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How to Use Critical Path Method for Complete Beginners (with Examples)

CPM is a popular project management technique used to plan and manage complex construction projects. CPM Scheduling California helps project managers identify the most critical tasks that must be completed on time to ensure the project stays on schedule. The Swaney Corporation-Crowe Construction Inc. is a leading construction scheduling service. Our expertise allows us to develop bulletproof construction schedules.

Here are the steps in the CPM method:

Identify tasks: Create a work breakdown structure to identify all the tasks required to complete the project. An effective work breakdown structure provides the project management team with guidance every step of the way.

Sequence Tasks: Determine the sequence in which tasks must be performed. Some tasks are dependent on the completion of others, and this dependency forms a network.

Duration estimation: Estimate the time it will take to complete each task based on historical data and available relevant information.

Dependencies: Identify the dependencies between tasks. Some tasks may be dependent on the completion of one or more preceding tasks.

Draw a network diagram: Using available information, draw a network diagram-a visual representation of all the tasks, and their sequence and dependencies. Use nodes to represent project tasks and arrows to represent task dependencies.

Determine the critical path: Calculate the earliest start and finish times for each task, as well as the latest start and finish times. If a task on the critical path is delayed, project delays will occur.

Float or slack: Calculate the float or slack for each non-critical task. Float represents the amount of time a task can be delayed without delaying the project. Tasks on the critical path (critical activities) have zero float.

Monitoring and control: Monitor the progress of tasks on the critical path and ensure they are on schedule. If any delays occur on the critical path, they can potentially delay the entire project.

Benefits of CPM

The Critical Path Method helps project managers with scheduling, resource allocation, and identify critical areas that need their special attention. Project management software tools automate calculations and visualizes schedules to assist project managers with Critical Path Method implementation.

Here are some benefits of the project management method:

➢ CPM scheduling provides a visual representation of the project’s tasks and their dependencies, aiding in the creation of a comprehensive project plan.

➢ When project managers have an in-depth understanding of task dependencies, they are able to allocate resources more efficiently, ensuring that critical tasks receive the necessary attention. This helps prevent delays.

➢ CPM helps in identifying potential risks and areas of uncertainty. By identifying critical and non-critical tasks, project managers can develop contingency plans and address potential issues before they impact project timelines.

➢ CPM provides a basis for tracking project progress. Project managers can track progress to identify delays early and take corrective actions in a timely fashion.

➢ CPM scheduling provides a visual representation of the project schedule, making it easier to communicate the plan to stakeholders. It promotes team collaboration by fostering a shared understanding of project tasks and timelines.

➢ It helps project managers allocate resources to critical tasks. Efficient resource allocation helps avoid unnecessary expenses. With CPM, project managers can determine the cost implications of potential delays and overruns.

➢ CPM provides valuable information for decision-making, helping project managers prioritize tasks, allocate resources, and make informed decisions to keep projects on track.

How to use CPM

Let’s say you have a project with tasks A, B, C, and D. Both B and C depend on the completion of A, and D depends on the completion of both B and C. The critical path would be the sequence A → B → D, as any delay in A or B would delay the project.

An Example

Let’s consider a simple, real-life example. Say you want to build a house. How should you plan and execute the project?

Define the Tasks

Identify all the tasks that must be finished to complete the project. If you look at these tasks individually, you’ll realize that some of them can be started only after the tasks preceding them are completed. In our example-

TaskDuration (in days)Predecessor
Sign contract with the contractor10 
Lay the foundation201
Pour slab202
Procure timber52
Build timber frame503, 4
Buy and install siding and roofing255
Install plumbing and electrical systems256

Note that task 5 can only be started after tasks 3 and 4 are finished.

Next, estimate the duration, early start, late start, early finish late finish, and slack for each task.

ES or early start – the earliest a task can start.

LS or late start- the latest a task can start.

EF or early finish – the earliest a task can end.

LF or late finish – the latest a task can end.

Slack – the amount of time a task can be delayed without delaying the project.

Identify Different Project Paths

The Critical Path is the longest series of tasks. For example, one of the activities (‘Procure timber’) that must start before ‘Build Timber Frame’ can be finished in just 5 days, you cannot build timber frame until the slab is poured.

Calculate Project Duration

During the initial phases of project planning, it’s vital to diligently determine the time required to address critical tasks, considering their complexity and interdependencies. Afterward, combine these time estimates to calculate the total duration of the entire project.

The Swaney Corporation-Crowe Construction Inc. is a top-tier construction scheduling provider, known for our capability in crafting highly reliable construction timetables. Our reputation is built on a track record of consistently delivering precise and meticulously planned schedules to ensure project success. To make an appointment, call our office at (707) 665-9668.