Benefits of Critical Path Analysis (With Advantages)
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated September 5, 2022 | Published November 5, 2021
Updated September 5, 2022
Published November 5, 2021
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Project managers use various tools and methods to organize their tasks and complete them as effectively as possible. One of the most popular tools for project organization is the critical path method. Understanding what critical path analysis is can aid you in your project planning. In this article, we discuss the critical path method, explore its elements, outline how to analyze a critical path and identify its advantages.
What is critical path analysis?
Critical path analysis or critical path planning is a process of project management that determines the duration of different tasks and maps the most effective way to complete them. It predicts the completion time of a project by dividing it into smaller tasks and measuring the schedule resilience of each task. The schedule resilience of a task refers to how long it takes for completion and its relationship with other tasks on the schedule. Project managers use critical path planning when faced with complex projects that have many component tasks.
Elements of critical path plans
Here's a list of elements that a critical path plan includes:
Critical paths refer to the tasks that the project progresses through before moving to the next stage. Each task depends on and influences other tasks, so the project manager must complete them in the correct sequence. For example, laying the foundation, building its walls and installing the roof form a critical path in a construction project. For this reason, the duration of the critical path is usually the shortest possible time you can complete a project.
Non-critical paths consist of tasks that don't strictly follow a sequence. While these processes may be equally important, employees can complete them independently of other tasks. The project team can complete tasks in the non-critical path at any time during the project. Also, they can run non-critical tasks simultaneously with tasks in the critical path. For example, building the fence and purchasing water tanks for a construction project are tasks on a non-critical path. The non-critical path doesn't significantly impact the project's duration.
The float refers to the duration by which you can delay the completion of a task without jeopardizing the delivery time of the whole project. It depends on the amount of time you have within the critical path to complete tasks from the non-critical path. The critical path has no float as all tasks within it depend on each other for commencement. In contrast, as you can do non-critical tasks simultaneously with critical ones, they don't need a separate timeline. The float is an essential part of determining the fastest possible way to complete a project.
How to analyze a critical path
Here's an overview of steps you can follow to analyze a critical path:
1. List all the tasks the project entails
The first step is to categorize your project into smaller tasks. Then, ensure you create a comprehensive list of each task you require to complete the project. There are generally two types of tasks, either sequential or parallel tasks. Sequential tasks require you to complete a previous task before you can begin the next one. These tasks form the critical path of a project. In contrast, parallel tasks are independent of other tasks. They form the non-critical path of the project. Listing all your tasks can help you arrange and prioritize them appropriately.
2. Assign a letter to each task
To create a critical path chart, you need ways to identify each task. To make that easier, you can assign a letter to each task. Letters are preferable as the chart already uses numbers to represent time durations. Letters also allow you to create a neater chart with little text. You can name the tasks with any letter you want, but it's better to follow an order that's easy to remember. For example, if each task starts with a different letter, you can use their first letters. Otherwise, you can consider following the alphabetical order from top to bottom.
3. Include the duration of each task
The next step is to determine the duration of each task. This detail is essential for creating a table and calculating your critical path. Ensure you leave sufficient time for each task so your analysis is accurate. You can inquire directly from the team or unit working on the tasks to know the time they need. Also, ensure you make some provisions for unforeseen circumstances to avoid defaulting on your promised delivery time.
4. Identify the sequential tasks
Next, identify the sequential tasks on your table. These tasks form the critical path and determine the least possible project completion time. After determining the sequential tasks, create a column beside each task and include the letter of its predecessor. In the example below, you can see that task B, which is product design, depends on completing task A, market research. That makes task A the predecessor of task B. By identifying your sequential task, you can determine critical points of the project.
Related: How to Prioritize Work Tasks
A-Market research-[-]-Two months
B-Product design-A-Four months
C-Development of prototype-B-Two months
D-Contract suppliers for materials-C-Two months
E-Manufacture product-D-Three months
F - Design marketing strategy-C-One month
G-Launch promotion-F-One month
H-Launch product-E-One month
5. Identify the critical path
You can identify the critical path after determining the sequential events and assigning each task to its predecessor. The critical path is the series of dependent tasks that have the longest duration. From our example, tasks A, B, C, D, E, and H all follow a clear sequence and depend on the previous task, making them the critical path. Tasks F and G only depend on C and each other, meaning they are parallel tasks and form the non-critical path. As the team can complete them at any time after C, they have some float.
6. Chart the path
After outlining your project with a table, you can chart your critical path. This makes it easier to visualize the project for yourself or a supervisor. There are two main charts you can use for charting your critical path plan, including:
PERT (project evaluation review technique) is a tool that shows the relationship between tasks in a project. The chart uses "nodes," which may be circles or rectangles, to represent each task. Each node has an arrow connecting it to its predecessor and successor task. The PERT chart also includes the duration of each project. It's an effective tool for visualizing complex projects with many overlapping components.
There are various terminologies you may encounter while using a PERT chart, including:
Fast-tracking: This occurs when the project team performs two tasks simultaneously. To save time on projects, teams can simultaneously perform non-critical and critical tasks.
PERT event: This occurs when the project team starts or completes one or more tasks. It symbolizes progress in the project.
Predecessor event: This is an event that occurs immediately before another one. It may be essential you complete them before moving to the next one.
Successor events: These occur after another event's completion. They depend on their predecessor for commencement.
Slack: This is the amount of time you can afford to delay a task without delaying the whole project.
Crashing critical path: This occurs when the team completes a task faster than expected. It also occurs when external factors shorten a task's duration.
Optimistic time: This is the minimum amount of time it takes to complete a task. This time relies on the best possible scenario.
Pessimistic time: This is the longest possible time it takes to complete a task. It's based on the worst-case scenario.
Most likely time: This is a realistic estimation of the duration of a task. This time assumes no unforeseen circumstances arise.
Expected time: This is a realistic estimation of the project's duration. The expected time accounts for potential problems arising.
The Gantt chart is another popular project management tool for visualizing a project. The chart comprises different bars representing each task in the project, and its axis includes the project timeline. A bar starts when a task begins and ends when it stops.
Advantages of critical path method
Here are some advantages of using the critical path method:
Easy monitoring: The critical path method makes it easy for the project manager to monitor its progress.
Define tasks: It serves as a reliable tool for defining tasks and assigning them to various units.
Motivate the team: The clarity a critical path chart provides can motivate the team.
Easy planning: It aids project planning by making it easy to identify critical points and areas of delay.
Easy reporting: The project manager can use their critical path chart to provide comprehensive reports to supervisors.
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