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Predict Project's Future with Cumulative Flow Diagram

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Our summary and key takeaways

Any project manager faces this problem – trying to estimate how a project will go, at which point will it begin to shake and crumble, or will it exceed everyone's expectations and get done before its time? Kanban offers some help regarding these issues, as described by Charan Atreya.

Starting to manage with Critical Chain

In Charan's experience as soon as the estimates get done, they start to be treated like deadlines, and to nobody's surprise this creates a series of unexpected consequences and failure. What he resolved to do is adopt the Critical Chain method (one that puts emphasis on resources needed to complete tasks, as described by Eliyahu M. Goldratt). By doing this Charan gained the ability to estimate success or failure better. He also utilized a Kanban board to visualize the task switching and limit multi-tasking,

A problem

The approach had worked until a new project came along, and much different too. Since there was no possibility to estimate resources, because the road map creation was taking a long time and initial work needed to begin, the Critical Chain approach was no longer applicable.

Going for Kanban alone

The new idea was to go along with Charan's long-time belief in Kanban as an execution process, not a planning one, and thereby exclude Critical Chain altogether and stick to just Kanban. But that left the issue of planning the project unsolved. But sticking to Kanban alone was paired with Charan's brainwave of questioning the need of a detailed plan in general. As he knew what the team was meant to achieve within a year anyway, and it was clear that the plans will change many times within the process, it's save to say that detailed planning could be just a waste of time.

Now, the goal had been defined as committing to deliveries that bring the highest value to the product only. Together with the sponsor, they've agreed to bring the product up to date in small chunks. The sponsor will be responsible for prioritizing the issues, and the team will focus on delivering as fast as possible. As to budget – it's been decided on incremental rather than bulk funding.

Project management

Now, a Kanban board has brought tasks visualization and an ability to effectively limit the work in progress. As to measuring the flow over time, Charan had resorted to utilizing of the Cumulative Flow Chart. He began by following daily progress in each stage and drawing it up against time passed. This showed in a very readable way how the tasks were progressing through the system. Also, thanks to this information he was able to predict how long in may take for the future tasks to be completed, basing on the team's performance, not guesswork. By following the tasks from start to finish along the graph, Charan had also managed to read out the average cycle time, which in turn provided the capability to accurately estimate delivery rates for projects, provided he only knew the total number of tasks involved.


Thanks to simplifying the planning approach, as well as applying Kanban, Charan had been able to limit the number of charts necessary to follow to one, which is a remarkable result and improvement for any project manager. Not to mention the gained ability to better predict the future of the project and provide accurate estimates to the clients.

Read our article on Cumulative Flow Diagram »