Master Project Management with the Critical Path Method

Project management requires a wide spectrum of skills, organizational abilities, and attention to detail to make sure everything moves forward according to plan. A good project manager is able to keep all the plates spinning in sync while making it appear effortless at the same time.

However, the more plates you have spinning at once, the harder this is to accomplish. Critical path method (CPM) is one of the tools project managers can use to create a comprehensive plan and organize complex projects with many moving parts.

In this Process Street post, I’ll take you through the CPM process step-by-step, and then show you how our templates and checklists can take some of the stress out of your project management.

Read on, or feel free to skip ahead:

Let’s jump in!

To begin with, let’s do a quick overview of what project management actually involves. There are generally considered to be five stages of project management that will guide the product development process for businesses.

Stage 1: Concept

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The first part of this stage is generating ideas. These ideas can come from anywhere – employees, customers, competitors, media – but it’s important to then screen your ideas for the most viable options. You’ll also want to do some preliminary research on whether or not your idea is actually feasible. There’s no point in planning out a project you won’t have the resources to complete.

Some questions to consider when vetting your ideas would be:

Is this a short- or long-term project? Is the project too ambitious, or not ambitious enough? What are the risks associated with the project? Do we have the experience to complete the project? Do we have the resources to complete the project (time, labor, materials, funds, etc.)? Is the project unique/have value? What outcome do we expect by completing this project?

These basic questions will help guide you through choosing the best ideas for your organization and setting realistic expectations. In developing your intial concept, you may realize it’s more beneficial to start out with a smaller, simpler version and add additional features later. You may also discover that your favorite idea has already been done by a competitor, or won’t provide value for your customers.

Many projects can end up scrapped in the very beginning (read this guide on getting your proposal approved!), but for those that proceed to the planning stage, this is where the project management strategy first comes into play.

Stage 2: Plan

Once you’ve settled on an idea, you now need to come up with a strategy for completing it. Stage 2 is where you’ll set your goals and outline the scope of your project. You may already have an established process for creating your project timelines, but if not, there are two popular methods to consider.

“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.”Bill Copeland, poet

The first method is called S.M.A.R.T. George T. Doran developed S.M.A.R.T. in 1981 to make goal-setting more practical. Since then, it’s been widely adopted across various industries, and even featured in Peter Drucker’s Management by Objectives.

S.M.A.R.T. breaks setting goals into five core steps:

Specific: Who, what, where, when, which, and

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