In the 1950s, the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Ballistic Missile (Polaris) Program and an American chemical company called El DuPont du Demours Company worked on two separate projects at the same time that had nothing to do with each other.
Critical path was first made to estimate how long each task would take and help each of these projects that were behind schedule get back on track. Today, the critical path method is used to find the most important tasks and make sure your project doesn’t get behind schedule.
What is the critical path method (CPM)?
The critical path method (CPM) is a way to figure out what tasks are needed to finish a project and how flexible the schedule can be. In project management, a critical path is the longest chain of tasks that must be done on time for the whole project to be finished. If important tasks aren’t done on time, the rest of the project will also be late.
CPM is all about finding the most important tasks in a project’s timeline, figuring out how tasks depend on each other, and figuring out how long each task will take.
History of CPM
In the late 1950s, Morgan R. Walker and James E. Kelley came up with the critical path method. The critical path method (CPM) comes from the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT), which is a similar method that is often used with CPM.
CPM Key Elements
Before we can learn how to figure out the critical path, we need to know a few important CPM concepts.
Earliest start time: This is the earliest time that a task in your project can be started. You can’t figure this out until you know if any tasks depend on each other.
Latest start time (LS): This is the very last minute you can start a task before it threatens to push back the schedule for your project.
Earliest finish time (EF): The earliest a task can be finished, based on how long it takes and when it begins.
The latest time an activity can be finished, based on how long it takes and when it started.
Float, also called “slack,” is a term for how long you can put off a task before it affects the order of other tasks and the project schedule. Tasks on the critical path have no wiggle room because they can’t be put off.
Why use the critical path method?
CPM can give you important information about how to plan projects, divide up resources, and schedule tasks.
Here are a few good reasons to use this method
CPM helps plan for the future because it can be used to compare expected progress to actual progress. The data from current projects can be used to help plan for future projects.
CPM helps project managers put tasks in order of importance, which gives them a better idea of how and where to use resources.
Helps avoid bottlenecks: When projects get stuck, valuable time is lost. Using a network diagram to show project dependencies will help you figure out which tasks can and can’t be done at the same time, so you can plan your schedule accordingly.
How does the critical path method help teams?
The critical path helps teams figure out which tasks are the most important for a project. But if you’re an experienced project manager working on a project you’ve done before, you might not have any trouble finding these important tasks. So, what does it matter?
Here are three more ways that critical path, especially if you use Smartsheet, can help your project succeed:
• Shorter timelines: When the critical path method is shown as a bar chart, like a Gantt chart, you can see the critical path activities as well as how long each task will take and in what order. Critical path tasks are highlighted in red in Smartsheet, so they are easy to see at a glance. This gives you a better idea of your project’s timeline and how tasks relate to each other. This gives you a better idea of which task durations you can change and which must stay the same. If you want to finish the project in less time, it’s easy to see which tasks could have their time cut down the most.
• Better use of resources: When there are a lot of things going on, the critical path shows what needs to happen next and who needs to do it. Once you know who is responsible for these important tasks, you can get rid of competing priorities or a lack of direction. Everyone on the team knows what needs to be done, and the project manager can better decide how to use the team’s resources.
• Better planning: You can also use the critical path method to compare planned progress to actual progress. During a project, the PM can find out which tasks have already been done, how long they are expected to take, and if there are any plans to change how long tasks will take in the future. The result will be a schedule that is always up-to-date, which, when put next to the original project timeline, will show how planned progress compares to actual progress.
The critical path method is a way to figure out which tasks are necessary for a project to be finished. In project management, the critical path is the longest chain of tasks that must be done on time for the whole project to be finished. Here are the steps you need to take to figure out the critical path for your next project.