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Some tips and tricks to help get certified

Taking exams can be nerve racking at the best of times, regardless if you are looking at obtaining project management certifications such as PMP, Prince2 etc., or furthering your education in any field. The one aspect which cannot be denied is being prepared and that goes for most things in life. There can be other factors which can assist with being prepared to take that exam and the following are some tips and tricks which you may consider using before taking that test.

Reading through some of the tips and tricks may seem like common sense, and you will work out that most things normally relate to what is common sense, but we are all different and there could be some elements which may have not been considered as an opportunity to remember an answer to a possible question. To that end, the following are a few tricks which have been of assistance to people I have spoken to over the years, and you may find them useful, and possibly apply to certification exams.

Attempt the easy questions first, don’t spend too much time working out the answer to the complex question first, save the time. No matter the question, there are always some clues and sections that are easier than others. Possibly use those to help answer harder ones and to build confidence. Leave answers blank when unsure, and only lightly pencil in those partly known.

So when applying this method during a certification exam, skip hard questions and leave them blank the first or second time through your exam. Exam creators like to put hard questions near the beginning to test understanding. It is easy to spend 10 or more minutes on early difficult questions, which leaves precious little time for the remainder. Skip them! As, difficult questions are easier the second or third time through.

When an answer is not evident, then rely on patterns to figure out the answer. So applying this in exam conditions, look for distracters (e.g., oxymoron like “assumption constraint”) to spot incorrect answers. Look for answers that have 3 commonalities between them and one that does not (odds are good that is the correct answer, but not always.) Wording from one question can help you with others.

Ensure that the question has been comprehended correctly, so interpretation is extremely important. Exam writers want more than someone who can recall the answer, but think of it instead. For instance, suppose a question is encountered that makes common sense but contradicts your understanding. An example of this can be, and this during preparation to take the PMP exam, a question regarding paying bribes to get a project approved in a foreign country where the practice is common was asked. That option would not be the correct answer because it violates the PM Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide®).

Consider using multiple iterations to complete answers, unless you love doing tests, and it is a common occurrence for you, this is not the case for the rest of us. Prepare by doing two or three iterations of reading through and answering questions on the exam. Follow rule number one that is leave blank every hard answer encountered on the first read-through. Flag any questions partly sure, as mentioned in rule number 2. Doing practice exams also enables discussions, and it is during these discussions that you work out that changing an answer or two can lead to discovery that the first answer was correct after all. Ensure this does not happen to you during the exam. Leave answers blank until you are sure of them.

The best guess, not very scientific, but at times a fall back, especially when time is almost up and there are still unanswered questions. There is no penalty for guessing, only for not answering a question. Try to pace yourself, so time management is a must so you don’t have make an educated guess on too many questions. If you are seriously close to the end, put down any answer. When in serious doubt, and this may be a myth, but the answer “b” occurs most often in exams. Not entirely sure if this is true but putting answer “b” on say five blank answers probably ensures you get one or two of them correct.

It is understood, that one common denominator among virtually all students is exam anxiety. It is very common, and if nothing else this was to provide you with more than one approach in combating it.  It would be great to hear from you and please share your own tips and tricks that have worked.

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Project foundation built on feasibility study

Feasibility Study in Project Management

Feasibility statements are a great way to build a project foundation, within several steps an understanding of the project can be achieved, setting the project manager on a path of success. Using some of the best practices and with available templates the path to successful delivery is clearer. Simply put, a feasibility study is an assessment of practicality of proposed plan or method.

The feasibility study will assist in determining if the technology for example can do as proposed. Does the project have the people, tools and resources necessary? Will it also achieve return on investment?

Once a plan for the feasibility study is created, upload that task list to a preferred project management software and most of the work is populated in the Gantt chart. Tasks can then be assigned to team members, add costs, create timelines, collect all the market research and attach notes at the task level. This gives people a plan to work from, and a collaborative platform to collect ideas and comments.

Based on this information the project can be deemed in a position to be implemented. It is best to conduct a feasibility study during that point in the project’s life cycle after the business case has been completed. It then outlines the factors that will make the business opportunity a success making it an important component of the project.

The following are the seven steps when conducting a feasibility study:

1. Conduct a Preliminary Analysis

Begin by outlining the plan, focus on an unserved need, a market where the demand is greater than the supply, and whether the product or service has a distinct advantage. Then determine if the hurdles are too high to clear (i.e. too expensive, unable to effectively market, etc.).

2. Prepare a Projected Income Statement

This step requires working backwards, start with what income from the project is expected and the investment needed. This is the foundation of an income statement. Items to consider here include what services are required and how much they’ll cost, any adjustments to revenues, such as reimbursements, etc.

3. Conduct a Market Survey, or Perform Market Research

This step is key to the success of a feasibility study, so it should be thorough. It’s so important that if the organization doesn’t have the resources to do a proper one, then it is advantageous to hire an outside firm to do so.

The market research is going to provide the clearest picture of the revenues which can be realistically expected from the project. Some things to consider are the geographic influence on the market, demographics, analysing competitors, value of market and what the share will be and if the market is open to expansion.

4. Plan Business Organization and Operations

Once the groundwork of the previous steps has been laid, it’s time to set up the organization and operations of the planned business venture. This is not a superficial, broad stroke endeavour. It should be thorough and include start-up costs, fixed investments and operation costs.

These costs address things such as equipment, merchandising methods, real estate, personnel, supply availability, overhead, etc.

5. Prepare an Opening Day Balance Sheet

This includes an estimate of the assets and liabilities, one that should be as accurate as possible. To do this, create a list that includes item, source, cost and available financing. Liabilities to consider are such things as leasing or purchasing of land, buildings and equipment, financing for assets and accounts receivables.

6. Review and Analyse All Data

All these steps are important, but the review and analysis are especially important to make sure that everything is as it should be, and nothing requires changing or tweaking. Re-examine previous steps, such as the income statement, and compare it with expenses and liabilities. Is it still realistic? This is also the time to think about risk, analysing and managing, and determine any contingency plans.

7. Make a Go/No-Go Decision

At this point a decision can be made about whether the project is feasible or not. A couple of other things to consider before making that binary choice is whether the commitment is worth the time, effort and money and is it aligned with the organization’s strategic goals and long-term aspirations.

Feasibility Report Template

Finally, here is an outline for the nine parts of a feasibility report:

  1. Executive summary
  2. Description of product/service
  3. Technology considerations
  4. Product/service marketplace
  5. Marketing strategy
  6. Organization/staffing
  7. Schedule
  8. Financial projections
  9. Findings and recommendations

That final item is broken down into subsets of technology, marketing, organization and financial findings and recommendations.

A feasibility study can provide an insight on the validity of a project, a project management software can assist with its execution. Once a plan for the feasibility study is in place, upload that task list into the software and all the work is populated in the online Gantt chart. At this time, tasks can be assigned to team members, add costs, create timelines, collect all the market research and attach notes at the task level. This gives people a plan to work from, and a collaborative platform to collect ideas and comments. Let us know your thoughts on the use of feasibility studies, we would like to hear from you. All the very best on your project management journey.

The essential 5 Project Management Reports

Project Reports

Project reporting or governance is a very important part of the project manager’s life. Without reliable reporting, projects are doomed to fail. There are five reports to use to ensure projects remain on track. These will help with tracking everything from risks to resources. They are the most common types of project reports, regardless they are crucial to the successful running of a project.

The most common type of project report and the one that is likely to be generated most often are Status Reports. These reports can be produced weekly or monthly, depending on the project and the sponsor’s requirement they can also be requested on a daily basis.  

The frequency depends on where the project is at a certain point and how much there is to say. There’s not much point reporting daily if the tasks all take over a week, as there won’t be any progress to report from day to day.

As a fair amount of time is spent producing status reports, it is worth considering ways to make it faster to write them. Better yet, automate as much reporting as possible.

Create a standard status report template or use the one that comes with project management software, and use the data in the scheduling tool to populate the project progress. Even if it has to be amended afterwards, having some of the fields completed will save a lot of time.

Many Project Managers report on risks at least monthly and the report is normally the output that comes after a risk review meeting. The risk log can be updated anytime, and all project team members should be contributing risks to the log whenever it is determined something needs recording.

The risk report should include a summary of the risk profile of the project. A good approach would be to only include the details for the risks that have the potential to create the most problems for the project. Then, include a statement on the lower-level risks, perhaps summarizing how the risk is being mitigated.

There could be a request to produce a report about all the risks, regardless of how significant they are. It’s probably easiest to do this as an automated download from project management software, or if the risk log is kept in another format like a spreadsheet, by issuing a complete copy of that document.

Reports need to be tailored to the people who are going to read them. So the report produced for the project board will have a different level of detail in it compared to the weekly status update that goes to the project team and key business stakeholders.

For the project board reports, think high level. They will want to read about things that are important to them, like issues they can help resolve, a summary of the budget position, and whether or not the project is on track and milestones achieved within the time-frame specified.

Make sure that the board report is in a format that they can easily read. For example, if executives are always on the road and use their smartphones to check emails, don’t produce the report in the form of a complicated spreadsheet that won’t display correctly, or include loads of large graphics that will take ages to download. A pdf will render across devices if emailing a static report.

Tracking resource allocation and determining which task is being addressed at a certain point is another important report. One way is to go through the entire project plan and work out the resource allocations by hand. That would take a lot of time, and be mind-numbingly dull as well. Or use project management planning software to work it all out. Most software tools, whether they are standalone Gantt chart software or fully-featured project tools with integrated time-sheets, will have the option to create a resource report.

The resource report will show the breakdown of which project team member is allocated to which task on which day. They can also be used to pinpoint over allocation problems – where a team member is allocated to more than one task. Obviously they can’t work on two things at once, so if not picked up these problems will affect the project plan as it slips behind schedule. Use the resource report to ensure there aren’t any clashes for individuals and reschedule those tasks as necessary.

Resource reports can also be useful for scheduling more than one person. This is important information as it provides information when someone becomes available, and that is a good sign that they can be given more project tasks at that point. If the resource availability is compared to the project’s timeline then planning becomes more efficient. As one task done by one person ends, then someone else is available to pick up the next thing that needs to be done, so that tasks don’t stop halfway through waiting for the next person to become available.

Overall, resource reports are one of the most useful types of project reports to be had as a project manager, although they can be a bit difficult to interpret at first. It really is worth spending the time getting to know how to read the reports so that changes to the project schedule can be made as appropriate.

A project can be determined to be tracking as planned via a variance report. That’s the beauty of a variance report: it compares the planned against the actual outcome, providing a metric to measure if the project is still on track, ahead of schedule or running behind.

The variance report will collect and organize the data on what is being comparing, whether it be the budget, schedule or scope of the project variable being measured. The variance report provides the tool to many a variance analysis or a measurable change from the baseline.

There are several variance reports, such as cost variance, variance at completion (budget surplus or deficit), scheduled variance and others. Mostly, variance reporting is used in budgetary analysis, trend reporting and spending analysis.

The variance report is a great tool for the project managers, who need a lens into the project’s progress so as to make informed decisions on allocating resources. But not only project managers benefit from the reporting. Stakeholders are interested in high-level reporting, and variance reports provides a thumb’s up or down as to the progress of the project and whether it has met its schedule and budget.

How often a variance report should be run depends on many factors. For example, what kind of project is it? What’s its duration? Where is it taking place? The accounting methods a project manager uses will likely be different from project to project, but a regular variance report is a powerful metric to determine the health of the project.

The right software will be of assistance to project managers, and the less which has to have manual input the better. Especially when the project software is integrated and information can be obtained within a few key strokes. Regardless, project reporting is mandatory if you are new to the role or an experienced journeyman. Let us know the best reports you use for your projects we would like to hear from you. All the very best on your project management journey.

Process Thinking for Project Delivery

Process Thinking

The delivery of projects successfully is made up of many factors, one is process. The ability to follow established set steps to ensure that results are achieved. The ability to understand that everything correct flow is the result of a process and is the key to performance and possibly project improvement. 

To effectively deliver projects as close to scope as possible, or at least not to have such a variance from the concept, final scope and then what is delivered, look no further than the process.  As there is a place for process thinking in operating, managing, and directing projects.

Every outcome is the result of a process, set of steps, under a set of conditions.  Analysing processes provides lessons learnt and allows for improvement for future performance.

When it comes to figuring out what went right or wrong, focus on what was done, why it was done, how it was done, and why it was done that way.  Then learn from what happened to continuously improve.

There are two broad categories of processes, internal (intrapersonal) and external (collaborative).  While the internal processes have a direct effect in the external ones, in most teams and organizations they are left to the individual.  The external ones are observable, such as speech, behaviour, and outcomes can be seen, felt, and analysed.

Processes weave together in a dynamic system.  The system, the environment being worked in, is complex.  Managing its processes is more an art or craft than a science.  Documented policies, processes and procedures are useful, though it is behaviour that counts.  And behaviour in complex situations requires flexibility and the right balance among intuition and analysis, compliance, and flexibility.

There are many ways to say the same thing and there may be more categories.  The point is to assess processes to see with which allow for satisfaction, and which can and should be improved?

The following is list of processes that are involved in project management

  • Communication
    • Demeanour, decorum, and respect for others – emotional and social intelligences, rules of order
    • Structure – purpose, position, evidence, dialog (questioning, opposing views, and rebuttal), conclusion.  Why is one saying what they are saying?  Is it the best way to address the purpose, meaningful, as brief as possible and to the point?
    • Active Listening – sensing one’s own and other people’s meaning through “vibe”, body language, tone, and content; asking questions to better understand; open to what the other person is saying as opposed to assuming what that are saying.
    • Transparency – what was decided, why it was decided that way, what is being or was done, the outcome, implications, and changes.
  • Conflict Resolution, Problem Solving, and Decision making
  • Operational performance
  • Management
    • Operational
    • Human resource
    • Quality (reviews, compliance, performance analysis and continuous improvement)
    • Procurement
    • Stakeholder (managing expectations, informing, obtaining input)
    • Financial and Accounting
    • Legal
  • Direction
    • Strategy and policy
    • Stakeholder relations and politics
    • Accountability and performance evaluation
    • Decision making
    • Values and principles

Regardless if a good track record in project delivery exists, there probably are parts of processes which can be better understood and improved, particularly in the areas of communication, decision making, stakeholder relations, and quality management. 

How best to address process?  Cultivate process thinking.  Ask what processes are behind chronic performance problems?  Are processes too rigid or too loose?  Is process documentation enough?  Is everyone aware of process thinking?

Make the time and take the effort to manage processes, let us know you approach to the use of processes in delivering projects. It would be great to have your point of view, all the very best on your project management journey.

Achieving Business Goals with Project and Portfolio Management

Project and Portfolio Management

Organization goals can be achieved with the input of Project and portfolio management (PPM). Designed to also assist with optimizing performance and become more adaptive in a constantly changing business environment. IT teams deliver value to the business, become strategically aligned with goals of the organization, and most importantly, show that value through data and reporting.

One of the values of a Project Management Office is when it provides tools to optimize project and portfolio management. By focusing on four key areas, the IT PPM can be the biggest influences in the overall strategy and an extension of the business, rather than just a function of business.

IT helps PMOs manage projects, portfolios and investments collectively by harnessing vast amounts of data, resources and deliverables under one umbrella, then providing tools that support the distillation of that information into meaningful reporting that drives all sort of decision-making.

The four key ways to leverage IT PPM for business advancement is as follows;

In order to realize the benefits of PPM in the business, organization needs to have a single, integrated prioritization system that takes into account all facets of operation across all types and sources of work. IT PPM empowers the Project Management Office (PMO) and other stakeholders with the ability to make informed decisions based on capability, capacity, change readiness and other important business drivers.

This is because IT PPM provides broad visibility into all areas of a portfolio, from deadlines and deliverables, to resources and historic results. In short, process and technology helps determine what is possible. It is important to recognize that IT implementation is a partnership with a singular goal: the long-term success of the business. While technology determines what is possible, business provides needed context for these prioritized goals, such as;

  • Top down alignment
  • Strategically focused
  • Based on optimized Return on Investment (ROI)
  • Balances all sources and types of work
  • Balances innovation and time to solution
  • Eliminates gaps and inefficiencies.


Managing resources while ensuring the right people are deployed to the right projects is the tricky part of project management, which is why PPM can be so helpful in enhancing overall strategy. Too often, PMOs get stuck in a rut that makes distributing resources more about urgency than accuracy. They can only see the crisis in their immediate vicinity and solving it quickly becomes a singular goal.

Resourcing should be strategic and future-focused — it must consider the current and future needs, as well as time to prepare. In the midst of change and uncertainty, it is difficult to maintain a long term strategy, but it actually becomes more important to do so. Ensuring resources align to the projects deemed important for the business to ensure that promises are actually being delivered. Furthermore, a solid resourcing strategy must also recognize that skills can be just as important as availability when it comes to distribution.

IT PPM helps PMOs balance the distribution of work across all projects and portfolios with a dedicated, single resource pool that includes an exhaustive list of the skills, certificates and capabilities of each team member so no resource is over-utilized or double booked.

Business must go on and IT PPM supports the PMO to curate data on every resource at their disposal and find them quickly and easily when it comes time to assign work. When backed by the prioritization benefit listed above, the PMO can optimize utilization by providing the right resource for the job with zero waste or overlap.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that flexibility is the key to survival and that IT is imperative to that flexibility. Many PMO leaders and project managers have learned and lived the power of being flexible, agile or knowing how to pivot and the importance it plays on business today. But the truth is, pivots and change happen all the time and the IT PPM strategy needs to allow for that. Embracing a change culture and instilling measures to support change – rather than reject it – will provide business returns from project investments.

Technology can be credited with saving thousands of businesses and helping them to pivot during recent shutdowns and dramatic shifts to the way we all do business. In the realm of PPM, technology helps PMOs anticipate, plan for, and quickly adapt to change. IT can be leveraged to monitor changes in needs, goals and in alignment to make sure it is conducted at the right time in the right way. 

A common theme of the past three elements is visibility. By providing the PMO’s ability to see and understand what is going on in all areas of operation, they are being provided with one of their greatest assets in supporting business goals, that is control. IT PPM is automation-driven and results-oriented. Instead of analyzing stacks and stacks of spreadsheets, personnel files and creative briefs, information is gathered digitally and then sorted effectively.

There is no substitute for the power of technology when it comes to compiling thousands of bits of information, not only making it easily accessible, but contextualizing it into meaningful reports. In short, the PMO can provide effective management that is driven by contextualized insight.

PPM is an excellent way to improve business and maximize its effectiveness, profitability and positive outcomes. By adding in the benefits of IT PPM, the organization can achieve next-level performance that will help ensure rock solid footing, even in uncertain times. Let us know your interaction with the PMO and how it benefits the organization when delivering projects.

All the very best on your project management journey.

Impact of a good vision statement

Vision Statements

Don’t underestimate the impact of a good vision statement, in order to write a powerful vision statement, every word must count. This can seem like a challenge, but it’s a skill which can be mastered just like any other.  A vision statement is a foundational business document. As project managers, from time to time, when an idea is considered, a vision statement is required.

There is a lot of paperwork that clutters the office any organization, but the vision statement is unique from the rest. Often confused with a mission statement, the vision statement has a different purpose.  A vision statement looks towards the future, but a mission statement talks about what the company is doing in the present.

Because the vision statement is a foundational document that will guide the company’s direction for years to come, consider using project planning tools and brainstorming techniques to get input from everyone on the team. That way, greater buy-in from the company may be achieved and widen the net for collecting ideas.

A vision statement is a document that states the current and future objectives of an organization. The vision statement is intended as a guide to help the organization make decisions that align with its philosophy and declared set of goals. It can be thought of as a road-map to where the company wants to be within a certain time-frame. A vision statement is not only used in business, as non-profits and governmental offices also use them to set goals.

Vision statements are not necessarily set in stone. They can be returned to, reviewed and revised as necessary. Any changes should be minimal, however, because a vision statement should have been given a great deal of thought before being finalized.

A vision statement doesn’t have any length. It can be as short as an aspirational sentence or pages long; it depends on how much detail it should be given to get the point across. However long it is, the vision statement is formally written and is used as reference in company documents to serve as a guide for actions now and in the future.

A vision statement isn’t a pie-in-the-sky document that collects the shared fantasies of the organization and then is filed away. Like a mission statement, it’s a living document that is referred to as a lodestar to lead a company to its next innovation.

Some might think a vision statement is a waste of time, but it fills a vital need for the company. For instance, it sets a broader strategic plan for the organization. It’s very easy to get bogged down on the day-to-day details of running an organization. The vision statement helps plan long-term.

Whatever goals are set, without motivating employees to achieve that goal, chances are it won’t go anywhere. A motivational vision statement will both motivate existing employees and drive talent to the company.

A strong vision statement also works to help differentiate the company from others. All companies want to become profitable, but a company that can set an agenda to achieve that goal is going to set itself apart and inspire others. Use a vision statement to focus the efforts of the organization on the core competencies it needs to achieve its goals.

There is no template to writing a vision statement, however a common structure for successful ones includes these traits:

  • Be Concise:  It should be simple, easy to read and cut to the essentials, so that it can be set to memory and be repeated accurately.
  • Be Clear: Focus on one primary goal, rather than trying to fill the document with a scattering of ideas. One clear objective is also easier to focus on and achieve.
  • Have a Time Horizon: A time horizon is simply a fixed point in the future when the vision statement can be achieved and evaluated.
  • Make it Future-Oriented: The vision statement is not what the company is presently engaged in but rather a future objective where the company plans to be.
  • Be Stable: The vision statement is a long-term goal that should, ideally, not be affected by the market or technological changes.
  • Be Challenging: The objective shouldn’t be too easy to achieve, but also it shouldn’t be so unrealistic as to be discarded.
  • Be Abstract: The vision statement should be general enough to capture the organization’s interests and strategic direction.
  • Be Inspiring: Create something that will rally the troops and be desirable as a goal for all those involved in the organization.

Once the vision statement has been composed the real work begins. To achieve that vision, surround yourself with the necessary tools. Cloud-based project management software with tools like online Gantt charts, task lists and Kanban boards help to complete projects which assist with realizing a vision. Let us know your thoughts on vision statements and if they have assisted you achieve your goals.

All the very best on your project management journey.

Critical Path Method Essentials

Critical Path Method Essentials

In project management, the critical path is the longest sequence of tasks that must be completed to successfully conclude a project, from start to finish. The tasks on the critical path are known as critical activities because if they’re delayed, the whole project will be delayed. By identifying the critical path, determining the total duration of a project can be made.

Calculating the critical path is key during the planning phase because the critical path identifies important deadlines and the activities which must be completed on time. Once a critical path is determined, a clear picture of the schedule becomes evident.

To find this, project managers use the critical path method (CPM) algorithm to define the least amount of time necessary to complete each task with the least amount of slack.

Once a manual task, but with the availability of project scheduling software the critical path can be calculated automatically.

The critical path method (CPM), also known as critical path analysis (CPA), is a scheduling procedure that uses a network diagram to depict a project and the sequences of tasks required to complete it, which are known as paths. Once the paths are defined, the duration of each path is calculated by an algorithm to identify the critical path, which determines the total duration of the project.

The critical path method (CPM) is used in project management to create project schedules and helps project managers create a timeline for the project. The critical path method includes:

  • Identifying every task necessary to complete the project and the dependencies between them
  • Estimating the duration of the project tasks
  • Calculating the critical path based on the tasks’ duration and dependencies to identify the critical activities
  • Focusing on planning, scheduling and controlling critical activities
  • Setting project milestones and deliverables
  • Setting stakeholder expectations related to deadlines

After making these considerations, insight is gained into which activities must be prioritized. Then it becomes evident of which resources need to be allocated to get these important tasks done. Tasks discovered that aren’t on the critical path are of a lesser priority in the project plan and can be delayed if they’re causing the project team to become over-allocated.

Projects are made up of tasks that must adhere to a schedule in order to meet a deadline. It sounds simple, but without mapping the work it can quickly get out of hand and project can get off track.

When analyzing the critical path, pay particular attention closely at the time it will take to complete each task, taking into account the task dependencies and how they’ll impact the schedule. It’s a technique to find the most realistic project deadline. It can also help during the project as a metric to track progress.

Therefore, when  doing critical path analysis, finding the sequence of tasks that are both important and dependent on a previous task. Less important tasks aren’t ignored and are part of the analysis; however, they’re the ones which can be jettisoned if time and money won’t permit.

To properly understand the concept of critical path, it is best to understand the various terms used in this method.

Earliest start time (ES): This is simply the earliest time that a task can be started in the project. This cannot be determined without first knowing if there are any preceding tasks, or figuring out other constraints that might impact the start of this task.

Latest start time (LS): This is the very last minute in which to start a task before it threatens to upset the project schedule. Calculate what the latest finish time is for the same reason. By having a clear picture of this timeframe, better scheduling of the project can be covered to meet its deadline.

Earliest finish time (EF): The earliest an activity can be completed, based on its duration and its earliest start time.

Latest finish time (LF): The latest an activity can be completed, based on its duration and its latest start time.

Float. Also known as slack, float is a term that describes how long to delay a task before it impacts the planned schedule and threatens the project’s deadline. The tasks on the critical path have zero float. Either calculate the float using the steps above, or by using project management software. If an activity has a float greater than zero, it means it can be delayed without affecting the project completion time.

Crash duration. This describes the shortest amount of time that a task can be scheduled. This can be achieved by moving around resources, adding more towards the end of the task, to decrease the time needed to complete the task. This often means a reduction in quality but is based on a relationship between cost and time.

Critical path drag. If time is added to the project because of a constraint, that is called a critical path drag, which is how much longer a project will take because of constraints on tasks in the critical path.

Once the key definitions of CPM are known, here are the steps to calculate the critical path in project management:

  1. Collect Activities: Use a work breakdown structure to collect all the project activities that lead to the final deliverable.
  2. Identify Dependencies: Figure out which tasks are dependent on other tasks before they can begin.
  3. Create a Network Diagram: A critical path analysis chart, or network diagram, depicts the order of activities.
  4. Estimate Timeline: Determine the duration of each activity.
  5. Use the Critical Path Algorithm: The algorithm has two parts; a forward pass and a backwards pass.
  6. Forward Pass: Use the network diagram and the duration of each activity to determine their earliest start (ES) and earliest finish (EF). The ES of an activity is equal to the EF of its predecessor, and its EF is determined by the formula EF = ES + t (t is the activity duration). The EF of the last activity identifies the expected time required to complete the entire project.
  7. Backward Pass: Begins by assigning the last activity’s earliest finish as its latest finish. Then the formula to find the LS is LS = LF – t (t is the activity duration). For the previous activities, the LF is the smallest of the start times for the activity that immediately follows.
  8. Identify the Float of Each Activity: The float is the length of time an activity can be delayed without increasing the total project completion time. Since the critical path has no float, the float formula reveals the critical path: Float = LS – ES
  9. Identify the Critical Path: The activities with 0 float make up the critical path.
  10. Revise During Execution: Continue to update the critical path network diagram through to the execution phase.

These steps determine what tasks are critical and which can float, meaning they can be delayed without negatively impacting the project by making it longer. The availability of this information needed to plan the schedule more accurately and have more of a guarantee that the project deadline will be met.

Also, considerations of other constraints that might change the project schedule need to be understood. The more these issues can be accounted, the more accurate the critical path method will be. If time is added to the project because of these constraints, that is called a critical path drag, which is how much longer a project will take because of the task and constraint.

Critical path software is used to automatically calculate the critical path in the project schedule. Without using software, managers would have to manually calculate the time-consuming and complicated equation.

Time is one of the triple constraints of a project, so it’s understandable why critical path software has become popular in project management. Any opportunity to gain efficiencies steers the project closer to meeting its goals and objectives.

Since critical path is a very specific technique, critical path software is usually associated with a larger project planning tool that organizes tasks, prioritizes the sequence of activities and other features that go into creating the schedule. One of the most used project management software to identify the critical path is Microsoft Project, although there are many others as well.

Knowing the critical path and having a tool to recalculate it as the schedule evolves over the course of the project is key to getting back on track when behind schedule. More benefits to using critical path software include the following.

  • Quick Calculations Save Time and Effort
  • Track Progress to Know If You’re Behind
  • Recalculate as Project Schedule Changes
  • Keep Track of Task Dependencies
  • Set Milestones and Save Important Dates
  • Get Insightful Data When Planning Tasks
  • Create Schedule Baseline for Project Variance

 

The Critical Path Method (CPM) and the Program Evaluation Review Technique (PERT) are both visual representations of a project schedule, but it’s important to know the differences.

The main difference between PERT and CPM is that PERT was designed to plan projects with uncertain activity times. Therefore PERT uses three time estimates for each task: optimistic, most likely and pessimistic. On the other hand, CPM was designed for projects where activity times are certain.

CPM uses a single time estimate for each task and focuses on the analysis of task sequences to estimate the total duration of a project. Another important difference is that the CPM is used to identify critical activities that must be completed on time to avoid affecting the project’s deadline, which is something that PERT can’t do.

PERT can be used alongside the critical path to help estimate the duration of activities.

The Critical Path Method is one of the many tools that project managers use when creating their project plan and schedule. It informs them on the length of time, the amount of resources and costs associated with each task and the overall project. Once they have this mapped out they can start plotting the timeline in their scheduling software and start the process of managing their project.

Critical path plays an important role in developing a schedule in project management. It is used in conjunction with PERT (program evaluation and review technique) to figure out the longest amount of time that it would take to complete a project by looking at the dependencies and duration of each task involved.

Simply put, using the critical path is a way to order the seeming chaotic complexity of any project. If deadlines are important to getting a project to deliver on time, then the duration of each task must be understood in order to better estimate where those deadlines will land on the project timeline.

Critical path analysis is charting the dependent tasks, which are those that cannot start or finish until another has started or finished. This creates a great deal of complexity, but the analysis is crucial in order to have a realistic schedule. If the project isn’t as complicated, however, it might not require critical path analysis.

The critical path is important when managing a project because it identifies all the tasks needed to complete the project—then determines the tasks that must be done on time, those that can be delayed if needed (due to the triple constraint of time, cost and scope) and how much float there is.

The reason for understanding the critical path in project management is that the more accurate and reliable the data, the better the project timeline, schedule, plan and so forth. The critical path of a project shows not only how long tasks are likely to take but prioritizes them.

When in the middle of a project and it’s running behind schedule, the critical path will show which tasks must be completed and those that can be left undone without negatively impacting deliverables. This could mean the difference between a successful project, and a failed one.

Critical path is also helpful within the project as a measurement of schedule variance. That is, it can help determine which stage of the project compared to where the plan indicated at that time. This information will quickly advise if the project is on target or lagging behind.

Another benefit of using the critical path in project management is that it helps identify and map task dependencies. Not all tasks can be done at the same time. There is an order and often that structure means that some tasks can’t start or stop until another has started or stopped. It can help avoid bottlenecks by map parallel tasks and keep the project moving.

Finding the critical path is a useful tool that project managers use to make better time estimates. It lends itself to complex and larger projects, but it can be a helpful tool no matter the size of the project.

Time is always weighing heavy on a project, and a critical path identifies which of the project tasks are not necessary to end with a quality deliverable. Completing every task is important, but sometimes that’s not possible. Critical path helps determine which are not needed.

Once the critical path is determined, keep returning to the analysis and continuing to crunch those numbers as things change when executing the project. That’s a lot of work, but when used in conjunction with a robust project management software, the first steps towards success have been taken. Let us know your thoughts on the Critical path Method, and how it has assisted you in your projects. All the very best on your project management journey.

The Art of Project Management, a discipline for initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve a specific goal. A project is a temporary endeavour designed to produce a unique product, service or outcome. The end to end delivery of the project, known as the project lifecycle is affected by resource, time management and a fixed budget. The purpose of project management is to enhance a particular situation through the avenue of delivery and change. The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all the project goals within the given constraints, normally defined in a user or project manual, created at the beginning of the development process. The primary constraints are scope, time, quality and budget. The secondary and more ambitious challenge is to optimize the allocation of necessary inputs and integrate them to meet a pre-defined objective.