Critical Path Method: Definition, Analysis & Examples

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  • 0:03 What Is Critical Path…
  • 0:35 How Is Critical Path…
  • 2:42 Managing Critical Path
  • 3:37 Crashing Versus Fast Tracking
  • 4:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mike Miller
In this lesson, you'll learn what the critical path methodology is, how it is used as a planning tool, and how the project manager uses it to execute projects on schedule and on budget.

What Is Critical Path Methodology?

Critical path methodology is a project management tool that looks at two items. The first item critical path looks at is how long your project will take to complete, or the end date. The second item that critical path methodology looks at is what activities have to be completed on time or the project will take longer to complete. Those activities that must be completed on time are considered to be critical activities. Critical path is the sequence of activities that allows the fastest completion of a project.

How Is Critical Path Determined?

Step 1

The first step in determining a project's critical path is determining the list of activities and durations of the activities that it will take to complete the project.

For this example, we'll use a widget manufacturing process:

Activity Description Predecessor Duration
A Product design
B Prototype
C Tool up line
D Order parts
E Receive parts
F Production Analysis
G Production
H Distribution

Step 2

The second step is to determine the sequence of the activities and the predecessor activities. A predecessor is an activity that has to occur before the current activity.

Activity Description Predecessor Duration
A Product design none
B Prototype A
C Tool up line B
D Order parts B
E Receive parts D
F Production Analysis C
G Production E
H Distribution G

Step 3

Add the durations to the activities. The duration an activity will take determines if this is a critical activity or not.

Activity Description Predecessor Duration
A Product design none 3
B Prototype A 1
C Tool up line B 2
D Order parts B 1
E Receive parts D 1
F Production Analysis B 2
G Production E, F 6
H Distribution G 1

Step 4

Draw the network diagram. Generally, the network diagram is drawn using activity on the node, or the place where the lines meet. Using activity on the node will allow for a quick interpretation of the activities and their relationships.


Step 5

Identify the paths. Now to identify the paths, the project manager must look at the routing of each to determine what the paths are.


For this example there are two paths: Path 1 is highlighted in yellow and is A-B-C-F-G-H and Path 2, highlighted in blue, is A-B-D-E-G-H.

Step 6

Determining critical path. Since there are two paths, how does the project manager know which one is the critical path? Here is where durations will be applied.

path with durations

Next, add the durations for the paths. So, for the first path, A-B-C-F-G-H, the durations are 3 + 1 + 2 + 2 + 6 + 1 = 15. For Path 2, A-B-D-E-G-H, the durations are 3 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 6 + 1 = 13. Path 1 has a duration of 15, and Path 2 gas a duration of 13. The path which has the longer duration is the critical path. For this example, Path 1 is the critical path. The critical path is highlighted in red.

critical path

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