PM Glossary #4 – What is Critical Path and how Critique-al can we get?

I was also toying with the “Why is Critical Path, so critical” title for my post and gave up for the former, as this is predominantly a What-is and not a Why-is post. 🙂

This is probably the most infamous of all terminologies in Project Management.

Just because all the activities on this path add up to take the longest time in the project, thereby influencing the overall project schedule, unknowingly this poor chap is always under scrutiny, and how!

The best part is, a project can have multiple critical paths (just like twins, triplets, quadruplets etc), as long as they all add up to the same (maximum) elapsed schedule and influence on the timelines (There goes the similarity between critical path and twins / triplets).

The term in itself is a misnomer, because it is always not necessary that the activities on the critical path be “critical” (as in business critical, mission critical parlance). It can also be a path of seemingly non critical (even trivial) activities but all adding up to be “critical” for the project, by virtue of being on the critical path (you can safely call these as being “Project critical” now).

There is another catch here. A critical path is not static in any given project and has the possibility of changing/ re-routing automatically (just like your GPS navigator), and unless you are on the look out, you may end up not knowing about this at all until it is too late, and the project has run off track (remember GPS and what happens when not following)!

What this means is that, if there are delays in tasks / activities outside of the existing critical path(s), then these tasks could then become a new critical path (or paths) and the older critical path, may no longer qualify as a critical path.

Try explaining this to someone who is just beginning to work past his / her initial days of Project Management!

Now, on top of this, when you add terms like Float, Slack and Fast track, the poor soul is bound to take a one way ticket and get away from you, with a zero slack and on an extremely fast track basis.

I will refrain from getting carried away further and try and explain terms associated with Critical Path in subsequent posts.

While you are here, why don’t you try your hand on the below poll:


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