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The critical path method (CPM) is a resource-utilization algorithm for scheduling a set of project activities.

The essential technique for using CPM is to construct a model of the project that includes the following:

  • A list of all tasks required to complete the project
  • The dependencies between the tasks
  • The estimate of time (duration) that each activity will take to complete

The critical path consists of the longest sequence of activities from project start to finish that must be completed to ensure the project is finished by a certain time. The activities on the critical path must be very closely managed. If jobs on the critical path slip, project managers need to take immediate action to get the project back on schedule. Otherwise, the whole project can be delayed.

Imagine that you have a project that will take 30 days to complete. If the first activity on the critical path is one day late, the project will take 31 days to complete, unless another activity on the critical path can be completed one day earlier. The critical path essentially determines the end date in your project schedule.

A project can have several, parallel, near critical paths; and some or all of the tasks could have free float and/or total float. An additional parallel path through the network with the total durations shorter than the critical path is called a sub-critical or non-critical path. Activities on sub-critical paths have no drag, as they are not extending the project’s duration.

CPM analysis tools allow a user to select a logical end point in a project and quickly identify its longest series of dependent activities (its longest path). These tools can display the critical path (and near critical path activities if desired) as a cascading waterfall that flows from the project’s start (or current status date) to the selected logical end point.

Benefits of the CPM are considerable, including:

  • It demonstrates the graphical view of any project.
  • It helps to identify the most important tasks that you have to manage.
  • It helps to save you time and reduce timelines.
  • It helps to compare planned and actual progress.
  • It helps to make dependencies visible and clear.
  • It helps to plan, schedule and control projects.
  • It helps to identify all critical activities that need special attention.

Want to learn more? Tonex offers CPM Training, Critical Path Method, a 3-day hands-on course that provides participants with the concepts, methods, and tools needed to know in order to create a CPM unique to your project.

Additionally, Tonex offers dozens of different courses in a dozen categories in Leadership training. There are over 50 leadership courses in our Business Skills category alone. 

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