Critical Path Method

Project Milestones and CPM

Understanding Project Milestones and the CPM Schedule

Ignore Milestones, Induce Delay – A sad story of the unfortunate project managers
You’re a project manager and you’ve been entrusted with an ambitious business project by the organization. The project is having fixed milestones, close deadline and strictly limited budget.

Under your coordination, every task of the project is running smoothly. The budget is under control. Milestone after milestones are achieved. Customers are satisfied. Stakeholders are pleased.

Suddenly, everything goes awry. In the later stage, you find that the project is off track. The tasks aren’t finishing on time and you’re missing deadlines. You do everything that a human could do under the circumstances. You prepared and maintained the schedule as you thought proper and also employed best teams to perform the tasks. Yet, you can’t meet the deadline. Achieving milestones too looks a distant dream.

The reason – CPM chart is unavailable. Therefore, project milestones are blurry or totally ignored. And in an hectic schedule and under enormous corporate pressure, without a CPM you can’t judge the critical task, milestones and schedules, hence cannot estimate delays properly.
Invariably, the project is delayed, budget ballooned up beyond control and the management is extremely displeased. Therefore, you feel that you’re in a fix.

The situation narrated above isn’t an uncommon phenomenon for most of the project managers. These things do happen in almost every organization. Even a single issue disturbs the whole schedule and delays the project. Although such delays, imperfect milestones and missed deadlines are frequent, at higher levels these are rarely appreciated.

project-milestones-and-cpmHow the CPM can help in Projects

To overcome such delays and to control the expenses of the project, CPM was introduced in the early fifties by DuPont and US Navy. It is one of the best-implemented project management tools of the businesses these days. The technique works like magic and assists in identifying critical tasks, significant milestones, setting deadlines, therefore, reducing the overall pressure of time in a project.

For project managers, CPM is a logical tool in the form of charts and graphics for coordinating and successfully completing a project on schedule. Based on mathematical algorithm, it schedules all the tasks in a sequence, identifies the critical path and prescribes milestones even before the project begins. Throughout the project, therefore, the CPM chart functions as a bacon light for the managers and gives visual representation of the project’s goal.

Critical Path Tasks and Project Milestones

In a CPM chart, some critical activities form the longest path for the completion of the project. The delay of even a single day in any of these activities adversely affect the project milestones and results in delaying the entire project. Some tasks are therefore critical and some are slack / float. They do not affect the schedule. These are constantly monitored so as to find any discrepancy or delays in achieving the milestones. Project managers always keep an eye on these activities and respond immediately if delay is noticed. Initial durations of these tasks are presented in the form of graphical sequence on the chart.

Additionally, milestones represent key stages in the project. They help the managers set goals and examine schedules and point out to the completion of an event. They also allow the managers to monitor progress of the tasks and determine delays.

Scheduling in a CPM Project

Scheduling is the basis of CPM. It is designed at the very beginning of the project and is constantly monitored to check delays. Milestones are applied to the individual tasks and are assigned specific period for their completion. The start dates and end dates of the activities and of the project are calculated using the CPM logic.

Obviously, if the schedule isn’t perfect, problems may occur in the later stage of the project, as exemplified earlier, and become a cause of worry for the coordinators. The flawless schedule leads to the smooth functioning of the tasks and checks the delays. Therefore, to avoid facing the problems, as experienced by the project managers and as exemplified above, proper care should be taken at the designing stage of the project itself to draw schedules and assign appropriate milestones to the tasks. That can be done using CPM charts.

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