So you want to find out more about critical path analysis?
Good. It’s basically the most important thing you’ll ever learn. (We’re kind of kidding… but not really…)
And, being the always helpful team that we are at monday.com, we’ve created a comprehensive overview of what critical path analysis is, how to use it, and the benefits of using it in your projects.
We’re also going to look at how monday.com can make the whole process a lot easier. Excuse our humble brag, but it’s true.
We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s make a start.
What is critical path analysis?
Critical path analysis is a method to identify how long a project will take to complete.
It breaks down the longest duration of dependent tasks throughout an entire project in order to provide you and your team with an accurate understanding of that project’s time frame.
Here’s a simple diagram of a critical path (all by itself):
And here’s what a critical path might look like in practice, combined with a Gantt chart within monday.com:
You can use our critical path for Gantt chart feature to conduct your own critical path analysis to also identify every non-critical task in the project. But if these hit an unexpected snag, it’s not such a big deal as it won’t jeopardize the delivery of the entire project.
Falling behind on a critical task is a different story.
Is critical path analysis the same as the critical path method?
Yep, critical path analysis and the critical path method are the same thing.
The phrases are used interchangeably, and they’re talking about the same thing.
Why should you use a critical path?
That’s a good question — why should you bother using the critical path method?
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits:
- Efficiently organize large projects: If you have a large and complex project, critical path analysis could make your life a whole lot easier. It provides a unique sense of clarity within your project, allowing you to focus on what needs to happen to get the project done and dusted. Pretty useful in a large project when there’s a lot going on, don’t you think?
- Get accurate time projections: Using the critical path method allows you to provide a pretty accurate timescale for how long the project should take. This makes project planning much more efficient—you won’t have to keep backtracking and changing your timescale as often. Which leads us nicely into our next benefit…
- Keep stakeholders happy: If you’ve got stakeholders breathing down your neck, you can give them an accurate estimate of when the project will be complete (an estimate which is actually based on something and which you won’t have to continually adjust). And according to Wellingtone, stakeholder engagement is one of the top processes that adds value in project management, so it’s a win-win.
How to use critical path analysis
What’s that, we hear you ask?
“Talking about the benefits of the critical path method is all well and good, but how do I actually use it!?”
That’s a good question.
These 6 steps will show you how to use the critical path method, how to find it in your project, and what to do when you find it.
#1: Identify tasks
First things first, you’ll need to figure out what tasks to include in your project, and outline your work breakdown structure.
To do this, speak with stakeholders to get an idea of what the project involves, and what the deliverables are. You can then identify the tasks that need to happen to complete the project.
Top tip: monday.com’s work breakdown template is a good place to start:
#2: Put tasks in order
You’ve got your tasks mapped out — now it’s time to organize them in chronological order. This will help you spot any task dependencies, and plot a timeline for the project.
We know that different people prefer different formats when organizing the tasks in their project.
If you’re not sure what the best format is for you, monday.com has a bunch of templates that might tickle your fancy.
Whether you’re thinking of creating a project overview, a project roadmap, or a project schedule, our software is super easy to use and will give you a clear and concise overview of all your sequential tasks.
#3: Allocate time for each task
This is a pretty important part of the process. After all, without knowing how long tasks will take, how are you going to find the critical path?
The short answer: you won’t.
So it’s vital that you allocate time to each task to give yourself the most accurate estimation of project duration.
Here are some of the most common ways to estimate task duration:
- Comparative: Using previous tasks to estimate how long current tasks will take.
- Bottom-up: Estimate how long each sub-task will take and build your estimate from this.
- Top-down: Create an estimate for how long the entire project will take, then break this down into tasks. (Bottom-up and top-down are often used simultaneously to make sure the time estimate is as accurate as possible.)
- Three-Point: Create three estimates based on the best-case scenario, the worst-case scenario, and the most likely scenario. A bit more time consuming, but allows you to set more reasonable expectations.
- Parametric: Estimate the time required by one deliverable, and multiply it by the number of deliverables required. For example, if you need to write website copy, you’d figure out how much time one page would take then multiply this by the total number of pages.
#4: Find all potential paths
When you’ve pulled your project together, you’ll need to find all the potential paths—or strings—of task dependencies.
Sounds like a mammoth job, right? And not fun if you’re doing it by hand, that’s for sure.
If you want to save yourself a headache, consider using a project management platform (like monday.com) to take care of this for you.
#5: Find the critical path
The last step in the process is to find the critical path!The critical path will always be the longest path from start to finish, meaning it’s the only path that can’t have delays without changing the end date of your project.
We do think that spotting the critical path can be tricky if you’re not using the right structure.
For example, using a Kanban-style board to identify the critical path could be pretty difficult. You simply won’t be able to view the critical activity in the right way.
But using a Gantt chart or network diagram allows you to easily visualize the critical path.
It’s not over yet…
We’re sorry. We lied to you.
Identifying the critical path isn’t actually the last step in the process. There’s a final step that’s a bit more of an ongoing process, really.
#6: Continually check the critical path
If you have experience managing projects, you’ll be all too familiar with plans and tasks changing as you start to move through the project. From our experience, it’s pretty rare for a project to stay the same from start to finish.
If any part of your project changes, whether that’s adding new tasks or adjusting the amount of time a task will take, there will be a knock-on effect to the critical path.
To make sure the critical path stays on track for completion, you’ll need to monitor it throughout the entire project. If any changes do occur, you’ll need to update your critical path diagram or Gantt chart to reflect that.
Super annoying—we know.
Lack of flexibility is one of the drawbacks that comes with using critical path analysis.
But using the right project management software is a surefire way to make the process easier to manage.
Using the critical path method with monday.com
There’s a reason why only 58% of organizations use project methodology in their projects—they can be pretty tricky to get your head around.
Using work management software like monday.com makes using project methodology much easier.
So if you’re apprehensive about implementing the critical path analysis in your next project, don’t be. Just use monday.com.
We might be biased, but we think our software really is something to shout about. From calculating critical paths to automating tasks or enabling your team to work collaboratively, monday.com allows you to spend less time structuring your project and more time getting work done.
The critical path method is definitely one of the most useful techniques in project management.
It allows you to prioritize tasks that will get the project done, and keep on top of how long a project will actually take to complete—and we all know that’s easier said than done.
Now that you know what critical path analysis is and how to use it, why not think about how you can use your newfound knowledge to more efficiently structure your next project?
If you want to give it a test drive, we’d suggest using our projects overview template to get the ball rolling. Or for more information on how to use the critical path, head over to our article: “A no-nonsense guide to critical paths.”