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Critical path method template for project management
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Critical path method template for CPM project management

Manage your project's most critical tasks with a critical path method template.
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TodayFit

The critical path method (CPM) helps project managers predict the duration of a project and make sure it finishes on time. Use this free critical path method template to get started.
Click in the navigation at the top, or keep reading to learn how to use our CPM template as a part of your project planning process.

What is the critical path method?

The critical path method is a project management strategy that estimates the duration of a project by identifying its most important series of tasks.
The PMBOK Guide defines a critical path as "the sequence of scheduled activities that determines the duration of the project." If one critical task falls off schedule, it will delay the whole project.
Project managers most commonly use CPM to estimate how long a project will take and what needs to happen when. They lay out the project's tasks, their corresponding dependencies, and their estimated duration into a table. This data can be viewed in a . This makes it easy to see how tasks relate to each other and which series of tasks are most important for on-time completion.
Du Pont first formulated the idea of a critical path during plant delays. The idea arose out of a need for a better way to predict project duration and risks for on-time project completion. Around the same time, the US Navy created a similar methodology called the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT).
Over time, CPM and PERT have become synonymous, with the main difference being how they treat task duration estimation. CPM asks for a single estimate, while PERT synthesizes three estimates: fastest, most likely, and slowest. Nowadays, most critical path templates include PERT's duration estimation strategy, making the two approaches one and the same.
Once the project manager knows the critical path for a project, they can prioritize resources to ensure the project gets completed on time. If a critical task misses its deadline, the project manager knows how far off the project is from its original completion date and can communicate the situation to all stakeholders.

The 5 crucial steps in the critical path method.

The critical path method is a well-documented strategy that follows particular steps.

1. Build a work structure around project tasks.

First, list the important tasks that make up the project. Then, assign relationships to each task. Some may precede others (called predecessors), while others are dependent on previous tasks (called dependents).
Once you map out the relationships between every task, you can start to understand how the work will flow.

2. Set the project schedule.

Once you assign task relationships, you can start to estimate task duration using PERT. For each task, make three estimations:
Optimistic(O): What's the shortest amount of time it will take to complete this task?
Likely (M): What's the most likely amount of time it will take to complete this task?
Pessimistic (P): What's the longest amount of time it will take to complete this task?

A good CPM template will then calculate the task duration for you. But, in any case, the PERT formula is:
(O + 4M + P)/6
Construct a rough project schedule using both the relationships between tasks and the task duration.
A good CPM template can automate a lot of this work for you. But, if you're doing this yourself, keep in mind that each preceding task has to hit its deadline so each dependent can start on time. How long it takes for this series of tasks to complete is how long the project will take.

3. Create a critical path analysis chart.

A critical path analysis chart is a Gantt chart that maps out the relationships and duration of the project's tasks. It quickly visualizes how long a project will take, and the critical sequence of tasks that most impact its on-time completion (a.k.a. the critical path).

4. Identify the critical path.

The critical path is the series of tasks that take the most amount of time. If there is a delay with one of these tasks, there will be a delay with the entire project. Usually, but not always, the critical path is the longest string of related tasks on the Gantt chart.

5. Keep the CPM chart updated.

If a critical task misses a deadline, the project manager needs to update the CPM chart to see the updated project duration. It's the project manager's responsibility to keep the CPM chart updated and to let all team members know if anything falls off track.

👉 Get started with this critical path method template.
Copy this template

Copy this template to start using this free critical path method template for your projects.

Instructions for using Coda's critical path method template to streamline project workflows.

Step 1: Add project tasks and predecessors.

Add your project tasks in the page. You can navigation to this page via links at the top. Click on the Add A Task button and a new row will get added to the table. To clear the dummy data in this template, click the Clear sample data button.
Once you have tasks added, fill out the Predecessor(s) column. You'll notice that this drop-down looks up to the same table. In most critical path method templates in Excel, you have to enter in the task ID of predecessor tasks in multiple columns (if there are multiple predecessors). In this Coda template, you simply select multiple predecessor tasks in this column.

Step 2: Enter Optimistic, Most Likely, and Pessimistic durations.

In your table, you'll see the Optimistic, Most Likely, and Pessimistic columns. These are your best estimates for the minimum, average, and max durations that the given task will take. These are hard-coded numbers (hence the blue font color). The Duration column is automatically calculated based on what you enter for these three columns.

Step 3: Enter project start date.

The final piece of data needed in this critical path method template is the project start or kickoff date. At the very top of the page, you'll see an editable date picker. When you edit this start date, the start and end dates will automatically re-calculate in the table.

Step 4: View a timeline or Gantt chart of your project tasks.

If you scroll down on the page, you'll see a timeline or Gantt view of your tasks table. This chart gives you a visual representation of your project tasks as well as those tasks' predecessor(s) and successor(s).
When you make a change in the main table, the timeline view adjusts automatically. All tasks highlighted in red are on your project's critical path. This also means there's no slack time for that task (amount of time the task can be delayed past its earliest start or earliest finish without delaying the project).

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