Why Is a Critical Path So Important to the Project Schedule?

by Kathy Adams McIntosh; Updated September 26, 2017

Companies embark on a variety of projects as part of their business activities. Some projects revolve around upgrading equipment, while others allow companies to meet customer deadlines for service work. The critical path of a project provides the company with information regarding its key tasks. Companies analyze critical paths to create an employee work schedule. This path forms an important component of the project schedule.

Critical Path

Creating the critical path involves identifying all of the tasks necessary to complete the project and determining which tasks control the completion of the project. The company creates the critical path by detailing each task required and identifying which ones rely on the completion of other tasks. For example, when baking a cake, the chef needs to bake the batter before applying frosting. The critical path consists of the series of tasks that take the longest to complete, and thus sets the maximum length of time required to complete the project.

Project Schedule

The company creates the project schedule by assigning each task to a specific employee. Each task includes a deadline that must be met in order for the next task to begin. Each employee maintains responsibility for managing the task assigned to him and ensuring that it is finished by the deadline. The employee can enlist the assistance of others, but ultimately he is accountable. Employees who are assigned tasks on the critical path face higher scrutiny due to the importance of these tasks.

Prioritizing Key Tasks

Understanding the critical path of the project allows the company to prioritize which tasks require a greater focus. Those tasks falling along the critical path directly impact the ability of the company to complete the project on time. Any delay in these tasks set back the project completion date. Tasks not on the critical path may be delayed without affecting the final completion date of the project. For this reason, critical path tasks incur a higher priority in the use of company resources.

Assigning Deadlines

The critical path also gives companies the ability to assign deadlines to each task. Company employees need to complete each task on the critical path by the deadline in order to maintain the project schedule. Tasks along the critical path determine the deadlines required. The deadlines assigned to critical path tasks must coordinate to facilitate completion of the final project on time. After assigning these deadlines, the company assigns deadlines to the remaining tasks.