In a few minutes, your office mates will be arriving for your midafternoon backyard barbecue party. You’ve sent out the invitation weeks ago. And you know you have everything you need for the perfect cookout—your grilling equipment, apron, skewers, charcoal, ice-cold drinks, coolers, ice, plastic cups and plates, condiments and sauces, and of course, food. You’ve stacked up on your meats days before—from hot dogs, shellfish, and chicken wings, to ground beef for burger patties, pork ribs, and steak.
When the guests start arriving at two o’clock, you realize that you haven’t started the fire, you haven’t done the patties, and the rest of the food, including the unseasoned steak, are frozen glaciers in your freezer.
And so someone spends half an hour starting a fire, while you spend hours to thaw all the meat items before grilling. And your midafternoon barbecue has unintentionally extended well into the evening.
What went wrong with your planning?
In this article, we will delve into how projects like your backyard barbecue party could have started and concluded successfully by observing a little project management principle like the critical path method, or CPM. As you can see, having all the materials that you need is not enough. You also have to define the exact number of activities involved, as well as the time needed to finish each of them. For simple tasks complicated by the sheer number of them, the critical path method project management technique is just what the doctor ordered.
Only 2.5% of companies complete their projects. This despite the tens of project management systems available in the market.
While a lot of things can go into this figure, there is no doubt that the fact that only 22% of organizations use project management software plays a large part in it. While this class of productivity tool is gaining ground the past decade, the adoption rate is way below the pace of many other business solutions.
If you are one of those who are lucky to be wielding the power of this technology, then you have a lot to look forward to from this solution. If you are still working your way around this type of computer program, immersing yourself in the project management methodologies that you deem worthy of your investment helps a lot. A word of caution, however: project management tools are not an end in themselves. You can only get from them what you invest in time learning how they could help you reach your objectives.
Improper implementation of these tools can also burst your expectations fast. Helping yourself with PMS implementation resources should get you on the right path, fast.
Rework, scope creep, poor logistics handling can all contribute to the quick failure of projects in varying degrees. All of these start from relying on old spreadsheets and manual systems to manage even massive projects spanning continents. While you may believe that you have picked up valuable project management principles from academies and work experiences, it is doubtful they could prepare you for projects that entail an enormous amount of details, resources, and non-trivial processes.
Compare that to your counterparts who spent time getting comfortable with project management software. Here the numbers are striking: projects that use project management systems enjoy 89% of success compared to only 34% for those that do not use them.
Let’s have a postmortem of your midafternoon barbecue party.
Definitely, a number of tasks need to be carried out days prior to the party day. The duration from determining the date and time of the barbecue party to putting on your grill apron may even take weeks. But for this case study, let’s focus on the tasks during the barbecue day itself. These tasks, in no particular order, may include the following:
Timeframe? You have intended your barbecue party to be held midafternoon, with an expectation that it will wrap up at the latest by early evening.
By factoring these two elements—tasks to do and expected completion of the event—you as the host will be able to estimate when you need to start the first task to be able to complete the last task on the target time.
This duration of a sequence of tasks that must be performed on time for your barbecue party to reach its conclusion at the time you have targeted is the critical path. Simply put, critical path is the sequence of tasks that add up to the overall duration of a project and affect your project completion date. This essentially means that failing to complete this series of activities at the allotted time might jeopardize the target completion date of your project.
In this case, these four tasks below constitute the critical path. They can be considered the most important tasks and will have a direct significant impact on—and even determining the end of, in this example—the barbecue party itself.
As with the scenario above, the thawing of the meat, which is done much later than intended, has caused the party to extend and the cleanup to be delayed. However, “putting up decorations such as banners” is not included in the list of important tasks and hence not in the critical path, because it does not affect the timeline of the event. That is, even without decorations the barbecue party can still take place.
Also known as critical path analysis, the critical path method or CPM is a highly effective project management tool that factors in the most important tasks, the duration of each task, the activities that are dependent on the completion of another task, and the end date of an event or project. It works on the concept that a certain activity can’t start until another activity is completed, and so this sequence must be very closely managed.
Created in the 1950s, this method started as diagrams with lines to show the relationships of tasks. It has, later on, evolved into automated software that uses charts generated by mathematically-based algorithms used to organize a set of interrelated tasks. In this method, all tasks are listed according to the earliest dates they can start and get completed without overshooting your target end date. In many ways, the critical path method showcases the purpose of project management.
The many advantages of critical path method find their way in construction, repairs, product and software development, publishing, research, or any form of a complex project that has interdependent or connected tasks.
There are ample CPM resources on the Internet that offer something of a critical path method for dummies after the renowned self-help series.
On the other hand, most project management tools have scheduling modules to manage your project tasks. One that easily comes to mind is Wrike, which offers easy-to-use critical path method templates. With the powerful Wrike features, the solution has helped countless project managers around the globe to streamline crucial activities and ensure timely project completion.
The vendor offers a comprehensive free trial to get you up to speed with the features. You can sign up for Wrike free trial here.
The critical path method helps project managers to identify important tasks—that is, those that will greatly impact your project completion if missed.
Going back to the failed midafternoon barbecue party, we could arrange the sequence of the critical, or core, tasks with their respective durations for a working critical path method example:
These tasks already consume 6 hours altogether, particularly if you are working solo in performing all the tasks. That means if you aim to conclude the barbecue party by, say, 5:00 p.m., thawing should take place at 11:00 a.m. A two-hour delay in this first task will cause the succeeding tasks to be delayed as well, and the barbecue party will conclude at 7:00 p.m.
However, in this scenario, you can have parallel critical paths. This means that two groups of interdependent tasks can be carried out simultaneously, with two people having to accomplish a critical path each. Breaking down the same list above, you have:
Arriving with this critical path method template, we can see that with the longer critical path (#1) now taking only 5 hours to complete, thawing can start at noon, without jeopardizing your target party conclusion at 5:00 p.m.
Let’s imagine a bigger application, say you have a project with a duration of 50 working days from start to completion, and the project starts on August 5. The expected completion date is October 15. If the first task starts 3 days late, your end date will be pushed to October 18—unless one or several of the tasks gets completed 3 days earlier, or more people are roped in to ensure the completion of each critical path.
The critical path method has been utilized by project managers for several decades now. Indeed, technology has paved the way for an easier life for these professionals. Here are some of the benefits of applying the critical path method in your projects.
Allows project managers and the team to focus on the most important tasks. Since this method gives project managers an overview of the critical tasks and subtasks and the duration of each, it makes manpower planning and project monitoring easy, as crucial tasks are clearly determined and prioritized. It also enables project managers to assign a series of tasks that do not impact the end date of the project to a new or inexperienced employee.
Gives project managers control of the project timeline. Since a large project is now seen as a series of tasks, the critical path method makes large projects easier to manage. Some dependent tasks have a high risk of being overlooked. The critical method approach exposes these tasks to project managers, enabling them to further improve the project schedule. It also makes missed deadlines immediately apparent, giving project managers opportunities to tweak the schedule and balance the project’s constraints.
Gives project managers control over cost. The critical path method clearly indicates the critical paths that are slow and thus are eating too much into the budget. By reallocating resources to these critical paths at the right time, project managers are able to increase the efficiency of the workforce, which translates to savings—something that upper management will always appreciate.
However highly technical the concept of critical path method may seem, the success of your project boils down to a few basic steps.
Beyond these, you may consider investing in additional workflow management tools to automate many manual and redundant processes. These solutions are typical partners of any collaboration or project management systems. Capabilities traditionally seen in specialist AI tools are also finding their way to many of these solutions, which should make them more compelling for any business.
If you are ready to invest in a proper project management solution like Wrike, you will do well to see how they perform in your workplace. To do that, go for the free trials offered by most of them. For Wrike, for example, you can sign up for Wrike free trial here.
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