There has been no shortage of firefighting in recent news, and my heart goes out to those that have been impacted by these natural disasters. It always strikes the scientist in me, that so many things in nature can be a metaphor for what we see in life, and especially in business.
Tsunami’s? How about the 2007 Financial Crisis?
Earthquakes? How about Brexit?
I could go on and on, but today I want to focus on Fire and how it moves and spreads. And how it relates specifically to Project Management.
When a fire is under control it can keep you warm, generate energy, and illuminate. Lose control of that fire and it can be dangerous, unpredictable and consume everything in its path.
Managing a project can be very similar— manage it properly and it can be an enjoyable, comfortable ride. Lose control, and careers can be shattered.
As project managers it is our job to manage the critical path of a project and the accompanying execution speed. When this is under control the project is stable and it’s a predictable and comfortable experience for all the stakeholders involved; however, when control is lost, the project can quickly explode into a hot inferno of cascading problems.
When fire fighters manage a fire, they use many techniques to control the blaze. For example, they use a technique called back burning. Back burning ironically involves intentionally starting small fires along a man-made or natural firebreak in front of a main fire front. Back burning reduces the amount of fuel that's available to the main fire by the time that it reaches the burnt area.2
In project management, similar techniques can be used. Much like in fire-fighting, a project manager wants to control the project and not have the project in control. The best way to do that is to understand the critical path. Controlling and managing the critical path and even better the critical chain (which is the resource constrained critical path), is the best way to avoid project wildfire and to successfully execute a project in a controlled manner.