Do you remember your teachers in school giving you tips on how to write an exam? Most teachers advise you to solve the difficult questions first, not spend too much time on any one question, and to divide your time equally between all the sections. In short, you’re asked to find the most time-effective way to complete a paper.

At the workplace, project managers also need to finish their assignments in a timely manner. Given the complexity of the projects, the managers need to adopt smart tactics to meet their deadlines. One such powerful technique is the Critical Path Method or CPM. Want to know more about it? Read on!

What Is The Critical Path Method?

Project managers are often given large and complex projects to finish within stringent deadlines. A Critical Path Method helps them keep projects on track and finish them well in time. Before we explore the Critical Path Method any further, let’s look at what a ‘critical path’ means.

The critical path is the longest distance between the beginning and the end of a project. It includes the time duration of the project and all the tasks in between. Once these parameters are determined, you have a clear picture of the project’s actual schedule and know exactly where to focus your efforts.

There can be multiple critical paths in one project, depending on its requirements. Every critical path depends on several factors that influence your project:

  • Duration of each task

  • Dependency between each task

  • Milestones or targets

  • Deadlines (set by stakeholders)

The Critical Path Method is used to analyze, plan and schedule projects. A simple but powerful tool, it helps determine which aspects of a project are ‘critical’ and identify the best way to use the available resources to meet deadlines. A CPM comprises four essential elements:

  • Critical Path Analysis 

This is the process of identifying the duration of individual tasks of the project and the dependencies between the tasks. It also identifies the expected delays, if any

  • Float Determination 

Also known as slack, ‘float’ is the amount of time you can afford to delay the project without changing the date of completion

  • Early Start And Early Finish Calculation 

As the name suggests, you can assign the earliest start and finish dates for each of the tasks. The dates will work only if you stick to your timeline

  • Late Start And Late Finish Calculation

Similar to the early start and finish dates, you can choose the latest dates by which you can finish your tasks. This acts as an ultimatum for you

What Is The Purpose Of The Critical Path Method?

Let’s look at the benefits of a critical path in project management:

  1. Reduces Delays

You gauge every task’s timeline as you determine the earliest/latest start and finish dates. These dates act as minor deadlines for you to pursue your targets. When you continue to optimize your work by tracking the timeline, you stay on track and avoid delays.

  1. Optimizes Efficiency

The CPM helps underline the sequence of activities and provides information about how you can optimize your work along the critical path. Having a clearer idea of your tasks helps you plan better and allocate resources accordingly.

  1. Improves Organization

A critical path in project management helps you break down large and complex projects into deliverables, sequences and milestones. You can identify constraints, visualize dependencies between activities and define your path, which, in turn, enhances project organization.

How To Use A Critical Path Method?

Step 1: Identify Tasks

You can use the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) to identify the different tasks that the project should be broken down into. This tool will help you break large and complex projects into smaller components or deliverables. This makes your CPM more efficient since tasks are more manageable.

Step 2: Determine Dependencies

To determines dependencies, you can bifurcate your tasks into two categories

  • Dependent tasks, which are dependent on other tasks for their completion

  • Concurrent tasks, which are independent and can be completed parallelly alongside others.

Step 3: Create A Network Diagram

Once your activities and dependencies have been identified, create a network diagram to connect them sequentially. You can use arrows to determine the sequence or the path between each activity, which will also act as the foundation of your critical path.

Step 4: Estimate Duration

Critical path analysis is only effective if you have determined the duration of each activity as well as the maximum time taken from the start to the end of the project. If one activity requires more time, you should adjust your timeline and allocate resources accordingly.

Step 5: Calculate The Critical Path

The longest activity sequence that connects all dependent and concurrent activities after determining individual timelines constitutes your critical path. Keep updating your diagram as and when you finish a task as it helps to track your progress.

Efficient project management not only improves leadership qualities but also motivates others to drive project goals. The CPM, in particular, provides direction, allowing you to navigate roadblocks with greater efficiency. If you want to learn how to grab the initiative and take a fresh approach to problem-solving, try Harappa Education’s Learning Expertly course today. Kolb’s Learning Cycle will help you learn, unlearn and relearn from life’s experiences. The Growth Mindset approach will teach you ways to identify areas for self-improvement. Work strategically and your performance will speak for itself!


Explore topics such as Project Management, Project Management Process, Project Management Triple Constraint & What is PERT? from Harappa Diaries and learn to efficiently streamline your work.

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