Handling multiple project tasks on tight deadlines can get chaotic without good planning. A project roadmap can help you visualize all the tasks that need to be completed and juggle it all like a pro.
The Critical Path Method (CPM) can help you build a clear project roadmap. It’s a powerful technique used by project managers to analyze, plan, and schedule large, complex projects. It allows teams to manage task dependencies and set realistic deadlines.
What Is the Critical Path Method?
The Critical Path Method (CPM) helps you identify the longest sequence of tasks teams must complete to deliver a project. These tasks are considered critical activities because if teams delay them, the entire project completion will be delayed.
Along with identifying the most crucial tasks, CPM also identifies the dependencies between the tasks and the duration that each activity will take to complete.
Project managers use CPM for project planning and task prioritization. By finding the critical path, PMs break down complex projects into individual tasks in the process and better understand the project’s flexibility.
When You Should Use the Critical Path Method
CPM is applicable for most projects and especially those that:
- Consist of a well-defined collection of activities.
- Involve activities that may be started and stopped independently of each other within a given sequence.
- Have ordered activities (must be performed in chronological sequence).
This could include projects such as:
- The construction of a building.
- Launching a new product.
- Developing software.
- Engineering design projects.
- Operation of a manufacturing plant.
How Do You Find the Critical Path of a Project?
So you know what the Critical Path Method is but how exactly do you find your project’s critical path? We’ve broken it down into six steps.
1. List project activities
First, create a work breakdown structure listing all the project activities or tasks you need to deliver the requirements. This step gives you a high-level idea of everything your team needs to do.
2. Identify task dependencies
Once you’ve listed your project activities, work out which tasks depend on other tasks before they can begin. Also, identify any work that teams can do in parallel with other tasks.
3. Create a network diagram
Next, turn your work breakdown structure into a network diagram. A network diagram is a flowchart that displays the chronology of project tasks and their dependencies. This diagram will help you map the general project schedule.
4. Estimate task duration
Once you have your project tasks and dependencies figured out, the next step is to estimate the duration of each task. Consider using various estimation methods such as the Monte Carlo simulation, the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT), or the Graphical Evaluation and Review Technique (GERT).
5. Calculate the critical path
Now that you have your estimate, you can calculate the critical path. You can do this manually, but to save time and get an accurate result, use a critical path algorithm instead.
The critical path algorithm has two parts.
In the forward pass, you estimate the earliest start (ES) and earliest finish (EF) dates for each project task. The ES of a task is the same as the EF of a predecessor task. To find a task’s EF use the formula EF = ES + t (t is the task duration which you determined in step 4 above).
The EF of the last task will indicate the expected time to complete the entire project.
In the backward pass, you assign the last task’s earliest finish (EF) as its latest finish (LF). To find the LS, use the formula LS = LF (late finish) – t (t is the task duration). LF is the lowest LS value from the immediate successor task.
6. Calculate the float
The final step is to determine your project float or slack. This refers to the time you can delay a task without affecting subsequent tasks or the project’s deadline. To calculate float/slack, use the formula Float = LS – ES.
How to Find Your Critical Path Using Mission Control
Determining your project’s critical path can be a very involved process but with the right tools, you can progress through the above steps with ease. Our project management tool, Mission Control, comes with an interactive Gantt chart that allows you to visualize your critical path, assign tasks to team members, and plan your resources effectively.
1. Create a Gantt chart
First things first, create your Gantt chart. Add tasks and their durations to the chart and view your entire project timeline at once.
2. Add task dependencies
Next, map out task dependencies on the Gantt chart by dragging one onto the other. The chart will display linked tasks, and you can then define the type of dependency for each task.
3. Set the project baseline
A project baseline allows you to estimate your project budget and duration. It also allows you to compare your estimate and your actual progress.
To create a baseline on your Gantt chart, add each task’s start and end date. As teams complete tasks, the chart will update in real-time and display your planned start and end dates against your actual project progress. With this information, you’re always aware of whether you’re on target or not.
4. Find the critical path
With steps one to three done, you’ll be able to see the tasks teams must complete. This visibility makes it easy to map your project’s critical path on the chart.
5. View project progress on your PMO Dashboard
With all the data above captured in your Gantt chart, you can quickly get an overview of your progress from your Mission Control PMO Dashboard. Here you’ll find project details such as variance, tasks, and more. You can choose to display this data in easy-to-read charts and graphs.
6. Generate progress reports
Keeping your project stakeholders updated on progress is crucial. Use our robust reporting tools to generate reports on the critical path, task progress, project status, costs, and more. Quickly share these reports with anyone right from your dashboard.
Mission Control is a cloud-based project management software that can help you easily plan, schedule, and manage project tasks. Our tool collects and updates your project data in real-time, allowing you to track your planned schedule against actual progress so you can adjust immediately if necessary.
Contact us today for a demo of how Mission Control can help your organization plan and manage its projects better.