One of the most common problems that project managers weep about is “unrealistic timelines,” a common consequence of clients having set their expectations too high even before the project starts. Ironically, there are occurrences in the duration of a project when a staff is sitting idly, waiting for a colleague to finish so he can start his own task. In this situation, does the project manager shout foul and blame other people? Chances are, as a project manager, he needs to give the project schedule a second look.
And when he does, what does he look at?
The basic foundation of managing a project is creating an efficient and realistic project schedule. During project planning, the PM is given the chance to give it some fine-tuning. This is the best time for him to be creative as he identifies the best strategy in completing the project. Given that most projects do not have the luxury of time, the project manager’s objective is to create the shortest schedule possible without sacrificing its scope and quality.
The Critical Path
Knowing the critical path in a project greatly contributes to determining its delivery schedule. If you want to deliver on time, or shorten the project duration, focus your attention on the critical path. When the critical path is shortened, the project is finished early. When the critical path is maintained, the project is finished on time. When the critical path is extended, the project is delayed. It cannot be overemphasized here that if there is any task or tasks in the schedule that a manager should particularly pay close attention to, it is always those in the critical path.
Identifying your project’s critical path requires discipline and maturity. Its accuracy depends on how it is derived. It is quite funny to note that some managers simply stretch the bars in the Gantt chart so that all tasks finish in parallel; doing so simply clouds the entire project schedule and gives no useful information to the manager. Doing the right things and doing them right are two important ingredients to a successful CPM implementation.
Here are some right things done right:
Estimate the tasks individually.
Make a list first. Do not put it directly into the Gantt chart because doing so may influence the estimates as you start to consider the timeline. In your list, just put estimates based on the work needed to accomplish the task.
Identify the task dependencies.
Some tasks cannot start until prior tasks are finished. Obviously, you can’t install a roof over a house with no walls.
Create your Gantt chart.
When creating the Gantt chart, make sure you use the original estimates (from step 1) and adjust the task based on dependencies (from step 2). And, like rubbing it in, don’t try to schedule putting roof and building walls in parallel.
Identify your critical path(s).
Find the longest path of tasks in the Gantt chart. This defines your critical path. Take note that you may have more than one critical path in your schedule; and not all tasks are part of the critical path.