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Many project managers juggle more than one project plan simultaneously, whether they are smaller facets of a one larger project or multiple independent projects. In either case, it is imperative that they have the ability to look across all projects and have a sense of each one’s critical path timeline.
In Microsoft Office Project, the easiest way to do this is to create a master project plan and add the smaller, or individual projects, into it to keep track of each. This master project Gantt view will take the critical paths of each of the composite projects and use it to create a master critical path chart.
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What Is Critical Path?
The critical path of a project is the timeline generated by analyzing all the tasks in your project and determining which is a critical task, or one that drives the entire project timeline. For example, for Task 1 you might need to have documentation sent to a printer by a Date A to have the brochures published by the project end date. If the documentation is not ready by Date A then the printer cannot get it to you until after the due date, so Task 1 is considered a critical task because it is directly related to the completion date of the project. The critical path can be shown visually on a Gantt chart which strings together critical tasks by order of completion based on task relationships to help you determine if you will be hitting or missing your original project completion date.
To show the critical path for a project, switch your view to the Gantt chart and click the Gantt Chart Wizard button located at the end of the Formatting toolbar. There will be directions in the Wizard to produce the critical path timeline for your project.
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Create a Master Project
When you create a master project using projects you already have, you will essentially be adding them in as tasks. When you have finished adding them in, you may use the Gantt Chart Wizard to create the critical path across the individual projects to get a master critical path chart.
- To create a Master Project, open a new Project plan.
- Select the Gantt Chart view.
- Click on the top row of your Task Name column and make sure it is highlighted.
- From the Insert drop-down menu, select “Project" and choose a project you want to add to the master project view from the search box. You can choose to insert several projects at once by holding the CTRL button and highlighting them. When you have chosen the one(s) you want, select Insert.