How to Stay On the Critical Path in Construction

Beau Peters imageBeau Peters  •  

Critical path Construction project management involves juggling a significant number of tasks at any given time. Without an effective approach to organization and workflow, the efficiency of your build is likely to fall apart. As such, you need to adopt management methods with an emphasis on clarity and structure throughout.

Following the critical path is considered one of the most effective ways to keep a construction project organized and on schedule. This involves identifying the essential task milestones of the project and understanding how they interact with one another on the road to completion. It also requires gaining an accurate view of the time each task takes so you can accurately plan the order of operations.

So, how can you stay on the critical path in your construction projects? Let’s take a look at some important considerations.

Clearly Define Your Tasks

The first step toward staying on the critical path is full clarity on the major task milestones. This is because these inform every other aspect of the project organization protocols. Unless you and your team know exactly what activities are involved in each task on the route to completion, you cannot effectively plan ahead. This isn’t just a case of identifying the activity titles but defining what is involved in each and even identifying subtasks.

The best approach to this is to work alongside key representatives of all construction departments. While overall project heads will have a good knowledge of many components, their expertise in each will be limited. Managers and supervisors of specialized areas, on the other hand, have a detailed knowledge of the primary tasks in their field that impact the project. Moreover, they can also identify how these relate to and depend on the success of other tasks and departments.

Your task identification and definitions shouldn’t be limited to physical construction aspects, either. Your process needs to consider assessments, inspections, and other administrative tasks. Gaining approvals is one of the main elements that hold up construction projects. As such, you need to treat these aspects as equally vital to moving the project forward to the next stage of the critical path.

Be Realistic About Timing

Another essential component of staying on the critical path is getting your timing right. It’s important to be realistic here. Most of the timings you decide upon are likely to be the result of opinions developed over years of experience. However, there is a danger of being too optimistic or even ambitious as a result of this.

Mistakes can occur even in the best circumstances. Indeed, with overly confident contractors there may also be the potential for optimism bias that leads to corners being cut and hazards being overlooked. cut corners or overlook hazards. Measures, such as clear signage and effective training can help mitigate such issues. However, it's important to account for these potential hurdles in the timing of your critical path.

So, bear in mind the best-case scenario, but give yourself room for errors. This way, there’s a reduced need for crunch activities at the end of the project. It also minimizes holding up other tasks in the critical path which could lead to bottlenecks.

Establish a Visible Sequence

When it comes to the critical path, having a clear sequence in place is everything. The first responsibility is to make sure each task is accurate to the technological order of construction. It would, of course, be ridiculous to bring in roofers before the foundations have been completed. However, this sequence also needs to account for not just its immediate successors, but also its relationship to other tasks in the project occurring at the same time.

You should aim not to deviate from the sequence you design with the assistance of your crew. This may be a difficult task in and of itself. There’s a natural tendency to make certain there is as little downtime as possible and no one wants contractors hanging around if they can get on and complete a task. But when one team pushes ahead independently and operates out of sequence, there is potential to cause disruption.

Among the most important responsibilities here is making the critical path sequence visible to all stakeholders in the project. Make sure there is not just a physical diagram of the path, but also a digital version that can be shared with everyone via the cloud. You can boost the clarity of this by color-coding tasks by department. Pushing the visibility of the path not only ensures everyone stays informed, they can also see how their actions have a knock-on effect on the workflow.

Keep Reviewing

While you should be strict about the order of operations on the critical path, you shouldn’t be completely inflexible. This doesn’t mean you or your team should deviate from the path on a whim. Rather you need to take a careful and considered approach to this.

Build opportunities to review the state of the path into your project schedule. Again, this should include leadership and staff from the major departments of the build. This allows you to discuss how the path is progressing, what aspects of it aren’t working, and get a head start on addressing issues that may arise in the near future.

Making adjustments following the assessments must involve the same visibility and communication approach you applied with the initial path design. Make it visible and ensure everyone understands the changes and how this impacts the rest of the project. This is the best way to stay organized while demonstrating valuable agility.


The critical path continues to be one of the most effective ways to bring a construction project to completion. To make the most of this, it’s important to clearly define all tasks and gain an accurate grasp of the timings involved. When sequencing, be sure to account for not just the technical order but also the parallel relationships of other tasks. As with any project, it doesn’t pay to be too rigid. You can still be organized while remaining agile enough to respond effectively to challenges.

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*Beau Peters is a creative professional with a lifetime of experience in service and care. As a manager, he’s learned a slew of tricks of the trade that he enjoys sharing with others who have the same passion and dedication that he brings to his work. When he is not writing, he enjoys reading and trying new things. *

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