The Benefit of Critical Path Method
Whether you are preparing for the PMP® exam, learning how to use a project schedule tool such as Microsoft Project, or developing a schedule for a new project, you have probably heard of the term “Critical Path Method”. If you are new to project management this may sound like a foreign language. This video white paper will help you better understand the basics behind critical path method, how it’s calculated, and how you can leverage it to help you better manage your projects.
What is Critical Path Method?
When planning all of the work that must occur in a project, it is important to understand the sequence in which the work can occur. Some activities will depend on other to complete before they can begin. Other project work may be completed at the same time, or in parallel. When developing a Network Diagram or Gantt Chart to help document the various sequences of work, we will often find multiple paths of work. Each path will likely have a different duration, some longer and some shorter than others. In order to complete the project, all of the work must be complete, therefore, the project cannot be completed any faster than it takes to complete the longest path of work. This longest path of activates can also be referred to as the Critical Path. Since each activity in the sequence must be completed in order, we say that the longest or critical path of the project determines the shortest possible project duration.
Why do we care?
In the management of the projects, we are constantly playing a balancing act, making customers happy, finishing on schedule, finishing on budget, and juggling resources. When balancing all of these responsibilities, it is important to prioritize our efforts. Identifying the critical path can help us do just that. When assigning and leveling organization resources, it makes the most sense to prioritize resource utilization on activities that are found on the critical path as opposed to ones that aren’t. Further, if crashing techniques (increasing resources spending to reduce schedule) are utilized, we want to make sure we are doing this for activities that will actually have an impact on the completion of the project.
There are many ways to prioritize project work; technical difficulty, cost risk, schedule risk, customer facing, etc. Critical Path Method allows the project team to better understand which activities are truly driving the completion date of the project allowing for control of resources and decision making. While typically first calculated near the beginning of project planning, it is important to revisit throughout the project lifecycle as non-critical activities running late can cause the critical path to change. While this whitepaper only scratches the surface on Critical Path Method, we hope it has provided a good introduction as to how it be leveraged for better project scheduling.