The critical path is the longest sequence of dependent tasks on a project that must be completed on time, in order for that project to meet its deadline. Or to look at things from a different angle, the duration of all tasks on the critical path determine the overall duration of a project. For example, if there are 30 tasks along the critical path with a combined duration of 17 weeks, then if all goes as planned, the project will finish in 17 weeks.
Of course, “if all goes as planned” is hardly the norm in the project management world. And one of the reasons for this is due to errors in critical path planning, managing and execution. Here are three critical mistakes about critical path method that ensnare even seasoned project managers:
- Improperly or needlessly using date constraints.
The success of critical path method is dependent on the schedule build, which means that even small errors or oversights in this area will have a negative overall impact. For example, needlessly or improperly adding date constraints (e.g. “start no earlier than”) to certain tasks along the critical path will sever the critical path and create float. It will also make it impossible to see the connection between severed tasks, since there is nothing to link them even though they are still dependent (i.e. one must finish before the other starts).
How to avoid this mistake: The easy answer is don’t needlessly or improperly add date constraints. However, this is not always possible, since it’s only after-the-fact that such constraints are declared needless or improper. And so, the more practical and realistic answer is to ensure that all relevant stakeholders are involved in schedule development, which means taking both a top-down and bottom-up approach instead of one vs. the other. Greater involvement also increases buy-in, which is also an important critical path success factor. To learn how Clarizen helps solve this, click here.
- Not updating the schedule with actual progress.
Estimates — or worse, guestimates — are sworn enemies of the critical path method; as the old saying goes: “garbage in, garbage out.” And what makes this problem even trickier, is that conventional project management software doesn’t have a problem with critical paths that have been rendered senseless by inaccurate task progress updates. It’s only after milestones and deadlines are missed — and usually after customers express frustration — that the problem comes to light.
How to solve this problem: Use a cloud-based project management software solution that allows team members to quickly and easily submit actual progress updates through any internet-enabled computer, laptop or smartphone. Instead of estimates and guestimates, project managers will have the hard data they need to keep the critical path reliable — and their project on-track. To learn how Clarizen helps solve this, click here.
- Lack of communication.
Lack of communication is one of those general threats that can, and usually will, undermine any and every aspect of project management. However, the negative impact on the critical path can be disastrous.
And so, this begs the question: given its importance, why would some project managers even consider dialing down critical path-related communication? It’s not because they want to. It’s because they don’t have the tools they need to keep stakeholders informed throughout the project.
How to solve this problem: Use project management software that provides stakeholders with a real-time interactive graphical illustration of project performance, timeline and resource scheduling, which can be viewed from multiple perspectives including (but not limited to) the critical path. To learn how Clarizen solves this, click here.
Staying on track
Critical path method has been around since the 1950s, and the reason it remains popular — and some project managers would say essential —is because it effectively identifies a project’s most important tasks, helps shorten timelines, and supports strong project controls. Avoiding these mistakes will help project managers establish better processes, and suffer fewer setbacks. And in the big picture, there is nothing more critical than that.