Microsoft Project Tutorial: Find the Critical Path in Microsoft Project

critical path microsoft project

Written By Andrew Makar

Professional Cat Herder and an Agile Enthusiast with a keen interest in putting PM theory into actual practice.

How To Find the Critical Path in Microsoft Project

Understanding the critical path on your project is an important concept as the critical path drives your end date.  If there is a single delay in any of the tasks on the project schedule, it will have a direct impact on the project end date.

Applying the critical path methodology is one approach to understanding your project’s network sensitivity.  This MS Project tutorial demonstrates how to view the critical path and critical tasks in Microsoft Project.

Microsoft Project has a Gantt Chart wizard that will automatically format the Gantt chart to display the critical path. To use the Gantt Chart wizard, access the Gantt Chart view.

To see the Gantt Chart View, follow these steps:

  1. Open your project schedule in Microsoft Project.
  2. Go to View | Gantt Chart View.

Start the Gantt Chart Wizard

  1. Go to Select Format | Gantt Chart Wizard. You can also right-click the Gantt Chart and select the Gantt Chart Wizard from the pop-up menu.
  2. When the Gantt Chart Wizard starts, click Next.
  3. Select the Critical Path radio button (Figure 1) and click Next.

    Critical Path Microsoft Project

    Figure 1 – Gantt Chart Wizard

  4. Choose the task information options and click Next. (I prefer to keep the default Resources and Dates options.)
  5. Keep the default links between the dependent tasks option and click Next.
  6. Click the Format It button and exit the wizard.

List the critical path tasks

If you want to get a list of just the critical path tasks (Figure 2), you can use the Group By option in the Microsoft Project toolbar. I often use this view to determine which tasks and resources are on the critical path. This extra level of detail helps me understand what needs to be accomplished and who is responsible for the task.

critical path microsoft project

Figure 2 – Critical Path Using Group By Filter

To view the critical path tasks

  1. Confirm the Standard toolbar is displayed. It should be there by default, but if it isn’t, you can go to View | Toolbars | Standard.
  2. Click the Group By drop-down box (Figure 3) and select Critical from the list of Values.
critical path microsoft project

Figure 3 – Standard Tool Bar

The critical and non-critical tasks will be conveniently grouped for further analysis and reporting as in the previous Figure 2-10).

The Schedule table is useful when you want to understand the slack in the schedule. With the critical tasks grouped, you can quickly view the available slack in the non-critical tasks.

To view the slack in the project schedule

  1. Go to View | Table | Schedule.
  2. The Schedule table will be grouped by Critical and Non-Critical tasks (Figure 4).
Slack Critical Path Microsoft Project

Figure 4 – Slack in Microsoft Project Schedule Table

As you can see, MS Project has a lot of different views of the relevant project data.  By using a few of these tables and views, you can analyze your schedule further and understand how to react accordingly.

Critical Path in Microsoft Project Video

If you want to see how these techniques can be applied to view the critical path, check out my YouTube tutorial at:

For more tutorials on how to use Microsoft Project, check out our list of Microsoft Project tutorials.

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