What is a Critical Path?

Definition: A critical path is a project management practice where the longest route of activities within a project is identified to determine the shortest period of time in which the project will be completed successfully. It is a tool that creates a map of scheduled tasks that must be accomplished timely to deliver the project within the expected timeframe.

What Does Critical Path Mean?

The first step to design a critical path chart is to identify the list of activities that must be completed to finish the project. After that, the activities should be placed in a scheduled sequence that defines the project’s workflow. Activity A must be completed before Activity B starts. On the other hand, there are other activities that can be set in motion along with Activity A. So the critical path structure must show how each of this activities interrelate until the project is successfully completed.

This tool measures the longest route possible to finish the project. In this regard, if a given activity is delayed one day, the whole project will be delayed one day, unless one of the next activities is finished one day earlier. By establishing critical paths, companies can have a clear view about forecasted deadlines and can also be properly informed about deviations. The tool creates transparency, since the whole project’s progress is tracked within stages and the cause for delays can be easily identified within the chart.

Example

Deep Ground Mining Co. is a company in the business of mineral extraction. They mostly focus on silver mines worldwide and are currently involved in bidding processes designed by government entities to apply for mining permits and concessions. The company is currently engaged in a mining contract in Argentina and the government is asking for a Critical Path Chart for the project.

The Project Manager in charge is currently working with his team to fully understand the different stages of the project and all tasks involved to have it fully operational. According to the Critical Path Chart presented by Deep Ground, the project should be completed in one and a half years, if no unforeseen events occur. Since there are many external variables involved, the Chart establishes ample time frames for some activities, to allow some room to unexpected situations to take place.