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Critical Path Analysis: How to make sure your project will finish on time

posted on Feb 28, 2018
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Got a deadline? What would happen if you were late? Well if, say, you’re organizing an event, then worst case the event could flop. Not good.

Okay, so how do you prevent that? An important way is to conduct a Critical Path Analysis at the start of the project. This will tell you the minimum amount of time you will need to complete the whole project, and also which tasks most need to be accelerated if the project gets delayed.

Step 1: List all the activities in the project plan

Read this blog post to learn what goes into a project plan. Two of the things you should have, once you have finished your plan, are:

  • A list of activities required to complete the project, and
  • A time estimate for each activity

If, for example, you are planning a new after-school program with multiple activities, your project activity list might look like this:

Task

Time (days)

Recruit instructional designers

10

Develop art activities

8

Develop sports activities

10

Purchase art supplies

2

Purchase sport supplies

2

Book sports venues (fields, gyms)

4

Recruit instructors

10

Book classrooms

2

Develop cost structure

1

Develop promotional material

2

Promote the program

15

Sell spaces

10

 

Step 2: Develop a Flow Diagram

Here is where you draw the activities as they flow from start to finish. Some activities can happen in parallel (at the same time as each other) while other activities cannot start until another activity has finished. Make sure your flow diagram shows these dependencies. The activity list above, may look like this when converted into a flow diagram:

2018_02_28_Critical_Path.png

Step 3: Calculate the time for each pathway in the flowchart

Here are the pathways in the above flowchart:

Path A: 1>2>4>7>8>9>10

Path B: 1>2>5>7>8>9>10

Path C: 1>2>4>7>8>9>11

Path D: 1>2>5>7>8>9>11

Path E: 1>3>5>7>8>9>10

Path F: 1>3>6>7>8>9>10

Path G: 1>3>5>7>8>9>11

Path H: 1>3>6>7>8>9>11

Here are some of the same pathways, with time calculations:

Path C: (1) 10 days -> (2) 8 days -> (4) 2 days -> (7) 1 day -> (8) 10 days -> (9) 2 days -> (11) 10 days

TOTAL TIME PATH C= 44 DAYS

Path F: (1) 10 days -> (3) 10 days -> (6) 4 days -> (7) 1 day -> (8) 10 days -> (9) 2 days -> (10) 15 days

TOTAL TIME PATH F= 52 DAYS

Step 4: Identify the Critical Path

The critical path is the one which will take the longest to complete. In the case of our example. Path F is the critical path.

Why does this matter?

Identifying your critical path can help you in a few ways:

  • It tells you how long the project will take. If you are aiming for a particular start time (say, the week after Labour Day) then you can work backwards to find the latest date you could start. In the above example, you would need to start by July 14 at the latest.
  • It tells you which activities are the most critical to the project deadline. If you fall behind on one of those activities, then you will need to re-jig a downstream activity to go faster.
    1. The vocabulary of critical path can be useful when you are speaking with your manager or your board, to explain why you need to allocate additional resources to make an activity go faster.

Critical path analysis is one of the many skills taught in our project management course. This course, taught by certified project management experts, also includes up to 20 hours of one-on-one coaching afterward, a $1500 value.

Click here to register   VO Night School  Four Tuesdays: April 24, May 1, 8 and 15, 2018. 6:00-9:00 p.m.

Click here to register Wednesday, September 12, 2018. 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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[1] Mind Tools Content Team, "Critical Path Analysis and PERT Charts," Mind Tools, [Online]. Available: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/critical-path-analysis.htm. [Accessed 15 February 2018]. [2] "The Critical Path Method (CPM)," Project Management Skills, [Online]. Available: https://www.project-management-skills.com/critical-path-method.html. [Accessed 15 February 2018].
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