What is the critical path?

You have probably heard the expression “This is on the critical path”.

Sounds scary doesn’t it. The term critical conjures up a bad image in most people’s minds. They immediately think of the emergency room and critical condition patients.

Thankfully the critical path is actually a good thing for project managers. It helps us to manage our projects more effectively by focusing our energy in the right places.

What is the critical path?

The critical path is the set of tasks that determine the duration of the project. This occurs when these tasks combine durations and dependencies in such a manner that if any of these tasks slip, the entire project slips.

Why do I care about the critical path?

The critical path is important for two main reasons.

  1. As a PM, you need to make sure that the tasks on this path are completed within their planned time frames. This will put your project in good position to finish on time.
  2. The critical path is the list of tasks where you can make up for lost ground on your project (when things go wrong). You can use fast-tracking or crashing of the tasks on the critical path to reduce the duration of the path and improve your timelines.

What to do next

Look at the project schedule for your current project.  Have you focused on these tasks to make sure they are completed on time? Have you thought of ways you could compress the critical path if something goes wrong with the project?

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