Meet Project Deadlines with the Critical Path Method

When an organization begins a complex new project, it is difficult to conceptualize all the activities necessary to ensure that the project is completed on time. The Critical Path Method (CPM) is used to determine the length of time a project will take and where delays might occur. Project managers can then use this schedule to successfully organize tasks and allocate resources to meet the deadlines.

What is the Critical Path Method?

An important project management tool, the Critical Path Method is an algorithm for scheduling activities. Any endeavor with interdependent tasks can apply this method of planning and analysis. Ensuring that a project is completed on time and increasing efficiency are the goals of CPM. This technique aids in decision-making and is useful for project time-management. CPM is used with many types of projects, including defense and aerospace, software development, and construction.

Precursors to CPM

In the 1950s, managers of large industrial and defense projects became concerned with deadlines and efficiency. During this time, the techniques that would later develop into CPM were realized simultaneously in Great Britain and the United States. The energy sector in Great Britain conducted a study during the process of building a power plant, discovering that certain tasks had a critical impact on the timing deadlines while other tasks would not delay the process. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy was working on the Polaris missile project, the complexity of which led to the development of the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT), a mathematical project-scheduling model that is similar to CPM.

Development of CPM

The basis for the modern Critical Path Method was developed by researchers at DuPont and Remington Rand in the 1950s. The CPM techniques were implemented by DuPont in the late 1950s to track project management for the construction of chemical plants across the United States, saving the company $1 million within the first year of implementation. The CPM technique is often used in tandem with Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) diagrams, but is executed with other flowchart models as well. The original CPM program has adapted and changed, and the term is now applied to any approach used to analyze a project activity timeline.

Basic Techniques

The basic technique of the Critical Path Method is to list the activities required to complete the project, the time each task will take, and the relationship between the steps. This list is then used to create a flowchart showing each activity, their sequence, and the projected timing for each. The flowchart is then used to determine the critical path, or the longest the project can take from start to finish. It also shows the areas of activity that are critical to the project being completed on time and those that are not time sensitive.

Modern Usage

As computers have become widely available, project management techniques have adapted and increased in popularity. No longer do CPM timelines and calculations need to be created by hand. It is now very cost effective to have computers efficiently managing complex project schedules. Software has also been developed making project management techniques more easily accessible and available. Large-scale projects can be managed globally in real time over computer communications networks. Organizations both large and small regularly use variations of the Critical Path Method to improve efficiency in managing all types of complex projects.

The Critical Path Method is an important project management tool for large complex projects. Project managers organize and sequence tasks to create the analysis, create visual representations of the project, and then continually monitor the project and update the charts to ensure that deadlines are achieved. Utilizing this method has the benefits of increasing project efficiency and allows managers to successfully meet their deadlines.