Critical chain vs critical path in project management

Critical Chain vs Critical Path: The Red Pill vs. the Blue Pill… But in Project Management

By Kishana Citadelle & Coralie Petit
Updated: May 29, 2024, first publication: August 2021

Projects executions have been the same for ages. Yet, project managers and project teams, seem to encounter mishaps in their schedule and, probably ones that could have been avoided, if the right help was available.

So, as you may understand, the proper end to a project is very important as it not only helps the company gain value but also pleases the customer who could be loyal in the end.

So, what’s the harm in using the correct tools for your project? 🤔

Therefore, that is where critical chain method and critical path method come in? Let’s take a look! 👇

What is the Critical Path Method?

Critical Path: Definition

Critical path management (CPM) is a method, used in project management, that models projects.

👉 Critical path is where you put every significant component of your project and produce the ideal timeline, or the schedule, for achieving it.

In your model project, those components could be:

  • tasks,
  • the tasks advancements,
  • roles,
  • risks,
  • or finished products.

The Purpose of the Critical Path Method

The purpose of the critical path method is to ensure that the project team completes each task in the correct sequence.

When the project manager reviews the path, from one finished task to another, he can codify the main resources and tasks of the path according to their importance for the next one and schedule.

⚠️ Of course, there are always little incidents in project management, that create late project finalization.

Usually, a project manager and the project team would want to avoid such critical path situations in project management needing to finish the project on time to avoid any further cost…

This is why in project management, the project manager would focus on the longest task of the critical path, to regulate the problem.

💡 Think of the critical path’s method as a real-life situation. You have a few tasks to do by a certain time, you would typically sort out and plan according to the longest one to finish quicker. Well, that is what the critical path looks to achieve!

How Does the Critical Path Method Work?

Critical path methodology utilizes resources to schedule project activities.

Since each task must be completed before the next one can begin, and those 6 steps are performed sequentially.

#1 Divide your Project into Tasks

It’s crucial to identify the tasks that need to be completed to create a schedule; otherwise, there would be no critical path or duration estimation for the project.

Additionally, remember to assign each task to specific workers by name.

#2 Identify your Task by Order of Importance

It’s essential to prioritize urgent tasks in a project to avoid delays and prevent extending the project's duration, and because the critical path method follows a step-by-step method.

#3 Create a Diagram

The critical path provides a comprehensive visual representation of the project's tasks, making it simple and clear for everyone to understand.

👉 Using a diagram would allow you to visualize in the best possible way.

#4 Duration Estimate

Take notes of the duration it will approximately take to complete the project.

#5 Check your Resources

Are there enough resources for the project’s total completion? 🤔

Otherwise, it can lead to issues such as project delays, complications in project management, increased budget costs for the company, and extended project duration.

#6 Locate the Longest Task

You can determine your critical path by identifying the longest task in the project and prioritizing its completion.

This prevents it from hindering other tasks and causing schedule setbacks.

What is the Critical Chain Method?

Critical Chain Method: Definition

The critical chain is a method used in project management as well, developed from the critical path method.

The critical chain Management (CCM) method identifies the longest sequence of tasks in a project schedule, taking into account limited resources that might delay the project.

Once the critical chain is identified, this method focuses on addressing potential issues within the schedule and resolving them as quickly as possible to minimize delays and ensure timely project completion.

The Purpose of the Critical Chain Method

Its goals are similar to those of the critical path method, aiming to achieve a project on time and within the estimated duration. However, this method places more emphasis on the resources required to complete the project, such as the team and equipment.

Furthermore, like the critical path method (CPM), each task must be completed before the next one begins, with no multitasking allowed.

The idea is to prioritize organization and efficiency by ensuring adequate resources for each task. Every task should be properly finished before moving to the next phase.

Think about it: When you attempt to work on many tasks simultaneously, the workload can become overwhelming and critical. What could have been done well ends up being rushed, resulting in a total lack of quality. 👎

And, you guessed it: The same applies to a company working on a job or creating a product for a customer! When tasks are rushed, the overall quality becomes lackluster.

So, how does the critical chain method help avoid this?

How Does the Critical Chain Method Work?

Before implementing any tool in a company or for a project, it is important to understand your job thoroughly. Then, you should learn how the critical chain method works.

The critical chain method can be implemented 5 steps.

#1 Determine all your Activities and Resources

Identify all activities and resources that constitute your critical path.

This step is essential to understand which tasks are crucial.

#2 Create a Schedule

Create a schedule and estimate the duration for completing each task.

Every project professional working for a customer has a deadline, so this step is crucial!

💡 Utilizing scheduling software can also aid in the planning and management of the project.

#3 Include Resources Constraints for your Critical Chain

Including resource constraints in your critical chain helps you anticipate the unexpected in your planning and project management schedules, so it’s always beneficial.

👉 This approach helps identify potential issues when assigning tasks to employees. Ensure that they have sufficient materials to complete the job or project successfully.

#4 Determine the Buffers

You can never be too sure of your set schedule and deadlines, so adding extra time to tasks helps avoid further delays if they occur.

The higher the risk, the more buffers should be added to the project chain for security. These buffers are classified into different types:

  • Project Buffers: Placed between the last task and the project’s final date, particularly after the last task and before the end date. This buffer acts as a contingency plan for the critical chain, accommodating any delays.
  • Feeding Buffers: These are associated with non-critical chains to ensure they don't impact the critical chains.
  • Resource Buffers: These relate to the availability of sufficient resources for the critical chain.

#5 Oversee the project

Continuously monitor the project and its buffers until completion.

This practice helps keep the project on track and allows for the identification and prevention of any potential issues.

How to Choose Between CPM and CCM?

Critical Path Method vs. Critical Chain Path

The critical path method focuses on managing tasks, while the critical chain method concentrates on managing resources and buffers.

  • CPM relies more on estimation, assuming that every resource will be available when needed.
  • In contrast, CCM accounts for limited resources and uses available resources to create a realistic schedule.

Also, CPM does not allow multitasking, meaning a project task cannot be completed before another begins. Even if a task is finished earlier than expected, project members must wait until its scheduled completion time to start the next task.

On the other hand, CCM encourages starting new tasks as soon as previous ones are completed, with any extra time added to the project buffer.

👉 This approach results in potential delays for non-critical activities in CPM, while in CCM, project members can start non-critical activities immediately.

In summary, CPM often misuses float or slack time, leading to project delays, whereas CCM manages these aspects more effectively, reducing the risk of delays.

🎬 This video unveils the differences between both methods.

Which One has More Benefits to it?

The Benefits of Critical Path Method

The critical path method offers several benefits for project management!

  • It provides efficiency in managing complex projects by differentiating tasks based on their importance, ensuring that critical tasks are prioritized for effective completion. All tasks are:
    • visible,
    • and easily identifiable,
    • aiding in effective scheduling.
  • CPM helps organize complex projects by clearly identifying the main tasks and enhancing overall project management.
  • It saves time and reduces costs, helping to control the project budget.
  • By associating costs and resources with specific tasks, CPM identifies what might cause delays and budget overruns.

Project managers can use CPM to pinpoint critical activities that require attention, ensuring the project stays on track.

Additionally, CPM provides a graphical representation of the project, making it easier to visualize and manage the workflow.

The Benefits of the Critical Chain Method

It simplifies the overall planning and control process of the project.

  • By providing a planned estimate of total time and total cost, it helps manage project expectations. Thus reducing the time and cost associated with project management.
  • Multitasking is not allowed, which prevents disorganization and task-switching that could create confusion and prolong the project.
  • Tasks are limited and only added to the project if sufficient resources are available. This ensures that resources are easily assigned to project workers.
  • Buffers are added at the end of the project to account for unforeseen critical events and limited resources, helping to prevent delays. Project workers can focus on one task at a time, avoiding confusion and ensuring timely completion.

Ultimately, the critical chain method aims to achieve a successful project with sufficient resources, completed within the planned duration and budget.

Can Critical Chain be Shorter Than Critical Path?

Project managers use the critical path method to estimate project duration and add extra time to anticipate delays.

However, this often negatively impacts the schedule.

👉 To address this, the critical chain method was developed to be shorter, focusing on resources and reducing project duration by allowing multitasking.

CPM can lead to misuse of float time and delays, while CCM includes buffers to manage uncertainties. Adding these buffers can be time-consuming but essential for effective project management.

At the End of the Day, Which one Should be Chosen?

Remember the saying “Everyone is included, everyone wins”? Well, there is no definitive winner between the critical chain and critical path methods.

The choice depends on the project's size, complexity, and the company’s organization.

Both methods are valuable for estimating activity duration, budget costs, and resource availability, which are crucial for project success.

Starting with a well-organized plan ensures a strong beginning and leads to a successful project outcome. The success is just around the corner! 🏆

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