Project Management's Critical Path
Another important concept in planning
projects is that of the critical path. If a project consists of a set of tasks
which need to be completed, the critical path represents the minimum such set,
the critical set.
This might seem to be a contradiction since you might think
completion of all tasks is necessary to complete a project; after all, if they
weren’t necessary they wouldn’t be part of your project, would they?
critical path represents not the
ideal set of tasks to be complete for your project, but the minimum set It is
this path that you must traverse in order to reach completion of your project on
time. Other tasks while important to overall completion do not impact upon the
final delivery for the project.
They can therefore be rescheduled if time is
tight or circumstances change. Tasks on your critical path however will affect
the delivery time of the project and therefore should only be modified in
In the following example the critical path is represented in bold. In
order to complete my project of cooking breakfast I have to go through the steps
of frying bacon and sausages and scrambling eggs.
The tasks “make toast” and “wash
plates”, while important, are not time-dependent or as critical as the other
three tasks. I can move either of those tasks but if I try to move anything on
the critical path it’s going to delay the project.
Ideally I’d like to have toast with my
breakfast but a) it’s not essential and b) it doesn’t matter where in the
process it happens. If I make toast before or after scrambling my bacon, it
makes little difference to the overall result.
On the other hand I can hardly fry my
bacon before the oil is hot; nor can I scramble my eggs before frying my bacon
(they’d turn to glue).
The critical path represents the
critical sequence of events which must occur if I want to successfully complete
Normally major 'milestones' will be
represented on the critical path and they will often occur when different
threads of the project come together.
For example in the diagram to the right
my only milestone is when I serve the completed breakfast. At this point I will
have finished my preparations and completed everything on both tracks. This is
represented by a diamond in the diagram above.
If I suddenly discovered I was late for
work, I could cheerfully discard the optional “toast” component of my project,
take the critical path instead and still achieve my original milestone of
delivering breakfast (and maybe even make it to work on time!).
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