See what's driving the project finish date (critical path)

One of the first steps in managing projects is discovering how the end date of the project changes as tasks and resource requirements change. Welcome to the critical path (critical path: The series of tasks that must be completed on schedule for a project to finish on schedule. Each task on the critical path is a critical task.).

The critical path is the series of tasks (or even a single task) that dictates the calculated start date (start date: The date when a task is scheduled to begin. This date is based on the duration, calendars, and constraints of predecessor and successor tasks. A task's start date is also based on its own calendars and constraints.) or finish date (finish date: The date that a task is scheduled to be completed. This date is based on the task's start date, duration, calendars, predecessor dates, task dependencies, and constraints.) of the project. If a single task is late on the critical path, the end date of the entire project will also be late. Viewing project information in this manner is also known as the critical path method of project management.

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Learn more about critical path analysis

To get the most out of critical path analysis, do the following:

 Tip   To change the sensitivity of critical tasks, click the File tab, click Options, and then click Advanced. In the Tasks are critical if slack is less than or equal to list, enter the number of days of slack under which a task is considered critical.

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Highlight the critical path

There is no point in analyzing the critical path if you can't see it. You can show the critical path in the Detail Gantt view.

  1. Click the View tab.
  2. In the Task Views group, click the arrow beneath Gantt Chart, and then click More Views.

Task veiws group graphic

  1. In the More Views dialog box, in the Views list, select Detail Gantt, and then click Apply. By default, the critical task Gantt bars (Gantt bar: A graphical element on the chart portion of the Gantt Chart view representing the duration of a task.) and link lines (link line: On the Gantt Chart and Network Diagram, the line that appears between two tasks to indicate a task dependency.) are red.

This format change overrides any direct formatting changes that you might have already made to bar styles or individual bars. This formatting of critical tasks only applies to the current Gantt Chart view in the current project. To save this formatting, click Organizer in the More Views dialog box.

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Show only the critical path

  1. Go to a Gantt Chart view, if you are not in one already.
  2. On the View tab, in the Data group, click the Filter list and then click Critical.

Data group graphic

  1. To display all tasks again, in the Filter list, click No Filter.

 Tip   To quickly see the list of tasks on the critical path, on the View tab, in the Data group, click the Group list and then click Critical. The critical path tasks are listed together under the heading Critical.

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Show a single critical path for multiple projects

When you have multiple projects inserted into a master project (master project: A project containing other projects [known as inserted projects or subprojects]. Also called a consolidated project.), you can see which of the inserted projects make up the critical path for the master project. To do this, you must configure the master project to calculate the inserted projects in the same way that summary tasks (summary task: A task that is made up of subtasks and summarizes those subtasks. Use outlining to create summary tasks. Project automatically determines summary task information [such as duration and cost] by using information from the subtasks.) are calculated.

Important     This procedure only works in a master project.

  1. Click the File tab, and then click Options.
  1. In the Project Options dialog box, click Advanced, and then select the Inserted projects are calculated like summary tasks check box.

 Note   This setting applies only to the current master project and not to other projects, other master projects, or to new projects.

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Calculate multiple critical paths

You can calculate and display a critical path for each independent network of tasks within the project. By default, Project sets the late finish date (late finish date: The latest date that a task can finish without delaying the finish of the project. It is based on the task's late start date, as well as the late start and late finish dates of predecessor and successor tasks, and other constraints.) for tasks without successors or constraints to be the project finish date. If you choose to calculate multiple critical paths, Project sets the late finish date for these tasks to be their early finish date (early finish date: The earliest date that a task could possibly finish, based on early finish dates of predecessor and successor tasks, other constraints, and any leveling delay.), making the task critical.

  1. Click the File tab, and then click Options.
  1. In the Project Options dialog box, click Advanced, and then select the Calculate multiple critical paths check box.

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Applies to:
Project 2010