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4c - Producing a Critical Path


Do you need to provide a Critical Path for a Tender or Proposal?

If you already have an application such as Microsoft Project available to you, then you can produce a Critical Path. If not, you could buy some software, try to put one together using a spreadsheet - or ask us to help.

What IS a Critical Path?

A project is made up of a series of tasks, each of which will have a duration.

Some tasks are dependent on others: for instance, you need to fill a kettle with water before switching it on (unless you want a burnt-out kettle). Others can be carried out at the same time: someone else can be getting out the cups and putting in milk and sugar while the kettle is being filled and the water boiled.

Once you've defined all the tasks in the project, and worked out their estimated durations and dependencies, you can draw a Network Diagram (also called a PERT chart).

Network chart, PERT chart, Critical Path Analysis

Network Diagram

Using this, it's possible to work out which tasks can be delayed without affecting the end date of the project, and which ones can't. The tasks which cannot be delayed are said to be Critical, and the path that can be traced through them on the Network Diagram is called the Critical Path - shown in yellow in the picture above. Software can do this for you automatically.

If you put in the start date for the first task, you can plot the tasks against dates: this is called a Gantt Chart. Again, you can use software to produce the Gantt Chart, and this is usually what is called for when a Critical Path is requested.

Gantt chart, Critical Path Analysis

Gantt Chart

So do I have to buy some software?

You can use a spreadsheet to draw the Gantt Chart, but this can be a very time-consuming process.

If you only need to produce Critical Paths occasionally, buying software to do it may not be the best solution: apart from the cost of the software, there are hidden costs associated with having to learn how to use it, as well as learning how to identify the tasks and dependencies.

What's the alternative?

4c Systems can help you with identifying the tasks in the proposed project, and the dependencies between them. Using your estimates for durations, we can feed the information into 4c and produce a Gantt Chart (and Network Diagram if required). This can be exported as a picture file (JPG, GIF, TIF, bitmap, etc.), which you can include in your proposal document. We can also provide you with a file which can be read by Microsoft Project (MPP).

A major advantage of using 4c to produce your Critical Path is that we can enter a target end date for the project: we can then tell you the latest date by which the project needs to start to meet that end date. This can help you decide whether the project is feasible. Not all critical path analysis software can do this (it's called Reverse Scheduling).

What does it cost?

Contact us for further details.