How to Chart Your Critical Path for Project Management

Do you know how to deliver business value to your project management customers in the shortest amount of time?  No? Then, you need to start with a critical path.

A project’s critical path includes all the items that must be delivered, as well as the projected effort needed to complete these items.

As a project manager, I think it is very important to understand the scope of the project you are managing, and it’s equally important to understand what it will take to deliver business value to the customer in speediest amount of time.  This should be one of the items a PM should leverage as they manage each project.

How to Set Up a Critical Path

Calculating the critical path requires the essential task of communicating to team members and stakeholders the projected timeline and other needs for the project, including budget and resources.

In calculating the timeline, one key thing to consider is how each item can affect the critical path. If there are items on the critical path that need to be delivered within one day and one of those items slip, the schedule for all the items will always be off by one day, or by one item.

A critical path considers scope and dependencies between the items. Without completing a scope or inter-dependencies of the items, it will be difficult to track a project’s success.

Slack is another thing to consider when creating a critical path. When determining the actual scope based on a critical path, there may be some dependencies that cause “slack” or room in the schedule.

The slack will allow smaller items to be considered, as part of the scope of the overall project, but those smaller items can also be eliminated to ensure mandatory items are completed.

3 Steps Down the Path

When calculating the Critical Path of a project, you’ll need to consider three things:

  1. The work to complete the scope – determined by completing a work breakdown structure.
  2. An estimate of the amount of effort required to complete the mandatory      items on the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).
  3. The dependencies between the items on the plan.

Using these values, you can calculate the Critical Path Method (CPM). It is based on the longest path of planned activities, or items, to the end of the project, and the earliest and latest that each activity can start and finish without making the project longer.

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