Managing projects with the Critical Path Method (CPM) allows teams to streamline processes that drive success even when the odds are stacked against you
In the 1940s, the United States began working on a secretive program called the Manhattan Project. The project went on to develop the first functional nuclear weapons which were subsequently used in World War 2. The program was a massive undertaking, requiring the synchronized work of over 130,000 people and costing over $2 billion (more than $23 billion in 2019 dollars). More than that, the project had to be coordinated in a way so that no one except the most senior executives and commanders knew the ultimate purpose of the project in order to avoid security leaks.
One of the contributing factors that led to the success of the project was the use of rigorous project management tools and techniques to determine the surest route to successful completion of the project. The need for a rigorous planning and review process for large scale undertakings like the Manhattan Project led to the development of what is now formally referred to as the Critical Path Method (CPM), an algorithm for scheduling a set of project activities.
Successful completion of any project is reliant on the pathway chosen to reach a proposed end goal. Typically, this pathway is chosen by breaking up a large project into individual steps. When planning out a long-term project, business leaders need to think smartly about which steps go into reaching a successful result. Today, technology is enabling businesses to make better decisions related to the choices required to drive business success, but it is still important to understand the basic concepts involved in critical path selection.
In the process of developing a tool specifically tailored to help businesses implement the Critical Path Method, we’ve outlined six steps integral to adopting a CPM strategy:
Step 1: Create a Work Breakdown Structure. When you start a new project, it’s always a help to get everyone in the same room to build a list of high-value tasks which must be completed in order to reach the end goal. Once you’ve identified these tasks, the team should reconvene and regroup to break these activities into reasonable blocks and create a timeline for the completion of each task.
Step 2: Establish A Detailed Timeline. After you have a list of specific high-value (but not too specific) tasks which must be completed, it is essential to create a timeline which takes into consideration whether certain tasks are dependent on the completion of prior tasks in order to begin. These tasks will hold up the process if not completed at the right time and in the right order, so it is important to identify who is responsible for each key stage and ensure that those team members are aware of who runs each task. Once they are made aware, it is also integral to make sure that procedures are in place to ensure accountability and next steps should a delay occur.
Step 3: Chart the Project. Create a visual representation of your critical path in order to show the task order and the way in which specific tasks are reliant on other tasks. The creation of this visual representation will allow you to conduct a Critical Path Analysis (CPA) to determine if you are missing any potential choke points or areas which may cause delays.
Step 4: Project Task Completion Times. The project manager should set project completion times based on feedback from individual team members and create best and worst case estimates for completion of the project based on those estimates.
Step 5: Identify the Critical Path. After conducting the Critical Path Analysis, you will be able to select your Critical Path which will drive the most likely path to success. The selection of your Critical Path based on the CPA is key to developing a plan that will work for you and the team.
Step 6: Update Your Diagram. Once you’ve developed a Critical Path plan, update the critical path diagram and tweak as needed. As the project progresses, actual completion times can replace the estimates, creating a more realistic timeline. During this time, a more realistic time frame may emerge and give the team more accurate results.
Businesses are constantly looking for new ways to streamline their projects and choose the best pathway for success. While it is a good start to create this type of diagram either on paper, a flipchart or PowerPoint, it can be more useful to develop this type of tool in the cloud so that it can be shared with key stakeholders and project managers.
This was our reason for building the Critical Path Dashboard.
In developing the Critical Path Dashboard, we hoped to provide a platform and a framework for businesses to track the success of long-term projects on an ongoing basis. The Critical Path template also provides a methodology for breaking down your key business metrics into categories that become actionable and measurable.
Still want to learn more? Check out upBOARD’s Critical Path Dashboard in the cloud.