Has Your Project’s Critical Path Become a Moving Target?

Critical Path

Despite your best efforts, it’s possible some confusion could develop around your project’s critical path. The executives’ view on the initiative’s scope might evolve over time, pushing the schedule and budget into chaos. Or your team may not fully understand where the different paths rank in priority, instead treating them all as equally important. No matter the reason, you need to get consensus on the critical path, refocus your stakeholders, and bring tasks and resources back on track as soon as possible.

Critical Path

There are some warning signs that often indicate the critical path has become a moving target and your team is in danger of failing to deliver the expected results on time.

The organization’s leadership team can’t agree on priorities.

When resource conflicts arise, do you get different answers from senior staff on what should be given priority? Is it difficult to get a response when asking about funds or personnel for specific activities that are on the critical path? An executive group at war with itself can inflict real havoc on your project efforts.

Your project team seems to be pulled in a dozen different directions.

Team members aren’t sure what they should be working on or their planned activities are upheaved at the last minute for some new “urgent” task. These are big concerns, in part because team members could fail to accomplish everything on the project schedule, and their daily, non-project tasks might also be impacted.

Mid-project change requests are approved, even when they conflict with the critical path.

The mechanism intended to reduce negative influences on your project goes awry and every request to change or expand the scope is approved. Your team is suddenly overwhelmed and they resort to simply tackling whichever task is in front of them.

If your team is experiencing any of these challenges, you should revisit the project’s critical path and reconfirm (or gain anew) consensus on priorities, expectations, and timelines. Consider a few strategies to help you pull everything back together and drive your project to a successful completion.

Have a candid conversation with the leadership team.Now is the time—before things go any further off track—to get the entire senior staff in a room or on a web conference, where you can ensure everyone is using the same playbook. Let them know where the critical path has shifted and highlight potential impacts the organization is likely to experience if the executives don’t agree on what’s important and support it accordingly.

Sit down with the project team and return everyone to the master plan.Even if the problems originated with the executive group, you still need to know that team members have the latest information on the critical path and are prepared to execute their tasks in alignment with that. Gather your team and see where their critical path activities may no longer match the master plan. Once you get those deviations under control, it may be prudent to increase the frequency of status updates to be sure future issues are caught quickly.

Revisit your change order approval process.Tightening the steps to get change orders approved may not address every problem with the critical path, but it’s still a useful strategy. It will help protect the integrity and accuracy of the master project plan, limiting the instances where changes are likely to be made and leaving only those that are necessary or justified. As a starting point, you might consider requiring at least two executives to sign off on project alterations that impact the critical path, so you eliminate the possibility of one-off changes going forward.


PMAlliance offers project management consulting, training and portfolio management services.