Is "Critical Path Obsolete?










July 30, 2008 - Cyberspace

After months of planning and development, the PMI College of Scheduling hosted its first educational webinar series in July 2008. Entitled "Scheduling with the Masters," according to its own promotional material, this series "is dedicated to helping the scheduling professional handle the demanding workload of complex scheduling. Our speakers will feature insights and observations from a variety of perspectives to provide you with a unique view into work and resource planning, along with overall schedule creation and maintenance, designed to make you better at your job."

Is "Critical Path" Obsolete?

As only the 2nd of six speakers chosen from around the globe, ICS-Global founder Murray Woolf posed a thought-provoking question: "Has Critical Path" Become Obsolete?" In so many words, he contends that it has -- and he even calls for retirement of the term, critical-path. His paper was delivered, via Internet, to a worldwide audience on July 30, 2008.

Paper Abstract

Perhaps it is time for “Critical Path” to take a graceful bow … and exit with dignity.  Perhaps its day has come!  To be sure, “critical path” – the words, the concept, and even the overarching project management approach to which it i’s central – may have outlived its relevance.

For starters, even fifty years after the invention of the Critical Path Method, the Scheduling Practice seems unable to craft a definition that is (a) universally accepted and (b) not inherently flawed.  This presentation will conclude that the two prevailing definitions (that the critical path is the Longest Path and/or the path with the Least Total Float) contain fatal errors that render those definitions useless.

But beyond semantics, at the most core and practical level, project management focus on (some might say, obsession with) “critical” activities – as is advocated by traditional project management doctrine – has many unwanted and detrimental effects: such as, sustaining management in a reactive mode, actually extending a project’s length, creating friction and conflict on the project team, misleading management as to what is truly most “critical,” and more.

This paper boldly suggests a new paradigm, where project management understands that, for each completion milestone, there can be many influencing paths, each with a specific and measurable degree of potential impact – rather than just "one mythical path" that leads only to project completion.  Accordingly, this presentation proposes radical changes in how we view and understand paths: critical or not. It will suggest that:

  • Semantically, we should retire the term “critical-path” and replace it with a more meaningful label
  • Procedurally, we should adopt a hierarchical path ranking and labeling system
  • Managerially, we should focus on achievement of short-term goals rather than long-term objectives.

Attendees will take away a clear understanding of why the current popular definitions of the term “critical path” are fundamentally flawed, why our fixation on a ‘mythical’ critical path can actually cause harm to our projects, and how Project Time Management can adopt a new paradigm that corrects for these deficiencies and improve the value and quality of time-related information we provide our project management customers.


Hear the Entire Presentation

Click on the link below to hear the entire 60-minute "Is Critical Path Obsolete?" presentation. click here..