Knowing the critical path for your project means you are going to hit the completion date your customer or boss wants. It also means keeping an eye on schedule adjustments and the potential impact they have on your team making the completion date or blowing the deadline.
A couple of months ago, Eric Uyttewaal, president of ProjectPro Corporation, graciously provided me with a one-year evaluation of his company's ProjectPro Complete Critical Paths (PCCP) for Microsoft Project 2010. This add-in lets you view the critical path of your project in just a few clicks. Otherwise, finding the critical path using Microsoft Project requires some serious project kung fu. Pricing for the PCCP add-in is $478.76 USD.
Finding the critical path with PCCP
I tested PCCP for Project 2010. There's an earlier version of PCCP that is compatible with Project 2007.
The PCCP add-in makes Microsoft Project compliant with Critical Path 2.0 (the second edition of the 50-year-old critical path theory). ProjectPro also states the PCCP add-in makes Microsoft Project on par with Oracle Primavera for performing the longest path analysis; I'm not sure how important this selling point is anymore considering it's rare to see Oracle Primavera in the wild these days.
Microsoft Project users should find value in using the PCCP add-in with the following use cases:
- Project schedules with date constraints, resource/task calendars, or elapsed durations/lags;
- Project schedules with resource constraints where you had to level the workloads;
- Integrated master project schedules (program schedules); and
- Project Server schedules in which you want to find a realistic end date for your project when you share resources with other, higher-priority projects.
Installing and using PCCP
The biggest hurdle for using this add-in in a corporate environment will probably be getting approval from the network and security administrators prior to installation. Once you do, installing PCCP is pretty standard for a Windows MSI file.
You'll find PCCP on the Add-Ins ribbon. Click the PCCP 2010 ProjectPro CCP button to open the ProjectPro Complete Critical Paths 2.0 dialog box (Figure A).
ProjectPro Complete Critical Paths 2.0 dialog box (See an enlarged view of the image.)
With this dialog box, ProjectPro is missing an opportunity to have a more wizard-like experience that would walk users through finding the critical path of their project. This could also lead to the add-in becoming an educational/communications tool for helping project teams understand and communicate the true critical path of their project schedules.
Open the Microsoft Project file from which you want to determine the critical path, and then open the PCCP 2010 add-in. I opened a test Project file (*. pptx) I keep for testing purposes. While my first test produced an Over-Allocated Resources dialog box, clicking past that dialog box produced the message shown in Figure B.
Complete the network logic
I found the message educational, and I hope other users do as well. The message points to the value of properly constructed Microsoft Project schedules, if knowing the critical path is important to your management efforts. I clicked OK, and PCCP delivered the following output (Figure C).
PCCP output (See an enlarged view of the image.)
Disappointing user documentation/online help
Clicking Help in PCCP opened a browser window complete with a 1994-circa banner tag streaming in full glory across the top. It took me a moment to realize it was even the Help page.
The help available for PCCP seems like an afterthought or checklist item and not part of the critical path, especially with all of the great work being done on web-based user assistance in the Microsoft world. The developers missed an opportunity to give prospective users Microsoft Project file prerequisites to ensure they find their project's critical path.
I appreciate the usability and feature improvements in Microsoft Project 2010, though a well-crafted add-in like PCCP for Microsoft Project 2010 can still be useful, especially for project teams and organizations that need to get better reporting out of the application. While PCCP might be too pricey for some companies, automating critical path reporting has the potential to save on man-hours and help get a little bit extra out of the Microsoft Project expertise that might already be inside the project team.
Will Kelly is a technical and marketing communications writer based in the Washington, DC area. He has written about SMB technology, data center management, project management applications, mobile computing, Microsoft Office, and productivity applications for online and print technology publications. You can reach Will at firstname.lastname@example.org.