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Being new to this field, I've read quite about Critical Path and now understand its important to closing a project on time and on budget. I don't have MS Project, so as an alternative, what's a solid software program to do the job of providing information on the Critical Path and give the ability to plot out Gantt charts? Please explain the steps to help ensure the project is on time/budget and how to plot the Gantt chart.

  • Hi user, this feels like a tool recommendation question, which is off topic here. Can you add more information about your problem or maybe ask questions about specific products to avoid your question possibly being closed? If it is closed, you can still make edits and flag for reopening. See the faq for guidance. – jmort253 Aug 15 '12 at 14:40
  • Hi @jmort253, it's not a recommendation that I'm asking for, but an alternative. I don't have MS Project and would like to know what software out there does (and is free). It's hard to ask about a specific product because that's what I'm hoping to find out from the community. – JohnJ Aug 15 '12 at 14:45
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There are several questions here each looking for a simple answer that I don't think exists.

At the end of the day you can develop a schedule and identify the critical path using paper and pencil if you have to. Software isn't going to help you in the long run, but understanding what the software is doing for you will. If you are a new PM and have a simple project I advise you to do this first so that you will understand the underlying logic. Wikipedia is as good a place as any to start learning what a critical path is.

Same for ensuring a project is on time/budget. No simple answers and, unfortunately, a huge amount of the learning will be experiential (i.e. on-the-job). At a high level keeping a project "on track" involves a lot of effort in:

  • Ensuring you have an achievable project plan based on reasonable and realistic estimates, including not only schedule and budget but also scope, vision, quality, resources, etc etc
  • Engaging the project team at all levels, as well as stakeholders that can impact the project
  • Ensuring that necessary changes are recognized and approved, and the plan is updated accordingly
  • Managing assumptionsand expectations, and planning for risks

All of these have tools that vendors will try to sell you, but at the end of the day it will be your experience and ability to use your soft skills to herd a pack of cats in generally one direction that will make or break a project.

  • I'm actually pretty familiar with the concept of critical path. It's funny, but after reading quite a bit about it, I agree with you that it's probably a good idea to use pen & paper just to map things out. +1 for the advice regarding the high level effort and it's much appreciated! Also, I really liked your summary about what it takes to get the job done at the end of the day. – JohnJ Aug 15 '12 at 17:57

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