Saturday, November 15, 2014

9 Ways to Check Critical Tasks (Critical Paths) in MS Project

One of the participants in a class for MS Project 2010/2013 was having trouble in viewing Critical Tasks in his customized view of the Project Management Plan and few weeks after the session, asked me ways to check them. Now, critical tasks are important from scheduling perspective and a seasoned project manager frequently checks on them. 

MS Project gives a number of options to check on critical tasks. In fact, there are so many options that it wont be possible to outline them all in this post! It is immaterial which view you are in or which table you have applied - you can easily check your critical tasks.

The easiest and quickest way is outlined below in # 1. 

Way # 1: Option Under Format Tab

Let us take a simple example. I have 5 tasks and 2 milestones with duration as shown below. To see the critical tasks, go to Format Tab -- Bar Styles group. Under that, select the checkbox for "Critical Tasks". The critical tasks will be highlighted in red in the Gantt view.

Critical Tasks - Enabling Option from Format Tab

Above - Task 3 and Task 5 are Critical Tasks, whereas Task 1, Task 2 and Task 4 are Non-Critical Tasks.

Still, you might be in different views or different tables, but still you can check on the Critical Tasks. However, as noted earlier, you have enough options to check on critical tasks wherever you are in MS Project. In rest of the ways, we will reuse the above simple example. 

Way # 2: Switch to Tracking Gantt View

Another important view which you will use frequently is the Tracking Gantt View. Here, the critical tasks are also shown and are highlighted in red. You need not select any checkbox, rather it will be done by MS Project for you. To switch to Tracking View: use View tab -- Task Views group -- Other View -- More Views and select Tracking Gantt View from the opened up dialog box.

Critical Tasks in Tracking Gantt View
Tip: The checkbox noted earlier in Way # 1 is automatically selected when you switch to the Tracking Gantt View!

Way #3: Use Filter for Critical Tasks

Go to View tab -- Data group. Under that, select Filter: Critical from the drop down menu as shown. Critical Filter is one of the built filters in MS Project.  After selection, only the critical tasks will be shown, irrespective of your view. In the below image, critical tasks are filtered and shown for the Gantt Chart View. The non-critical tasks will be filtered out. 

Critical Tasks - Applying Critical Filter
As you can see, the Critical Tasks - Task 3 and Task 5 - are only shown in the filtered view.

Tip: To disable Filter, select Filter:[No Filter]

Way # 4: Highlight Critical Tasks

Critical Tasks in the complete plan can be highlighted in a different color. To do that, go to View tab -- Data group -- Highlight: Critical, which is to be selected from the drop down menu. 

Highlighting Critical Tasks
As you can see, the critical tasks are highlighted in yellow. 

Tip: To disable highlighting, select Highlight:[No Highlight]

Way # 5: Group Critical Tasks

There is not only a built-in filter for Critical Task, but a built Critical Task group. To group the critical tasks, go to View tab -- Data group -- Group by: Critical. 

Grouping Critical Tasks
Both the critical and non-critical tasks are grouped and shown to you with Critical:Yes and Critical:No headings. 

Tip: To disable grouping, select Group:[No Group]

Way # 6: Switch to Detail Gantt Chart

Detail Gantt View is another view which you will use to check on the delayed introduced due to leveling and used when you perform resource leveling. Here critical tasks are shown by default and are highlighted in red. To switch to Detail Gantt View, use View tab -- Task Views group -- Other View -- More Views and select Detail Gantt View from the opened up dialog box.

Critical Tasks in Detail Gantt View

Way # 7: Switch to Network Diagram View

Network Diagram View is another important view used by professional users of MS Project. This gives a clean and easy way to check on the activities/tasks in a Nework Diagram. Here critical tasks are shown by default and are highlighted in red. To switch to Network Diagram View, use View tab -- Task Views group -- Network Diagram View. 

Critical Tasks in Network Diagram View
Nework Diagram view used the Precedence Diagramming Method (PDM) as noted in PMBOK and shows task details along with dependencies. 

Way # 8: Add Critical Field to the Table

Critical Tasks can be seen in various task tables - it does not matter which table you are in - by adding a new column/field called "Critical", which is built into MS Project. 

To do that, simply right click on the table side of the view and select "Insert Column" and then type in "Critical" to be have the field added as one of the columns in your table. The critical and non-critical tasks will be populated with "Yes" and "No" values, respectively. 

Column "Critical" in the Entry Table showing Critical Tasks

Way # 9:  Use Critical Task Report

MS Project 2013 has a new Tab introduced - Report tab. Here, you can generate a report for Critical Tasks. Go to Report tab -- View Reports group -- In Progress and select "Critical Tasks" Report from the drop down menu. 

In Built Critical Task Report
Here, the status of the Critical Task - Complete, In Progress, Future etc. - all will be shown. As our simple project has a planned start date on Nov 17, 2014, all critical tasks are shown as Future Tasks. If you are in MS Project 2010, go to Project tab -- Reports group -- Overview -- Critical Tasks.

Still, there are few more ways to check on critical tasks. Like you can create your own custom filter or custom group and apply different color code or switch to yet another view called "Descriptive Network Diagram View" to check on critical tasks. However, I hope the above 9 ways would suffice to check on critical tasks in your project and will meet your need.

Update (February 2, 2018):

To know the various ways to check Critical Tasks, a video has been made available for you!
This is from MS Project 2016 Live Lessons - Guaranteed Learning or Your Money Back.

The video is from Lesson 9: Analyzing Project.

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1 comment:

  1. Filters for critical tasks is very important part of time tracking. I don't have it in and I regret..


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