How to cut project durations from 25-50% with no increase in costs!

[With thanks to Eliyahu Goldratt creator of the theory of constraints & the critical chain method for scheduling projects.]

Constantly Changing Priorities

In every industry and from all levels of the organization, participants in our critical thinking and project management workshops share a common set of complaints including overwork, out of control projects and the lack of clear priorities. People report being told on one hand that everything is a priority and on the other that a new high priority item must be addressed ASAP. What can be done to reduce the confusion and improve work productivity, satisfaction, and shrink the time it takes to do projects? Here is one powerful idea.

First, leadership needs to assign each project a priority ranking. And second, project resource managers must ensure that the highest priority project always has all the resources needed to move forward. In this way the top priority project will be completed as rapidly as possible, then the next priority project, and so forth. This disciplined approach will dramatically reduce average project duration.

A Simple Example:

You are responsible for assigning work crews to paint new houses. Tomorrow six house projects become available for your department to paint. You have six painters on staff. Each house requires six person-days of painting to complete. How should you distribute the work? Consider the following two options.

ALL-AT-ONCE or NO PRIORITY approach: Assign one person per house working all projects simultaneously. Six days will elapse to complete each house.

ONE-BY-ONE or CLEAR PRIORITY approach: Use all six people to paint one house at a time. This will result in one house being completed each day.

Which strategy is better? The All-At-Once approach requires six days per house. But, the One-By-One strategy cuts average project duration significantly. See “Days To Finish” and “Days Saved” columns for each project (house) using the CLEAR PRIORITY approach.

Clear Priority Approach



Days To Finish

Days Saved


1st day




2nd day




3rd day




4th day




5th day




6th day



The One-By-One Strategy allows five of the houses to be done earlier than the All-At-Once Strategy. The average number elapsed days, start to finish, for each house is just 3.5 days vs. 6. That is 42% sooner!

How might departments with limited resources apply these principles?

The two project approaches differed in the average time from start to completion. The one that reduced average time-per-project put available resources to work on one project at a time. This is the clear priority approach. Similarly, when a department or resource unit has work to perform on multiple projects, the best way to speed projects on to the next department or resource unit is to focus on one project at a time. Avoid multitasking or needlessly working on multiple projects at the same time. The negative impact of multitasking accumulates as project work moves from department to department and delays the completion of all projects. This in turn delays revenues or other benefits a series of completed projects would produce.

Why do departments and resource units multitask?

Multitasking is encouraged when departments are held accountable for showing progress on multiple projects over the same short time period. Add to this the common practice of failing to identify the priority of projects (or making all projects high priority) and it is not surprising that multitasking is a the primary culprit of projects coming in late and over budget. Part of the solution is to establish clear priorities so that each department or resource unit knows which project gets first and full attention. No department should ever be forced to wait while another department addresses lower priority work unnecessarily.


Focusing efforts on the highest priority project possible will result in minimum project durations. It is the completion of projects that allows the organization to gain benefits – more effective internal systems, better cash flow, and increased total revenue.

If you have questions about project management, please contact BPI. We would be happy to speak with you about how to improve performance. Our Critical Thinking for Leaders methods help make sure the right projects are selected and our Systematic Project Management methods help teams implement those projects quickly.