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What is a critical path in project management?

Blog: Monday Project Management Blog

What do you think of when you hear the word, ‘critical’?

Someone being overly-critical? Something important? Or something… scary?

Well, the critical path is only one of those things. And don’t worry, it’s not your mom being overly picky, and it’s not scary.

In this article, we’re going to explain what a critical path is in project management, why it’s important, how to use it, and how work management software like makes the process a whole lot easier.

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First things first, what is a critical path?

A critical path is the longest duration of tasks in your project. Each task must finish on time for the project to finish on schedule.

Here’s an example of what we mean:

Let’s say you’re moving to a new house. Your longest chain of tasks is packing, transporting, and unpacking the boxes. You’ve got to do other things too, like clean the old place, but that’s not on the critical path.

Your critical path for the move is supposed to take you 7 days. But you threw your back out lifting an overpacked box and now the transporting bit is going to take 2 extra days. That means your move is now going to take 9 days instead of 7.

Doesn’t sound too scary, right?

Told you so.

Okay, but how do you actually find the critical path?

That’s a good question.

Here’s a simple breakdown on how to find a project’s critical path:

#1. Outline your project scope

Before you try to find the critical path, you must have a clear breakdown of what’s involved in your project.

In other words, you need to have a work breakdown structure.'s work breakdown structure template

So how do you find the work breakdown structure? Here’s what you should do:

  1. Identify tasks: spend some time figuring out the project details, speaking to stakeholders, and identifying what tasks are needed to get the project done.'s work management software offers projects overview template

  1. Put the tasks in order: now that you know what tasks to include, it’s time to put them in order so you can spot each dependent task. To save yourself the time it would take to do this manually, we recommend using some form of work management software to create a project schedule. Trust us, it’ll make the whole process a lot quicker!

#2. Find all potential paths

Now that you’ve outlined your project scope, it’s time to get down and dirty with paths and strings.

In any project, there can be multiple paths of connected and dependent tasks. And it’s your job to find them all.

Yikes. Sounds like a lot of work.

You’re right. If you have a big project, it is a lot of work. But there is a way to make the process quicker and easier.

Work management platforms — like, for example — can find all of your potential paths and strings automatically. This saves you the trouble of sifting through your project to find them yourself.

Can we get three cheers for technology?

#3. Identify the project’s critical path

Using all the information you now have, you should be able to find the critical path.

But, how do you actually find it?

It’ll be the longest sequence of tasks from start to finish. Simple.'s timeline view allows users to see task dependencies and paths

One thing we should also mention is that the critical path doesn’t necessarily include the most important tasks.

We know, it sounds ridiculous.

A critical task might not be included in the critical path. 

But it’s true.

There could be an important task that has no dependencies, so it doesn’t matter when it gets completed throughout the project. Whether it’s done on day 1 or day 10, it won’t hold up the end date.

Just something to keep in mind when you’re finding the critical path.

Can the critical path change during the project?

It sure can.

As we all know, it’s very unlikely that your original project plan will remain exactly as you made it.

How can a critical path help in project management?

So why do we bother using critical path analysis? There must be a reason, right?


There definitely are some upsides to using the critical path method.

Let’s take a look at what they are:

What are the benefits of using a critical path?'s project management software provides user with clear task dependencies

Now let’s take a look at the flip-side.

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Are there any downsides?

There are some elements of the critical path method that aren’t so great.

Let’s take a look:

Using to find the critical path

By now you’re probably thinking, ‘I wish I had some easy way to highlight the critical path in my project.’

Well you’re not alone. Only 61% of businesses use project methodology to create their projects, and we can’t help but wonder if this is partly because they are hard to crack.

Fortunately, there is a way to make it easier.


At, we provide users a versatile and intuitive work management platform. Our users can customize and automate their projects, making their workflows as efficient as possible.

No need to thank us.

But how does this help with the critical path?

We’re glad you asked. Let’s take a look:'s work management software featuring a project roadmap display's automations allow users to automatically update their task dependencies


So what do you think of now when you hear the word ‘critical’?

Hopefully, it’ll make you think of the critical path, and how useful it could be for your next project.

Let’s give it a go…


We knew it, you’re thinking about the critical path, aren’t you?

Well, if you are, why not have a go at making one?

Try our project management plan template!


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