What's on your critical path? Important tasks? Sure. Really important tasks? Of course. But is that all there is to it? After all, every project task is important in some sense. Within any project, the critical path is more than just a series of important tasks - it's a means for scheduling and management that relies on connections and consequences as a basis for planning project tasks and timelines.
As a project management technique, critical path analysis provides value in four (4) key respects:
Critical path tasks are not considered "critical" on the basis of value or visibility, but on the basis of dependencies, which determine the overall length of the project. Since critical path tasks are connected tasks, a delay in one, can lead to a delay in all. As such, once identified, the critical path shows you what how to get your project done on time.
Read more: Project Scheduling Strategies
Critical path analysis relies on a few simple assumptions, as listed below:
Critical path analysis begins with a task list, identifying all the key tasks required to complete the project at hand. This task list can be broken down into the following seven (7) key elements:
From a practical standpoint, critical path analysis is all about creating "breathing room", to identify the tasks that must start and end at a specific point in time, versus those tasks which offer scheduling flexibility. Any worthwhile project management software will calculate critical path for you based on the tasks, dates and dependencies entered, but the logic behind these calculations should not be a total mystery, for it is the human element that must respond to project issues and changes on a daily basis - in real time.
Critical path analysis looks for the earliest and latest points at which tasks can begin and end. The calculation of earliest start times (EST) and earliest finish time (EFT) is used to create the project schedule. The calculation of latest start times (LST) and latest finish times (LFT) is used for schedule management, delay resolution, and fast-track planning.
EST of tasks with no predecessors = First logical starting point.
EST of tasks with predecessors = Predecessor EFT (Earliest Finish Time).
EFT of tasks with no predecessors = Estimated task duration.
EFT of tasks with predecessors = (Task EST + Estimated task duration).
On the other side of the coin, latest start (LST) and latest finished times (LFT) are backwards calculations, considering the earliest starting point of the first subsequent task, minus the expected duration of the task under calculation. To calculate LST and LFT, you will start with the latest finish time and work backwards to calculate the latest possible start time.
Step 1 - Finding the LFT (latest finish time):
Considering the estimated "earliest start time" of any subsequent dependencies, what is the latest finish time for this task?
Task LFT = EST of the first dependent task.(Example: LFT of Task 1 = EST of Task 3)
Step 2 - Finding the LST (latest start time):
Considering the identified "latest finish time", what is the latest starting time for this task?
Task LST = (LFT – Task duration).
Example: LST of Task 1 = (Task 1 LFT - Task 1 Duration).
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