Scheduling is all about getting things done on time and within budget. It’s one of the most important aspects of planning for a project.
The most popular tool to schedule projects is the Gantt chart, which lets you create a visual timeline for your project. Finding the critical path on a Gantt chart helps you achieve your project goals faster and more efficiently. But before we learn how to identify the critical path in a Gantt chart, let’s start by defining what’s critical path in project management.
What Is the Critical Path?
The concept of critical path comes from the critical path method, a project planning technique. The critical path of a project is the longest sequence of dependent tasks or activities and the amount of time it takes to complete them from beginning to end. Gantt charts allow you to visualize your whole project schedule, so that’s why you can find the critical path with a Gantt chart.
By using the critical path method, you focus on the critical tasks so you can better manage task dependencies and create a realistic schedule for the project. Now you know which tasks must be completed, and which can be skipped if necessary due to time, scope or cost constraints.
You can calculate the critical path by hand, but most project managers use Gantt chart software. ProjectManager is a cloud-based project management software that has multiple project views and allows anyone, anywhere to work how they want. ProjectManager’s online Gantt chart can link task dependencies, set milestones and quickly filter for the critical path. Get started with ProjectManager for free today.
What Is a Gantt Chart?
A Gantt chart is a bar chart that visualizes the project schedule from start to finish. The Gantt diagram has been a staple of scheduling and a fundamental feature of project management software.
The Gantt chart is divided into two parts. On the left side is a spreadsheet that lists the tasks, start and end dates, priority and more depending on the type being used. On the right side is the bar chart that reflects the information collected on the left side.
A Gantt chart is used during the planning stage of the project after all the tasks have been identified using a work breakdown structure (WBS), a tree diagram. It’s commonplace to create the schedule on the Gantt with an early start time approach, which means each task starts right after the other ends, which helps maximize floating tasks or float time.
How to Display the Critical Path on a Gantt Chart
The critical path and Gantt charts fit hand-to-glove in project scheduling because the critical path outlines the sequence of tasks that could delay your project. To do so means you need to follow these four steps:
Step 1: List Tasks
Tasks are small sets of work that lead to your final deliverable. All the tasks required to complete your project must be listed. As noted above, this can be done with a WBS, which has the final deliverable on top and the tasks that lead there branching downwards. This provides you with a thorough list of tasks, activities and deliverables needed to complete the project.
Step 2: Set Duration
The duration is the time it takes to complete each of the tasks you collected in step one. Adding these together will give you the full project duration. There are many ways to estimate time. This includes looking up historical data for projects that are similar to the one you are currently managing to meeting with your team, stakeholders and experts to get their opinions.
Step 3: Identify Dependencies
There are four types of task dependencies: finish-to-start, finish-to-finish, start-to-start and start-to-finish. Being able to identify dependencies in your project can help you to avoid bottlenecks as you can plan ahead and allocate resources (people, materials, equipment, etc.) as needed to keep the project on schedule.
Step 4: Add Logical End Points
This is where add milestones, which are important dates that indicate the end of one project phase and the beginning of the next. You can also add the deliverable items to the Gantt chart. Then, find the longest path of sequence tasks or set of links from start to the project completion and that’s your critical path.
Example – Showing the Critical Path on a Gantt Chart
Let’s see what the critical path looks like on a Gantt chart by creating a very simple project. There are many tasks involved, but we’ll just list about 10 of the basic ones. Below is an illustration of the project tasks and duration on a Gantt chart:
Free Critical Path Gantt Chart Template
If you want to try that on your own, ProjectManager has dozens of free templates that help with every aspect of project management. Let’s try the free IT project plan template. Though designed for an IT project plan, it is laid out on a Gantt chart that you can customize either on the free Excel template or free in ProjectManager.
If you choose to use the free ProjectManager in-app template, you’ll be connected to a powerful project management software that helps you organize your work and execute it more efficiently.
ProjectManager’s Gantt Chart Automatically Calculates the Critical Path
Using the IT project plan free in ProjectManager has many advantages to a standalone template that takes time to update and is cut off from the rest of your project management tools. Our interactive Gantt chart does everything a Gantt chart is famous for, from organizing tasks, setting milestones, linking dependencies and viewing your entire project on a visual timeline.
Lay Out Your Entire Project on Gantt Charts
As mentioned above, once you have your schedule in the Gantt chart, just filter for the critical path. That’s it. There are no complicated equations or calculations necessary. Once you have your schedule and budget completed in the Gantt, you can then set a baseline. This captures your plan and uses it to compare to your actual progress and tracks your progress in real time.
Work With Your Team
ProjectManager turns your Gantt chart a collaborative platform. You can attach files and documents on individual tasks. Assigned team members can add comments and communicate with others on the team no matter where they are. Even if someone on the project team isn’t assigned to the task, just tag them and they’re brought into the chat. Email notifications and in-app alerts keep you always updated.
Track Progress in Real-Time
You can further track the progress of your project on the real-time dashboard, which is fully integrated with the Gantt chart. When tasks are updated, the dashboard captures that data and makes the calculations automatically. Then displays the results in easy-to-read graphs and charts showing time, cost, workload and more. You don’t have to spend your valuable time configuring our live dashboard like with inferior software. It’s up and ready to go when you are.
ProjectManager is awarding-winning hybrid work management software. See why over 35,000 professionals are using our tool at organizations as varied as Seimens, NASA and Nestles to connect and succeed no matter if they work in a traditional, agile or hybrid environment. Get started for free with ProjectManager today!