In this video, Jennifer Bridges, PMP, outlines how to find the critical path on your project.
In Review: How to Keep an Eye on Your Project’s Critical Path
The critical path is one of the more important tools used by a project managers, as Jennifer indicated. Therefore, it’s crucial to clarify what it is. The critical path is the longest duration path through a network diagram and determines the shortest time to complete a project.
The network diagram illustrates the activities that are networked together with different dependencies, each pinned to an early or late start date, so you can better calculate the project flow. Jennifer pointed out some uses for a critical path, which are as follows:
- Shows how long the project will take
- Determines where to focus your efforts
- Where to compress the schedule
- Which activities have float
These are just some of the uses of the critical path. It’s important to always have an eye on the critical path through your project to keep it on time and within budget.
Pro-Tip: When resources are completing tasks, make sure their activity is noted on the critical path. Stakeholders or team members may be concerned about the state of various tasks throughout the lifespan of the project, but a critical path helps you maintain your focus on what’s important.
Thanks for watching!
Hello. I’m Jennifer Whitt, Director of ProjectManager.com. Well, welcome to our whiteboard session today on how to keep an eye on your project critical path. The critical path is one of the strongest tools a project manager can have in their toolbox. Let’s take a look and clarify what it is. If you’ve watched any of my other whiteboard sessions, I recommend to either Google or find a resource for a proper definition of each term. Let’s look at critical path. The critical path is the longest duration path through a network diagram and determines the shortest time to complete the project. In essence, your project can’t finish any earlier than the longest time it’s going to take to get something done.
Just a refresher on what a critical path or a network diagram looks like, here’s a network diagram. It’s activities that are networked together with different dependencies. For each activity there is an activity early start, late start, and so you calculate the float. If you need a refresher on how to calculate float, then reference one of our other whiteboard sessions. Here is an example. There’s activity one, two, three, four, and five. We’re looking at two different paths to finish something. If we go this path, the duration of this path is 13 weeks. If we go through this path, the duration is 18 weeks. The project can’t finish any earlier than 18 weeks.
Let’s take a look at some of the uses for the critical path. The critical path is going to show you how long the project will take. This is the critical path. The float, as you remember, the float is zero for each of these tasks. That’s what determines the critical path. You can determine the critical path manually. If you have a short project this is doable manually. Or hopefully, you have a project management tool that would do that for you. For many activities it will continue to calculate the critical path for you. This is what it looks like.
The critical path will also help you determine where to focus your project management efforts. For instance, you’ll want to continually look at these times when things are finishing. As people are tracking time and completing tasks, you want to make sure you’re keeping an eye on these activities that are on the critical path. Sometimes, I’m sure you’ve been in meetings where maybe your stakeholders or team members are getting excited about certain tasks. Maybe equipment’s not coming in on time or you can’t get the equipment or maybe critical resources. But if they’re not on this critical path, you have some leeway.
It’s important to know which tasks you actually have float. For instance, this task has five weeks of float so you have some leeway there. I’ve seen sometimes where stakeholders or team members get excited about something that sounds like a big thing, but if it’s not on the critical path it’s not going to impact your project.
It also helps you know where to compress the schedule. If you want to make this time any shorter, you’ve got to find ways to compress these activities. Then it also shows you which activities actually have float. These activities are on the critical path so there’s no float, there’s no leeway to get any float. You can’t extend it without making the project longer. But on this one, this has a float of five weeks so you do have some leeway. These are some of the uses of the critical path. This is where and how to keep an eye on your critical path and helps you keep your project on time within budget. If you need a tool that can help you with your critical path, then sign up for our software now at ProjectManager.com.