Successful construction projects are those carried out with well-defined tasks, realistic schedules and strategically allocated resources. Mapping out critical and non-critical tasks allows project managers to visualise the scope and end goal of the project, subsequently enabling them to make improvements where necessary and create strategies to deal with inevitable setbacks. One of the best ways to achieve this is through the critical path method (CPM).
Construction companies are leveraging this method and data-driven digital solutions to build project roadmaps more efficiently. Digital tools and technology, particularly construction management software, make data inclusion and organisation necessary for the critical path method easier and more precise. The critical path method is a construction management technique for planning and scheduling projects. It involves mapping out the sequence of all tasks necessary to complete the construction project. This method allows construction managers to identify which tasks are essential and must be done on time while maintaining flexibility around non-essential tasks.
Critical path method in a nutshell
The critical path method is a project planning technique that involves identifying, classifying, and evaluating tasks needed to complete a project cost-efficiently. It is unique in that it puts weight on prioritising the sequence of activities with the longest duration and non-negotiable scheduling and execution. This sequence of activities is referred to in this method as the ‘critical path,’ and it’s represented in the resulting network diagram as an unbroken chain of task boxes.
The critical path method also helps construction managers identify each task’s duration and any potential risks or delays that could occur during the construction process. Understanding these schedules and factors allows construction managers to plan accordingly and ensure projects are completed on time and within budget. The critical path method is considered an essential tool for construction project management, as it helps construction managers plan and monitor construction projects.
The critical path method can also be used to efficiently allocate resources and optimise construction schedules. By using the critical path method, construction managers can determine where to focus their time and resources to complete the project on time while avoiding costly delays due to a lack of materials, labour, or other resources. This method also helps construction managers quickly identify any potential problems that could arise during construction and make adjustments to avoid delays.
How does it work?
The critical path method is an innovative construction project management tool that streamlines the operations of any business involved in construction. The critical path method identifies activities needed to finish a particular project and foresees the time and resources each activity requires for completion. It can be incredibly useful when planning long-term projects or working with tight deadlines.
The critical path method aims to find the ‘critical’ path, hence the method’s name. To do that, the construction project manager must list all activities they think are necessary for the project’s completion. The best way is to input them on a table with a column showing their duration and another showing their number in the sequence. Once the list is complete, it’s time to identify which tasks depend on other tasks, meaning those tasks that can’t be done without finishing other tasks first.
This categorisation allows project managers to create a workflow diagram that ultimately reveals the critical path. Ideally, the diagram must be to scale with the project’s estimated duration to more easily determine how long it would take to finish each task. It also helps determine how much wiggle room each task has and how it can affect the project’s overall flexibility.
The best kind of lean and agile
Construction companies aim to produce more with efficient use of resources. A construction project management approach called lean project management helps them achieve just that. This approach is guaranteed to lower overall construction costs while preserving, if not improving, product quality. It focuses on maximising resources to reduce waste, similar to the critical path method’s goal.
However, maximising resources and reducing waste are just two of the goals a contractor should be targeting. They must also ensure the project will be completed on schedule. That brings us to another project management approach called agile project management. Unlike lean project management, this approach focuses on faster project iterations. In other words, it helps construction companies deliver faster while maintaining excellent quality. However, it is more philosophical than methodological, so anyone using it can create their own version.
The critical path method has the qualities of both approaches, making it ideal for construction project planning. Construction companies looking for a fast, cost-saving, and quality-driven construction management methodology should explore the potential of the critical path method.
How construction companies can benefit from the critical path method
Today’s construction companies prefer the critical path method to other project planning techniques due to its unique features. Here are some of its benefits:
1. Create a clear and realistic project roadmap
Clients are often frustrated when their building projects fail to meet goals and timelines, as they search for a contractor who can manifest their ideas into reality quickly.
The critical path method enables construction companies to accurately estimate the time needed for a project’s completion and recognise each task that needs to be completed before beginning construction. The critical path method also helps them effectively and efficiently plan their projects by establishing a timeline of activities – guaranteeing that all building takes place on schedule and without delay.
Consequently, construction businesses can replace their reliance on unclear expectations with an extensive diagram organised by urgency and chronology created from data inputted into a digital construction management platform. This allows for easier task dependencies identification and more accurate timeframes setup.
With the critical path method, it’s also possible to compress schedules when deadlines are pushed up and complications of additional cost are present. Compressing schedules means finding an opportunity to reduce the duration of one or more tasks. This can be done by either running parallel processes or adding more resources to boost productivity.
2. Distribute resources and resolve shortages efficiently
The critical path method with digital project management software integration enables construction project managers to add multiple layers of information to their project overview. For instance, instead of just showing the timeframe for each task, it may also include resource allocation, making it easier to track shortages and oversupplies. In addition, should a change in the original plan lead to a resource shortage for specific tasks, the system can easily adjust the resource distribution to compensate for the losses.
There will be instances when there need to be more resources to cover the deficiencies. The critical path method can help identify critically affected areas and provide insights into the most effective solution to balance out the distribution. It will also show if there’s a need to purchase more supplies to ensure the project’s completion.
3. Avoid or free bottlenecks in each stage of the project
Bottlenecks can form at any stage of the construction project due to cost-cutting, misallocation of resources, ill-suited equipment, etc. Abrupt design or plan alterations may also cause a bottleneck, especially if they require dismantling existing installations and acquiring new materials.
The critical path method can help avoid bottlenecks by enabling construction project managers to more clearly visualise the workflow, including processes where holdups may occur. They can consequently plan for contingencies to avoid derailing the schedule. Another is by including simultaneous execution of tasks that can run in parallel to counter bottlenecks as they form.
4. Improve plans and schedules for future projects
While construction companies want every project to go as planned, this is impossible. Project managers can account for all eventualities, but they can never know what’s coming. They can only prepare enough; one of the best ways to do that is by using the critical path method. Unlike other project planning techniques, the critical path method involves detailed documentation that can be used for future reference.
Even with digital integration, the critical path method can’t always be observed 100 per cent. And when compared with a construction project’s actual progress, it reveals flaws and inconsistencies that a construction company can avoid in future. The critical path method provides valuable data that can help further streamlines construction processes, improve the allocation of resources, and complete projects on time.
Construction companies need a project planning technique that leads to cost-efficient, on-schedule, and high-quality project completion. One that combines lean and agile project management methods, enabling them to set realistic timeframes and assign practicable responsibilities using the least amount of resources. The critical path method is precisely that. It’s been the method of choice for many successful contractors worldwide.
Upgrading this technique by integrating a project management platform can boost its capabilities. For instance, identifying task dependencies will be much easier and more comprehensive. The distribution of resources will also be more precise. Finally, and most importantly, scheduling can be more realistic, with float inclusions and other adjustments for potential contingencies.
Overall, the critical path method is a crucial construction management technique that can help construction managers plan and schedule construction projects efficiently and effectively. With this technique, construction managers can ensure projects are completed on time and within budget while avoiding costly delays.