A Guide on How to Use CPM Project Management

If you're familiar with project management, you may have heard of the Critical Path Method or CPM project management. Along with other well-known methods like Lean and PRINCE2, CPM project management provides you with a methodology for problem-solving and organization that works exceptionally well for certain projects. To better understand how CPM project management may help you, it's first important to understand how it works.

What is the Critical Path Method in project management?

The Critical Path Method is a method for scheduling project activities that allows you to complete a project in the shortest time possible, helps you identify critical activities that must be scheduled in sequence, and determine which activities can be performed in parallel. It also enables you to identify which tasks can be delayed without compromising the total duration of the project.

This project management technique was developed in the Fifties by engineers Morgan Walker of DuPont and James Kelley of Remington Rand to manage engineering and construction projects. However, elements of CPM can be traced back to DuPont's work in the Forties on the Manhattan Project.

How CPM project management works

CPM project management requires you first to list all the tasks that must be completed to finalize a project. You must then map out the dependencies between each task that needs completing. Next, you must estimate how long each task will take to complete. For example, if your project involves designing a brochure, you might begin by listing:

How CPM project management works
  • Identifying the marketing goal for the brochure
  • Determining the brochure size and format
  • Obtaining photos
  • Developing possible designs
  • Determining a maximum word count
  • Doing research for copy
  • Writing copy
  • Editing copy
  • Finalizing a design
  • Laying out the copy and photos
  • Reviewing your draft brochure

You would then note the dependencies between the tasks. For example, the design and writing tasks depending on the brochure's marketing goal, as different marketing goals will require different word and visual elements. You'd list all such dependencies along with how long each will take to complete. Typically, you'd display the dependencies with an activity diagram, such as a PERT chart or activity-on-node diagram, to assess the critical path and other related tasks better. Visualization tools like these are crucial to managing complex, time- and resource-intensive projects.

Using this information, you can identify the longest chain of dependent activities. This chain is known as the critical path, which you should then measure from start to finish. The time it takes to complete your critical path activities should be the length of time it takes to complete your project when you perform non-critical path activities in parallel. If you need to complete the project in a shorter period, you can perform more of the critical path's activities in parallel as well.

By reviewing the critical path, you can also identify activities with what's known as total float, or activities that can be somewhat delayed in scheduling without making the project longer than the critical path. Understanding your critical path and all dependencies between project tasks, you can use project management software to schedule and assign the work necessary to complete your project.


If you're using or planning to use CPM to manage your projects, you need an easy-to-use and robust visualization tool capable of helping you map the dependencies between your project's tasks. MindManager is your ideal solution. Its intuitive drag & drop interface will help you build to build activity-on-arrow diagrams, activity-on-node diagrams, and practically any diagram you'll need for CPM or other project management techniques. Use MindManager to better collaborate and brainstorm with colleagues, synthesize information, and organize mission-critical projects.