What is a 'Critical Path Analysis'

Critical path analysis is a technique that identifies the activities necessary to complete a task, including identifying the time necessary to complete each activity and the relationships between the activities. Also known as the critical path method, critical path analysis helps to predict if a project will finish on time.

BREAKING DOWN 'Critical Path Analysis'

Critical path analysis (CPA) aids in reorganizing the project before initiation and as it progresses. CPA aids in keeping the project's completion on track and makes certain that deliverables finish on time. In the late 1950s, James Kelley, Jr. of Remington Rand and Morgan Walker of DuPont developed a project management technique called the critical path method (CPM). CPM aids in planning project activities and helps project managers handle complex and urgent tasks and projects with a large number of activities.

CPA detects and defines the critical and noncritical tasks in relation to a business process or work plan and the amount of float associated with each activity to prevent schedule delays and process bottlenecks. CPA is a key component in reducing project timelines and controlling costs to prevent exceeding the project budget.

Critical path analysis results define the critical path, a sequential set of related and important steps that comprise a work plan, usually with zero slack. CPA examines all options for decreasing the time necessary to complete the critical steps in a work plan.

How it Works

When using the critical path method, some activities cannot start until others are finished and must be executed in a sequence. These activities are known as sequential activities. For example, when you cook Sunday dinner, a ham cannot be served at dinner until it is thoroughly cooked and taken out of the oven.

CPM diagrams the time necessary to complete an activity, activity dependencies, milestones, deliverables and how each activity is connected to a former and subsequent activity. The critical path method diagrams the project activities using circles and arrows to depict the connection between activities and the length of each activity. A series of activities is called a path, and the longest path in the diagram is the critical path. The critical path is the path that justifies the final project timeline.

CPM plans and organizes resources, prioritizes tasks, estimates and minimizes project time, supports project cost estimates and evaluation, and helps provide project guidance. The critical path method assesses specific tasks that must conclude, assesses where parallel activity can occur, detects the quickest time to complete a project, and identifies resource requirements, categorizes the sequence of activities and enables project scheduling.

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