Everyone in the business community considers deadlines sacred. Still, while reality sometimes makes one realize that we rarely have full control over all the activities we carry out, and obstacles appear at the least expected moments, one can reach for tools to help deliver projects within the set deadline.

One is the so-called critical path method, sometimes called PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) or CPM (Critical Path Method). Below we explain exactly what this technique is all about, what benefits it brings to an organization as well as show how to apply it to ensure the expected results.

What is the critical path method?

It is a project management technique for planning tasks and setting a schedule for their completion. It is very popular in various industries – from construction to programming to events. CPM’s primary task is to identify the longest sequence of tasks in a project to determine the minimum time needed to complete the project and achieve the desired outcome.

However, as part of the process, first and foremost you need to identify those activities whose delay will result in putting the whole project behind schedule. What’s more, you have to determine what actions to take to minimize the effects of the resulting lag.

Why use the critical path method?

The critical path method is particularly handy in both small and large projects, where several tasks depend on each other, making it necessary to meticulously plan and constantly monitor the pace of their implementation.

In such cases, CPM helps designers, engineers, entrepreneurs and managers to effectively manage their time and resources – so that the project can progress in time. It allows you to accurately plan the project schedule, identify key tasks and dependencies between them, and predict which moments could become potentially detrimental and translate into the entire project holdup.

Applying the critical path method

Employing the critical path method to an ongoing project requires careful planning, forethought and monitoring – but above all, a flexible approach, especially in the situation of delays.

In this regard, it is worth reaching for special project management software (such as Firmbee), which will significantly facilitate and streamline the process of planning and management of projects based on the discussed tool. This type of software will help with the necessary steps listed below.

  1. Identify tasks – at the very beginning you should write down all the tasks that need to be completed for the project to be completed.
  2. Create a network of tasks – as part of the second step, you need to create a network of links between the various tasks, that is, indicate which will be performed first and which are necessary so that the next task can be performed.
  3. Determine duration – based on historical data (or estimates, if you don’t have data from previous projects), you predict how much time will be needed to complete each task. In this area, you can take care to ensure that you have a time reserve, i.e., assign additional execution time to “less important” tasks to protect the project schedule from unforeseen delays.
  4. Calculate the time of outset and termination – taking into account the duration and dependencies between tasks, it is indicated within the next step when each activity will start and end.
  5. Develop a critical path – this step involves drawing a sequence of tasks that are most critical to the project schedule, i.e., those whose delay will set back the entire project (mainly because subsequent activities depend on it).
  6. Monitor progress – staying put and checking that the project is duly executed should ensure that delays get promptly prevented(e.g., by allocating additional resources such as people, materials or equipment to speed up implementation).
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Critical path method – summary

If you apply the critical path method properly (i.e., key tasks are well identified and project control is in place at all times), it can greatly facilitate project management no matter what industry you are in. However, you have to keep in mind that it is just one of many project management tools to exploit, and like all the others, it has its drawbacks.

Difficulties in its use can arise, for example, when the tasks are new and the timing of their completion is problematic. In addition, the method in question assumes that the dependencies between tasks are rigid, which in practice does not always turn out to be true (it does not take into account variability and risks affecting the project). All in all, remember to employ the critical path method with a fully flexible approach.

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Author: Caroline Becker

As a Project Manager, Caroline is an expert in finding new methods to design the best workflows and optimize processes. Her organizational skills and ability to work under time pressure make her the best person to turn complicated projects into reality.