What is critical path scheduling?
A critical path schedule represents the successive series of minimum tasks required to complete a project. If any of the critical items are delayed, the critical path schedule highlights the impact of those delays on the final project delivery date. By using the critical path method, also known as a CPM, project managers can identify which components of the construction schedule are urgent dependencies that cannot be delayed and which components are flexible and can be addressed later.
What are the benefits of critical path scheduling in construction?
In construction time is money, especially when it comes to coordinating scheduling with team members, trade partners, jobsite maintenance, materials delivery, and more. Any endeavor to help wrangle and streamline the scheduling process, in this case the critical path method, is a fantastic way to preserve profit margins and keep schedules on track.
Two of the biggest benefits of critical path scheduling are more effective schedule management and the ability to easily identify and react to schedule risks. Following the critical path method, home builders and remodelers visualize their project tasks to align and maximize their resources accordingly. This includes being able to see which tasks are a part of the critical path, and need more attention to not delay the overall project, and which tasks are not and thus are more fungible. This type of scheduling also means that when risks to the critical path arise contractors can identify and appropriately respond. For example, if delivery of framing lumber is delayed contractors can consult their critical path schedule to adjust future schedule tasks to ensure a minimum disruption to the project’s critical path.
By better managing schedules and reducing project timeline risks, home builders and remodelers protect their bottom line from costly delays that stem from materials delivery, labor challenges, scheduling issues, or any other unforeseen problems.
How to find the critical path in residential construction
- Identify scope of work and all necessary tasks to complete a project: First, lay out the complete scope of work for a project and list out all the necessary task items to accomplish the agreed upon scope of work.
- Identify concurrent and dependent tasks: After identifying all the tasks, organize tasks according to whether they are dependent upon a previous task or tasks, or they are concurrent and can be accomplished at the same time as another task.
- Organize tasks by dependencies: For this step it is helpful to visualize the tasks in the style of a Gantt chart by placing dependent tasks left to right across the chart and stacking concurrent tasks above dependent tasks where appropriate.
- Estimate time needed to complete tasks: For each individual task item, including concurrent and dependent tasks, estimate the amount of time it will take to complete in days.
- Determine the critical path: Following the dependent tasks from left to right across a Gantt chart shows the critical path for a residential construction project. Calculate the minimum amount of time required to complete a project by adding the work estimates for all dependent tasks from start to finish.
How residential construction uses critical path scheduling
Residential construction professionals can create their own critical path schedules using manual methods such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. While not specifically designed for these applications, both software programs allow contractors to create a version of a Gantt chart to visualize schedule tasks. These programs do not, however, enable contractors to easily rearrange their schedule when changes occur and instead force a slew of manual and time-consuming updates.
Critical path construction software
There are a variety of critical path software solutions available on the market today usually in the form of Gantt chart software packages like Microsoft Project. These packages allow contractors to build out tasks, order and organize their schedule tasks, and easily make schedule changes, when necessary, without having to make manual updates. These software solutions offer much time saving benefits compared to manual methods but still are point solutions isolated from the rest of a contractor's workflow, leaving duplicate process gaps that can affect a business’s productivity and effectiveness.
Integrated construction management
Integrated construction project management software gives the benefit of critical path software with the added benefit of fully supporting the entire residential construction project process. For example, integrated software solutions like CoConstruct not only allow contractors to create and rearrange schedule tasks, but also to assign team members to schedule tasks and automatically update those team members when schedule dates are updated.