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Critical Path Analysis (CPA) in Microsoft Project

Updated on November 5, 2010

What is Critical Path Analysis?

The critical path in Microsoft Project is often mis-interpreted. The critical path identifies the tasks that have a direct impact on the finish date of the project, otherwise known to have no slack. It has nothing to do with the importance of the task and its value to the project.

Critical Path Analysis or CPA is important to ensure that your project is delivered on time. If your project is delayed, the critical path is one of the best tools at your disposal. By identifying the critical tasks you can then concentrate on the tasks that you know will bring the project finish date forward.

View the Critical Path in Microsoft Project

To view the critical path, switch to the Tracking Gantt Chart by clicking View > Tracking Gantt. Read viewing the critical path in Microsoft Project to see how to format the standard Gantt Chart to show the critical path.

The critical tasks are those with the red bars. The critical path is dynamic and will evolve as your project does. It will always show you the path from start to finish, where the tasks have no room for delay without it impacting on the project finish date.

 

View a Tasks Slack

 

The blue bars are non-critical tasks. The teal coloured line indicates the tasks slack. This is the time available until that task would become critical. So if a task had 3 days of slack, his means it could be delayed for 3 days, or take 3 days longer to complete, before it would become critical and effect the project finish date.

A tasks slack is better seen on the Schedule table. Click the View menu, select Tables and then click Schedule.

Click and drag the divider pane if necessary to see more of the table, and less of the chart. The amount of slack is shown in the table. This can be easier to digest than the chart view, especially on larger projects, when the timescale may be set to weeks or months.

Filter the Critical Tasks

 Use the built-in critical task filter to easily see the critical tasks in a large project.

  1. Click the Filter drop list arrow on the Formatting toolbar
  2. Select Critical

The critical tasks are displayed in the table currently being shown.

Run a Report on the Critical Tasks

Microsoft Project provides many built-in reports that can be run to provide a printout of project data for distribution. One of the reports is to show the critical tasks and associated data such as the resources required, task predecessors and duration etc.

  1. Click Report > Reports
  2. Double click on the Overview category
  3. Click the Critical Tasks report and click Select
  4. The report is shown and is ready for printing

Want to know more? See the full range of Microsoft Project tutorials at Lynda.com.

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