Welcome to Business Bites. My name is Sara. This is the podcast for busy professionals who want the quick hits of business terminology, historical context, and strategies for integration. Today we'll be talking about the critical path method.
The critical path method was first coined in DuPont in the late '50s by James Kelly and Morgan Walker. When thinking about the critical path method, this is a term that's directly used in project management of all kinds. The critical path talks about the path or the items on your schedule that if they're adjusted in any way will have a direct effect or direct outcome on your end product. These are dates or specific steps that are critical to be able to achieve what it is that you're doing. Now, of course, on your project plan, you have lots of different tasks, lots of different components that you're trying to have occur along that way. However, the items on the critical path need to happen in a specific order or the project will suffer in the long run, or you won't be able to accomplish the goal that you're looking to do.
This method, when you're looking at your project from an analysis perspective, will also be helpful in determining whether you have the appropriate resources for the project or whether the dates you have set are realistic. For example, if you know that one of the steps takes two weeks to accomplish, do the two weeks that are currently set out for that project make sense? Is it a time of year where there's a lot of vacation being taken or when a lot of people might be dedicated to other projects? If you know this in advance, you might be able to adjust to compensate for that critical path. As I had mentioned before, you may have a number of other projects and other tasks that are a component of this, that feed into that critical path. However, you want to be able to build some safety and some structure around it.
When you're thinking about building this, there are a number of different ways that you can determine whether you want to use this critical path method and how it might assist you. For example, let's say you have scheduled compression going on. Scheduling compression is when you are pushing up and or adjusting a schedule to be tighter, that you would like it to be ending sooner. There might be some things on your path that take a certain amount of time because they take a certain amount of time and you won't be able to speed them up. You can make some tasks go faster, but some of them cannot be adjusted. For example, if it takes 24 hours for something to post onto another person's network or another person's database, you can't speed that up. It's going to take 24 hours. So it's important to understand which things in your schedule can be compressed and which things can't. The items that can't are often things along that critical path. Another way to think about it is there is some scarcity in play, either from a resource perspective, time, quality, whatever it may be. If you understand and have a clear sense of your critical path, it will help you in determining how this project might be successful or how to mitigate some of that risk.
I'd like to talk you through an example of how you might use the critical path, but I want to talk about it if you were going to make an omelet. So for example, if we're making an omelet, there are some core items that we need. We need eggs, we need a pan, and we need to be able to cook them for a certain amount of time. Now, if we're thinking about the critical path, in order to make the omelet, I need to beat the eggs, heat the oil in the pan, and cook for three to five minutes, depending on how you like your omelet. There are other steps which I could add into this process. Perhaps you're someone who likes to season your eggs with salt or add in vegetables, or potentially add in cheese. These are all things that you can do, but they're not core to the function of making the omelet.
If I make my unsalted non vegetable omelet, it's still an omelet. It doesn't have those other items. But the items on that critical path going from getting the eggs, getting them in the pan, and cooking them for five minutes, those are immovable. I have to do those three steps. Choosing to season with salt, choosing to add vegetables, and choosing to add cheese are all part of the decision and we'll take extra time. But at the end of the day, I don't have to do them. For example, if I want to add in fresh vegetables or defrost vegetables from my freezer, again, that all takes extra time, but not a part of the critical path. So it's important to think about for the projects that you are working on, which are those items that cannot be moved, that need to happen regardless, and will have an impact on your overall timeline.
This has been Sara with Business Bites. And you can reach me at [email protected] We would love to hear from you and other terminology that you would like to hear bite-sized. As always, give us a quick rating on your platform of choice and share this podcast with a friend.