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Managing Your Project: Taking a Walk Down the Critical Path

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Marlene Gundlach • updated: 3/25/2013

This article explains the critical path and how to work with it while managing a project.

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    In Bright Hub PM's article about identifying the critical path, the writer deals with how to work with the critical path within the scope of Microsoft Project. Here, I will explain the critical path and how to work with it while managing a project.

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    What Is It?

    The critical path is a sequence of tasks assigned through the project team from the beginning to the end of the project. Each task has no delay between the finish of one and the start in another. In other words, if any task is delayed, the entirety of a project will be delayed. Often times, there is an overabundance of focus on the critical path and non-critical tasks are ignored or become delayed – eventually leading to a possible delay on the critical path.

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    How Do I Work With It?

    Using a Critical Path can help you manage your project in several circumstances:

    • You need to fast-track your project either because it is moving along too slowly or because the deadline is pushed up.
    • You want to identify possible places where the project can be delayed.
    • You wish to manage risk more carefully.
    • You wish to write a business plan and demonstrate that you can accomplish what you set out for.
    • You want a clear picture of the project start-to-finish with important milestones taken into account.

    It has already been mentioned that you can use MS Project to work with the Critical Path of a project, but there are other methods of doing this as well.

    A whiteboard can be utilized, and the Critical Path can be sketched out based upon a spreadsheet accounting of the Critical Path. While this method is old-fashioned, it can be helpful in smaller project management scenarios.

    One can utilize PlanBeePro to track the Critical Path of a project.This software helps to calculate a schedule with the following dates:

    • Early start
    • Late start
    • Early finish
    • Late finish
    • Float (slack, buffer time)

    PlanBeePro also helps to identify Critical Path activities.The path can be viewed either as a spreadsheet or as a PERT or Gantt chart.

    By carefully monitoring the Critical Path of a project, problems can be solved before they get out of hand. For example, if you see that one resource is bogged down in too many tasks or is falling behind on an assigned critical task, another available resource can be assigned. This way, the project manager ensures that delays are averted.

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