Categorized | Management

What Is A Project Critical Path And Why Is It Critical?

If you think of your project as a journey, with the completed project deliverables as the end-destination, you will realize that you will need to follow a certain route with specific landmarks to get there. That’s your project critical path. Simple, isn’t it?

The PMBOK Definition

One of the textbook definitions of the project critical path is by the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). Here, the critical path is described as “the sequence of scheduled activities that determines the duration of the project.” It is also a type of methodology recommended to “determine the amount of float on various logical network paths in the project schedule network to determine the minimum total project duration.” Sounds complicated? It really shouldn’t be.

The Project Critical Path– How You Get To Your Goal

Put simply, the project critical path is a timeline listing all the tasks that determine when the end date of your schedule will be. Here’s how it works– if one task on that timeline is delayed, everything else gets delayed, depending on how long the delay is for that one task. If other tasks on the path get delayed, the total timeline gets delayed too. These are called the critical tasks, and on a normal project management Gantt chart, they appear in red.

Not all the tasks involved in your project management schedule are (or need to be) on the project critical path schedule. These are the tasks that have slack– a certain allowable amount of time that can lapse before it affects your end date or deadline. On a Gantt chart, these appear in blue, with the slack appearing as a thin line.

Why You Need To Determine The Critical Tasks And the Critical Path

The critical path is necessary in the course of project management because this determines whether or not you are on schedule and will finish the project on time. This requires that you figure out which are the critical tasks and the resources allocated to them in order to finish on time. Should there be changes affecting this schedule in the course of the project, looking at the critical path will also help you decide whether or not resources must be allocated.

How To Determine The Critical Tasks

There are several factors that determine a critical task. Among these are:
1. Absolutely no slack
2. Has a deadline that does not go beyond the project’s finish date
3. Has a “must start” indicator
4. Has a “must finish by (date)” indicator

Once a critical task is finished, it no longer becomes part of the critical task since it no longer affects the end of the project.

On Multiple Critical Tasks

Can a project have multiple critical paths? The answer is yes and no. Good project management requires that there only be one overall critical path. What makes up multiple critical paths are sub-projects– tasks that are composed of their own sub-tasks that need to be completed before the specific tasks can be fulfilled. Large-scale projects often have this structure.

Creating the project critical path is one of the most important methodologies of project management and a crucial element in getting things done. Get it right and you’ll be right on schedule!

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