5 Step Critical Path Analysis

Critical Path Analysis

What’s ‘critical’ about Critical Path Analysis? The Critical Path is the sequence of steps that determine the minimum time needed for an operation.

An activity on the critical path cannot be started until its predecessor activity is complete. If this task is delayed, the entire project will be delayed . The goal of this analysis is to try to prevent scheduling problems. This method is particularly suited to projects with numerous activities that have complex interactions. However, the general concept is useful in most project planning activities.

The Critical Path Method (CPM) has been around for decades, having first been developed by DuPont in the 1950s. CPM is a step-by-step planning technique that identifies critical and non-critical tasks.

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There are 5 steps in structuring critical path analysis:

  1. Define the Required Tasks 

    This process can be aided by Backward Planning. This method is useful because it starts with the desired outcome and clearly links the essential intermediate steps.

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  2. Create a Flowchart

    Maps out each task in relation to the others in a time-sequence order. Some events occur in series (a linear path from task to task). Other actions occur in parallel (occurring at the same time).

  3. Identify Critical and Non-Critical Tasks

    Critical activities must be completed before the next task can begin. These are the bottle-necks that will delay the project. They are generally the tasks that occur in series. Non-critical tasks generally occur in parallel and may have some leeway in when they can start or finish. However, even non-critical tasks, if delayed long enough, may become critical.

  4. Determine the Expected Completion Time for each Task

    Each event has a duration. When there is some uncertainty, a range from start to finish may be appropriate. This will allow you to clearly chart out how long a process will take, or at least, the shortest timeframe in which it could be completed.

  5. Create Alternatives

    Things will never go as planned and you will inevitably reach a choke point that impedes progress. However, there are generally “workarounds” that can allow you to continue moving while you solve the particular problem. Creating a “Plan B” will help avoid the stresses of constantly improvising. Generally, that leads to wasted resources, particularly the founders’ time.

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The final product is a charted timeline that becomes the schedule for the project. In addition to understanding how the steps interact, you will know which tasks must receive the most attention. You also will have devised contingency plans for how to deal with bottlenecks and delays.

Like most planning, this is a dynamic process. Things are always changing and it is possible that the Critical Paths will change over time. Remember, there is no “silver bullet.” This technique is not the be-all and end-all for business planning. Ultimately, rather than giving you a hard and fast map to be rigidly followed, it is a technique that helps you “think about things” that affect the growth of our company. And, that is critical!

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Dave Clark

Dave Clark taught Strategy at West Point and is a co-founder of FundingSage, which provides valuable information, tools and resources to entrepreneurs seeking to start, grow and fund a business.