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Sustainability: Moving from Common Sense to Common Practice
2016 International Conference
Leesburg, VA - National Conference Center

September 18th - 21st

Critical Chain: A Paradigm Shift for Project Management What is Necessary for a New Paradigm to become Common Practice?

Richard Zultner - Adjunct Professor at the Wesley J. Howe School of Technology Management, at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey

For TOC applications such as Critical Chain to become permanent in an organization, it is not sufficient to train new behaviors and practices. Locking in the gains requires a deep understanding of why behaviors and practices must change — the mindset of champions and implementers must shift to a new paradigm.

What is a Paradigm Shift? Fifty years ago, Thomas Kuhn, in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, documented the thought revolution physics went through fifty years earlier in moving from Newtonian physics to relativity and quantum mechanics. Thirty years ago, Joel Barker, in his The New Business of Paradigms, popularized the paradigm concept, and showed that all organizations and disciplines can be disrupted by paradigm shifts. But not every change, or every new technology, is a new paradigm. How can we spot the emergence of a new paradigm (when we can’t understand it, initially)? Clearly superior performance… Example

Why does it matter if a change is a paradigm shift, or not? To those minds mired in the old paradigm (which is everyone, initially), the new paradigm just "doesn’t make sense”. As Kuhn and Barker show, they literally cannot understand, and cannot see, what makes the new paradigm work. They don’t "get it”. They tend to focus on any easily observable difference, and fail to understand the thinking behind those differences. And as centuries of paradigm shift history shows, what cannot be understood, cannot become accepted — or common practice. Instead, it evaporates… Until enough people can be educated in the new paradigm, and they understand it.

Critical Chain example

Why is Critical Chain (and other ToC Applications) a Paradigm Shift?. Kuhn and Barker define what a paradigm is, and how paradigm shifts happen. Critical Chain project management is a textbook example of a paradigm shift, and it’s implementation leads to clearly superior performance.


What to Change?
The Problem: What happens when we implement Critical Chain (or other TOC applications) without recognizing that they are Paradigm Shifts? We train (some) people in what to do differently, new behaviors, how to do new tasks, and use new methods. Dramatic results appear. But these results are fragile, and often evaporate as champions and implementers move up and out, and new people with traditional paradigms enter the organization. The gains have not been locked in, in the most important place — the minds of a sufficient critical mass of people.

What to Change to?
We want to change from the traditional project management paradigm to the new paradigm of Critical Chain project management. But we want to do so with full knowledge that this is a paradigm shift, and therefore the change will evaporate unless the minds of a critical mass of champions and implementers are consciously comfortable in the new paradigm. They must deeply understand why the behaviors and practices of Critical Chain are different, and be able to correctly create their own adaptations and improvements when situations change and new challenges arise.

How to Cause the Change?
Make the paradigm shift permanent with Education, not just Training. Intentionally educate a critical mass of Critical Chain champions and implementers on an ongoing basis in the new paradigm. Check that deep understanding has been attained. We must lock in the new mindset of the implementing organization so it is robust with respect to personnel changes and new challenges.


Richard Zoultner is an international educator, consultant, speaker, and podcaster.

He is an Adjunct Professor at the Wesley J. Howe School of Technology Management, at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. He teaches the StrategicPerspectives on Project Management course, which he helped develop. This course presents the Project Value Management approach, with methods taken from single- and multi-project critical chain, statistical project control, project quality function deployment, failure mode effect analysis, and the analytic hierarchy process.

Richard is also a Founder of the QFD Institute, a non-profit research organization dedicated to the advancement of Quality Function Deployment. His specialty is the rapid delivery of high-tech software-intensive systems using daily management methods such as statistical process control, cross-functional management techniques such as quality function deployment, and project management paradigms such as critical chain. For his work in this area, he has received the International Akao QFD Prize — one of twenty-six people in the world so honored to date.

He is an avid and long-time student of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. His clients are high-tech software-intensive organizations ranging from huge corporations to tiny new ventures, in North America, Europe, and Asia.

Richard has a Master's in Management (M.M.) from the J. L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, and a Bachelor's in Philosophy (A.B.) from the College of William & Mary in Virginia.
  • Project Management Professional (PMI)
  • Jonah (AGI), Certified Critical Chain
  • Expert (TOCICO)
  • Certified Quality Engineer
  • Certified Software Quality Engineer (ASQ)
  • Certified Quality Analyst (QAI)
  • Certificate in Data Processing
  • Certified Systems Professional (ICCP)
  • Six Sigma Black Belt, Six Sigma Master
  • Black Belt, Quality Function Deployment
  • Red Belt 

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