In project management, a project’s critical path is the sequence of activities that exists between the start and end of a project that determines the earliest completion date (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 294). If any activity on the critical path is delayed, the entire project’s completion schedule will be delayed due. To determine which activities make up the critical path, each activity needs to have estimates provided for their earliest start and finish. Identifying the activities that are part of the critical path then requires calculating the length of time to complete each potential activity pathway by adding up the time estimates of all the activities in a pathway between the start and end. The pathway with the longest total amount of time to completion is the critical path. The critical path represents the shortest amount of time a project can be completed (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 304-306).
Since delays in the critical path lead to delays for the entire project, it is important for a project manager (PM) to have a strong monitoring and control system in place for the project (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 292). Critical activities typically only represent around 10 percent of a project’s total activities (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 293). A PM should ensure there is a strong focus on those activities and that they are monitored the most heavily for any potential risk of delays. Missed deadlines can create additional costs to the project as well as damage to an organization’s brand and reputation (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 291). While there are many methods to make estimates of activity times, it is important for a PM to ensure they are being honest with the estimations of time to avoid any of these potential issues that stem from delays to timelines. Focusing on critical path activities can help a PM maintain deadlines during times when there are many distractions and trade-offs impacting a project.
Author: Logan Callen
Meredith, Jack R., Scott M. Shafer, and Samuel J. Mantel. 2017. Project Management: A Strategic Managerial Approach. 10th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN-13: 9781119369097.