Critical Path Analysis has ties with corporate strategy and human resources. It enables a business to gain a competitive advantage by effectively planning their time to pursue a goal. This can be especially important when they are trying to be first to market or when the process requires a lot of routine steps. It is also relevant in the computing sector and neural networks.

Detailing the steps involved can help to create a better picture of the complexity of a project. To do this, Critical Path Analysis Diagrams are used to break down the project into stages.

Critical Path Nodes

Each stage is made up of nodes, and each node is made of three numbers, the nodes are the circles in the image above (there are two) and have a path between them, Each path has the project that will be completed on the top and the time on the bottom.

Each node has a number on the left half, the earliest start time on the top and the latest finishing time on the bottom. Some diagrams also denote the direction of the path, however, it usually starts on the left, and ends on the right.

Some Critical Path Analysis Diagrams can become complex and take a long time to complete, some stages may also require few or many steps to complete, it is for this reason that Critical Paths are also shown on a diagram.

Critical Path with Four Nodes

In the diagram above, there are four nodes and therefore more work to be completed, however having a top and bottom section has so far proven redundant. It is only when there is an alternate path that these nodes become useful.

Critical Path Analysis Network with a denoted Critical Path

We can now see that having the latest finish time has meant that the project now cannot be finished until the ninth day as the task ‘Air Transport’ Requires a longer time period than the other tasks. This is why the fourth node now reads ‘9’ on the latest finish time. Additionally, there is now dashes along the Critical Path as this task must be completed in order for the project to remain on time.

Critical Path Advantages

Finding the critical path of a project allows a business too;

  • Conduct better contingency planning as they can see clearly where projects have the potential to get held up in the process and aren’t slowed down due to failures in the system.
  • Optimize workflow for employees as they will be able to better manage the time they need to complete a task, should a task have a long lead time, the task could be delayed without affecting the progress of the project, for example, a node having a quicker ‘earliest start time’ than other tasks.
  • Allows a job to be completed in the shortest amount of time possible.
  • It can help to reduce risk on projects that have complex time dependencies.

Critical Path Disadvantages

  • However, it does not account for the likelihood of failure of a task where it was poorly planned from the beginning.
  • It does not account for the fact that a project may eventually have stages that need changing as time progresses or situations change.
  • It depends on the accuracy of the projects predicted time-scale.
  • It may not account for other factors like cost or trade-off.
  • Resources may not be as flexible in the long term as previously planned.
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