The critical path explained

The critical path – what was it again?

It’s one thing to explain to your manager what a critical path is, it’s another thing to identify it in your own schedule! Here we have a simple and easy recap of the critical path for you:
Critical path analysis is an excellent technique to identify tasks that should be monitored frequently because they determine the longest path to the end of the project. The perfect definition for what the critical path is, is as follows:

“The sequence of schedule activities that determines the duration of the project.”

This sequence determines the shortest time possible to complete the project. Any delay of an activity on the critical path directly impacts the planned project completion date. A project can have several, parallel, near critical paths. An additional parallel path through the network with the total durations shorter than the critical path is called a sub-critical or non-critical path.

In the figure below the critical path is displayed in red. This is the sequence of schedule activities that determines the duration of the project. In this example the total duration is 5+6+2=13 days. Any other path takes less than 13 days.

The critical path explained1

Some critical path examples

Consider your vacation, when you are determining the best time to get up before you need to catch a flight, you are doing critical path analysis.

Or a mother of three kids, when she manages the time between getting up and the time the kids need to be at school, she is actually doing critical path management.

You might be only interested for now in the critical path until the next important milestone. “When the kids are at school, then we plan for the rest of the day and a new critical path starts…”.

The critical path explained2


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