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

To see why a project is starting or finishing on a specific date, view the critical path. The critical path is the series of tasks (or even a single task) that dictates the calculated start date or finish date of the project. Viewing project information in this way is sometimes referred to as the critical path method of project management.

What do you want to do?

Learn more about critical path analysis

Highlight the critical path

Show only the critical path

Show a single critical path for multiple projects

Calculate multiple critical paths

Learn more about critical path analysis

If you have saved a baseline for your project, the critical path can show you if your project will finish on time and where the danger points are. To get the most out of critical path analysis:

  • Regularly view the critical path    Be aware that the critical path can change from one series of tasks to another as you progress through the schedule. The critical path can change as critical tasks are completed or as other series of tasks are delayed.

  • Closely monitor critical tasks    Any task on the critical path is a critical task. Monitor these tasks regularly to see if any of them slip. If a critical task slips, so does your finish date. Save a baseline and use the Tracking Gantt view to see slipped tasks.

  • Review series of tasks that may become the critical path    If a non-critical series of linked tasks slips its dates enough, that series of tasks will become the critical path. You can view other potentially risky tasks by showing multiple critical paths in a project.

  • Protect yourself by viewing tasks that can slip without affecting the critical path    By default, the critical path shows the tasks that cannot slip at all or the project date will slip. You may want to view tasks that currently can slip by a day without affecting the critical path, because if they slip by more than a day, they will become critical tasks. Viewing these tasks with slack helps alert you to tasks that are becoming critical while you still have some buffer.

    Tip: To change the sensitivity of critical tasks, on the Tools menu, click Options. On the Calculation tab, under Tasks are critical if slack is less than or equal to, specify the number of days under which a task will be considered critical.

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Highlight the critical path

You can show the critical path in the Detail Gantt view.

  1. On the View menu, click More Views.

  2. Click Detail Gantt, and then click Apply.

You can also show the critical path with the Gantt Chart Wizard.

  1. On the View menu, click Gantt Chart.

  2. Click Gantt Chart Wizard Button image .

  3. Follow the Gantt Chart Wizard instructions to format the critical path.

By default, the critical task Gantt bars and link lines are red.

Note: 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, use the Organizer on the Tools menu to copy the formatted Gantt Chart to another file.

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Show only the critical path

  1. On the View menu, click Gantt Chart.

  2. In the Filter list, click Critical.

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

Tip: To quickly see the list of tasks on the critical path, in the current view, on the Project menu, point to Group by, 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, 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 are calculated.

Important     This procedure only works in a master project.

I don't have a master project

  1. Open the project that you want to become a master project, or open a new blank project.

  2. On the View menu, click Gantt Chart.

  3. In the Task Name field, click the row below where you want to insert the subproject.

    Note: You can insert a project at any level of the master project's outline.

  4. On the Insert menu, click Project.

  5. Locate and click the project you want to insert.

  6. If you don't want the subproject to be updated with changes from the original project, or changes from the subproject to be shown in the original project, clear the Link to Project check box.

  7. Click Insert.

In the master project:

  1. On the Tools menu, click Options, and then click the Calculation tab.

  2. Select the Inserted projects are calculated like summary tasks check box.

    Note: This is a project-level setting.

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Calculate multiple critical paths

You can choose to calculate and display a critical path for each independent network of tasks within the project. By default, Project sets the late finish date 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, making the task critical.

  1. On the Tools menu, click Options, and then click the Calculation tab.

  2. Select the Calculate multiple critical paths check box.

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