The job of any good project manager is to submit all deliverables on time — no exceptions. No matter what mayhem may transpire behind the scenes, the project should land in the client’s inbox on the due date in terrific shape. There are many means to this end. One of the most commonly used strategies is the Critical Path Method (CPM). Originated in 1959 and first used on the construction of aerospace and military projects, now CPM is used to successfully track and complete projects in a variety of industries. The method involves creating graphical representation of project that predicts the completion date for each individual task. Here are just three ways CPM positively affects project management outcomes.
1. Better Tracking of Planned and Actual Timelines
One of the chief purposes of CPM is to create a visual representation of each specific element of a project, along with the time to complete. Included for each task in a CPM project is the earliest start time (ES) and earliest finish time (EF). Perhaps more importantly, the project also reflects the latest start time (LS) and latest finish time (LF) that could occur and still deliver the end product on time. Using this method means project managers can quickly identify if the actual timeline is syncing up with the planned timeline and adjust accordingly. The ability to compare plans with actual completion is invaluable to project management.
2. Identification of Vital Tasks
Thanks to the visual nature of CPM and the careful calculations regarding the length of each task, the method also helps identify the most important items within a project. According to Dr. Larry Bennett, an expert on CPM and author of a guide on the method, CPM “… clearly identifies the tasks that you will have to closely manage.” Project managers can color code the parts of a project that most other tasks depend on, for instance. The ability to track the most vital parts of a project daily reduces the likelihood of a late that impacts the rest of the project and causes large-scale set-backs. On the flip side, it’s also easy to see which tasks should be set aside first should employee resources become unexpectedly limited or a staff member be lost from the project altogether.
3. Awareness of Dependencies and Maximum Slack Time
The slack time of a project is the amount of time a particular piece can be delayed without causing a negative ripple effect elsewhere on the timeline. In other words, it’s the amount of time outside of the earliest and latest start times and the earliest and latest finish times. A project manager can quickly verify how much slack is available within a project and advise the stakeholders accordingly. CPM also makes dependent tasks identifiable. Project managers are acutely aware of which tasks will delay other future project pieces and which are independent enough to be late with little consequence.
The Critical Path Method may have its roots in scientific and construction projects, but it is applicable to nearly all types of work. Content creators and marketers also find the method useful in tracking each piece of advertising campaigns, for instance. The visual nature of the method is hard to rival, and there are myriad of software programs to aid in the easy management of a CPM project.