Show the critical path

To meet a specific 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.) for your project, it is important to carefully watch the project's 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.). You can display the critical path in any of several ways, and you can also change which tasks in your project are defined as critical tasks (critical task: A task that must be completed on schedule for the project to finish on time. If a critical task is delayed, the project completion date might also be delayed. A series of critical tasks makes up a project's critical path.).

 Note   By default, Project 2007 does not display a project's critical path.

What do you want to do?


Learn more about the critical path

The critical path is a series of tasks (task: An activity that has a beginning and an end. Project plans are made up of tasks.) (or sometimes only a single task) that controls the calculated start or finish date of the project. When the last task in the critical path is complete, the project is also complete.

The tasks that make up the critical path are typically interrelated by task dependencies (task dependencies: A relationship between two linked tasks; linked by a dependency between their finish and start dates. There are four kinds of task dependencies: Finish-to-start [FS], Start-to-start [SS], Finish-to-finish [FF], and Start-to-finish [SF].). There are likely to be many such networks of tasks throughout your project plan (plan: A schedule of task start and finish dates and resource and cost data. A baseline plan is the original plan that you save and use to monitor progress. An interim plan is a set of dates you save during the project to compare to other interim plans.).

When you display the project's critical path, Project 2007 shows only a single, overall critical path, which is the only critical path that controls the project's finish date.

However, you can set up your plan so that you can also see an additional critical path for each independent network or each series of tasks. You might find this useful for keeping track of each of the subprojects (subproject: A project that is inserted into another project. Use subprojects as a way to break complex projects into more manageable parts. Also known as an inserted project.) within a master project (master project: A project containing other projects [known as inserted projects or subprojects]. Also called a consolidated project.), or of each phase (phase: A group of related tasks that completes a major step in a project.) or milestone (milestone: A reference point marking a major event in a project and used to monitor the project's progress. Any task with zero duration is automatically displayed as a milestone; you can also mark any other task of any duration as a milestone.) of a project that is divided into multiple phases.

By knowing and tracking the critical path for your project, as well as the resources (resources: The people, equipment, and material that are used to complete tasks in a project.) that are assigned to each critical task (critical task: A task that must be completed on schedule for the project to finish on time. If a critical task is delayed, the project completion date might also be delayed. A series of critical tasks makes up a project's critical path.), you can identify the tasks that can affect your project's finish date and thus discover whether your project will finish on schedule.

If it is important that your project finish on schedule, pay close attention to the tasks on the critical path, as well as to the resources assigned to those tasks. These elements all affect whether your project will finish on time.

Be aware that the critical path can change from being one series of tasks to being another series as you progress through the project's schedule (schedule: The timing and sequence of tasks within a project. A schedule consists mainly of tasks, task dependencies, durations, constraints, and time-oriented project information.). The critical path might change as critical tasks are completed, or as tasks in another series of tasks are delayed. A new critical path immediately becomes the series of tasks that you track most closely to ensure finishing on or before the desired date.

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Display the critical path for your project

To verify that adjustments that you make to the project plan don't adversely affect the critical path, you can review the critical path and critical tasks in any of several ways.

 Note   By default, Project 2007 does not display a project's critical path.

To do this Follow these steps
Show the critical path in the context of all tasks On the View menu, click More Views, click Detail Gantt, and then click Apply.
Show only critical tasks

On the View menu, click Gantt Chart. Then, click Critical in the Filter list Filter list on the toolbar.

To display all tasks again, click All Tasks in the Filter list on the toolbar.

You can also group all critical tasks together. On the Project menu, point to Group by and then click Critical.

Show the critical path by using the Gantt Chart Wizard

On the View menu, click Gantt Chart, and then click Gantt Chart Wizard Button image on the Formatting toolbar. Follow the instructions in the Gantt Chart Wizard to format the critical path.

By default, the Gantt chart bars and link lines for critical tasks are displayed in red. This format change overrides any direct formatting changes previously made to bar styles or to individual bars.

Note that this formatting of critical tasks applies only to the current Gantt Chart view in the current file. To use the same formatting in another file, you can use the Organizer (Tools menu) to copy formatted Gantt Charts to other files.

Show multiple critical paths in a single project On the Tools menu, click Options, click the Calculation tab, and then select the Calculate multiple critical paths check box.
Show the overall critical path across multiple projects

 Important   This procedure is only effective in a consolidated project. If you don't have a consolidated project, you must first create one.

On the Tools menu, click Options, click the Calculation tab, and then select the Inserted projects are calculated like summary tasks check box.

This is a project-level setting. All projects inserted into this project will be calculated like summary tasks.

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Change which tasks are defined as critical

In Project 2007, a critical task (critical task: A task that must be completed on schedule for the project to finish on time. If a critical task is delayed, the project completion date might also be delayed. A series of critical tasks makes up a project's critical path.) has zero days of slack (slack: The amount of time that a task can slip before it affects another task or the project's finish date. Free slack is how much a task can slip before it delays another task. Total slack is how much a task can slip before it delays the project.) (float). However, you can change this default value and define a task as critical that has, for example, one or two days of slack.

  1. On the Tools menu, click Options, and then click the Calculation tab.
  2. In the Tasks are critical if slack is less than or equal to box, enter the maximum amount of slack, in days, that you want to use to define critical tasks.
  3. If you want this value to be the default value for all of your projects, click Set as Default.

To learn how to find a task's slack, see Find slack (float) in your schedule.

For instructions about changing a task's slack, see Set lead or lag time (float) between tasks.

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Applies to:
Project 2007