The book does a nice job of setting up the current challenges with the way projects are managed and coordinated today. In particular, it highlights the assumptions behind the way projects are managed - and with large projects how relationships with contractors and vendors is managed.
In short, traditional contractual terms all put the vendors into a bind, whether fixed price or time and materials or other variations. Do they do what is good for the project to help the client or do they do what is good for their company (or themselves)? Fixed price contracts by their very nature cause vendors to want to protect themselves and add contingency in the pricing and timing. Any opportunities the vendor sees to help the project (move faster or improve design) could be additional work - either with no benefit to the vendor or at extra change-fee costs to the client. Similarly with time and materials contracts, there may not be contingency in the initial offer, but the only way for the vendor to make more money is for the project to take longer or incur more costs. There is no benefit to the vendor to complete their work early.
What was new for me was the idea of collaborative contracting in a Project Alliance. Essentially, the idea is that the key partners in the project agree on their part of the fees, and those are guaranteed. The fees and bonuses are set so that everyone benefits from doing the right thing for the project - if "my" work increases but the project comes in faster, I am compensated if I have additional expenses AND we all get the benefit of finishing faster. Similarly, if the project takes longer (for any reason - no blaming), then everyone loses equally. The idea is to put into the contract the drivers for everyone to operate to the benefit of the whole system, not just their local portion. This reminds me of the talk I heard a few years ago from Gregory Howell of the Lean Construction Institute. In particular the quote I pulled from him, "Real collaboration happens when we agree to move money across borders."
It was this discussion about collaboration that turned on some lightbulbs for me. Whether or not collaboration is built into a contract, the idea that the project stakeholders be aligned on the goal of the project and agree to do whatever it takes is incredibly important. This is something that Critical Chain seeks to create, but the current writing about CCPM focuses so much on the mechanics buffers that it misses this more important aspect. In fact, if the collaborative environment cannot be built, the concept of holding safety at the project level breaks down. Everyone will want "their" safety, and it all falls back into the individual task owners to manager "their" work.
The thing is that this is a fiction. A fiction possibly brought about by the way we try to create plans that say task A then B then C with each task done by a different type of skill. The problem is that task B often needs more from task A than a simple handover - maybe there is knowledge embedded in the way task A did something that is critical to B (or to C!). The people who were involved in A can't simply walk away at the handoff. The team has to work together to make everything as smooth as possible - and this belies strict demarcation of "I work here" and "you work there". This is the beauty of the George Howell quote above.
So, give this book a read and see if it tells you anything new or interesting. For me the material on CCPM is a confirmation of what I have been doing for many years. And the material on Project Alliancing is new, and yet it rings bells for ensuring successful projects of any type.
Note: I know the authors, and Ian gave me a copy of the book hoping I would review here.