Choosing the Best Critical Path Planner: 5 Robust Solutions With Illustrated Examples

Critical path planners

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Visualizing a critical path is crucial for successful project completion. It ensures timely work execution and efficient resource utilization, ultimately leading to positive project outcomes and client satisfaction.

The undeniable advantages of the critical path method in projects logically explain the importance of using a professional critical path planner. Such a tool guarantees that your project will stay on schedule by identifying crucial tasks, managing resources, and addressing potential risks.

How to choose the right software that will help you easily find and visualize a critical path without unnecessary headaches?

We’ve selected the top solutions of various complexity that will help you create stunning critical path examples in your projects with ease. 

Let’s figure them out.


The best way to visualize a critical path

If you start searching for an appropriate critical path planner for your project from scratch, you’ll face a large selection of different online platforms with related functionality.

They can be classified in different ways: from plain visualization systems to multifunctional tools for project management. However, most of the trustful solutions offer the option to find a critical path using a Gantt chart.

Of course, you may find it more convenient to generate a critical path using flowcharts, organizational charts, RERT diagrams, or other similar charts offered by tools like Creately, Lucidchart, Canva, and more. But in most cases, you’ll encounter a rather primitive display of your crucial tasks. 

Additionally, many of these tools don’t offer this feature with a free trial, so you’ll have to pay for it.

Things are rather simpler with the invention of Henry Gantt.

A Gantt chart is an effective tool for identifying and visualizing a critical path in projects because it offers a clear visual representation of tasks and their logical dependencies.

By linking activities and displaying timelines, it becomes evident what tasks are on a critical path. It helps project managers and their teams to focus on activities that, if delayed, can impact the overall project schedule.

A Gantt chart in critical path planners

Additionally, the diagram can incorporate resource allocation and enable comparison between planned and actual progress, aiding in the timely identification of deviations from a critical path. 

All these reasons serve as a basis for selecting critical path planners that offer a convenient Gantt view for this purpose.

Let’s get to know these planners.

5 critical path planners to master your project efficiency

Most project managers will agree that generating a critical path manually is really complicated. At the same time, everyone wants to meet deadlines and avoid project delays.

According to the survey conducted by Master of Project Academy, 47% of respondents reported that schedule delays are the top project management issue in their organizations. This is something to think about.

Luckily, there are automated tools that make identifying the most crucial tasks in a project seem like a walk in the park.

If your work processes heavily rely on applying the critical path method and you are looking for related software, the next set of the best solutions is right for you.

Please be aware that the pricing and rating details mentioned below may be subject to change. It is advisable to check the software websites for the most up-to-date information.

1. GanttPRO

Finding a Gantt chart critical path is a pretty simple process if you have a robust and highly demanded Gantt chart maker such as GanttPRO.

GanttPRO critical path planner

Basic: starts at $7.99 user/month (billed annually).
Pro: starts at $12.99 user/month (billed annually).
Business: starts at $19.99 user/month (billed annually).
Free trial: 14 days.

The software comes with a professionally designed Gantt chart and many other powerful project management features that allow teams to succeed and get winning results. The tool is widely used in many industries, from software development to complex construction project management. 

Professionals use GanttPRO to plan projects, schedule tasks, track events, set deadlines, consider costs, and collaborate in-house and remotely. 

This is confirmed by George Rossle, a production manager at A+ Construction Pro, who assesses the role of GanttPRO as follows:

GanttPRO users can oversee several projects simultaneously without resorting to additional tools.

If you are new to working with the diagram or want to speed up the process of creating your timeline, GanttPRO offers to choose an user-friendly Gantt chart template from its wide selection.

The Gantt chart maker tops our list of the best critical path planners because it provides a convenient way to identify what tasks directly affect the project completion date.

Project teams choose GanttPRO to identify the most essential tasks that impact their projects, recognizing it as robust critical path software.

Customer ratings (as of Q4, 2023):

  • G2: 4.8/5.
  • Capterra: 4.8/5.
  • SaaSworthy: 4.8/5.

How to identify a critical path in GanttPRO

The process of generating a critical path in GanttPRO is quick and easy. You just need one click to switch it on. 

But first, you have to create a project.

GanttPRO critical path planner: project creation

If you have clear goals and objectives for a future project in your head, then you can easily “download” them onto a handy timeline and create tasks based on them.

GanttPRO allows for highlighting start and end dates, as well as the duration of each task.

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If you have complex and long-term tasks, you’ll definitely need to break them into smaller parts and visualize them following a proper hierarchy.

It’s not a problem, as GanttPRO comes with a handy WBS work breakdown structure that will assist. 

During this stage, it’s also important to assign tasks to responsible people and estimate the time required to complete all activities. You can consider days, weeks, months, or even years to measure.

GanttPRO critical path planner: tasks, dates, and participants

The next stage on the way to creating a critical path is adding task dependencies.

Here you should define which tasks have relationships before they can begin. In GanttPRO, you can visualize dependencies with the drag & drop feature.

Another essential step is marking project milestones – the most important activities on a timeline that require special attention.

GanttPRO critical path planner: dependencies and milestones

Finally, your project timeline is ready for defining and visualizing a critical path.

What you need now is to enable it by clicking the corresponding icon in the top left corner.

GanttPRO critical path planner: critical path functionality

It will take a second to see how the Gantt chart generator determines the path. 

The chain of vital tasks is now shown in red. It depicts the order of all your essential work processes without extra effort.

GanttPRO critical path planner: enabling a critical path

Naturally, all projects are distinct. They encompass numerous unique characteristics and particulars. 

Nevertheless, by adhering to the critical path identification process with GanttPRO, you can expedite and simplify the visualization of the vital tasks’ sequence within your own projects.

Is there any other reliable critical path planner? 

Let’s keep moving and exploring the rest of the solutions from our shortlist.

2. Smartsheet

Another critical path planner worth your attention is Smartsheet.

Smartsheet critical path planner

Pro: starts at $7 user/month (billed annually).
Business: starts at $25 user/month (billed annually).
Free trial: 30 days.

This data and project organization tool is widely used among spreadsheet lovers.

It comes with a good deal of project management features, including data visualization, task planning, collaboration, and more. You get additional views like a Gantt chart, a board, and a calendar. It is also used for tracking expenses and controlling budgets. 

Smartsheet provides handy templates and formatting tools that make it appropriate for many business use cases.

Customer ratings (as of Q4, 2023):

  • G2: 4.4/5.
  • Capterra: 4.5/5.
  • SaaSworthy: 4.1/5.

How to identify a critical path in Smartsheet

As we’ve mentioned above, Smartsheet offers different options for visualizing workflows. Traditionally, users initiate working with this tool by starting with a regular sheet.

Let’s begin with the creation of a project.

Smartsheet critical path planner: project creation

Once your sheet is created, it’s time to turn the ideas related to your project into real tasks.

You can list them in a sheet, but it’s better to choose the Gantt View to see the whole project at once. You may find this option in the top left corner. 

Smartsheet allows for distinguishing subtasks by breaking down the complex ones into smaller chunks. It’s also possible to place the start and end dates for each task, along with its expected duration. Identifying task predecessors is also available.

Smartsheet critical path planner: tasks, dates, and participants

Now you can add assignees, task statuses, categories, and other essential data you need.

Next, you’ll probably want to add logic to your tasks and the necessary dependencies between them, as well as mark the most important project milestones.

To do this, you need to go to the task setting mode.

Smartsheet critical path planner: dependencies and milestones

Now you can highlight a critical path in your project to visualize what drives the overall project duration.

Click the critical path icon in the upper right corner of your screen. 

All tasks and milestones that make up your project’s critical path will appear highlighted in red.

Smartsheet critical path planner: enabling a critical path

If visualizing a critical path in this tool doesn’t seem entirely convenient to you, it’s time to consider the next option.

3. Hive

Hive also deserves attention and a place in our list as a reliable critical path planner.

Hive critical path planner

Teams: starts at $12 user/month (billed annually).
Free trial: 30 days.

Hive is a modern project management platform that provides a centralized workflow management system to deliver the exact information you need.

Project teams apply this software for task management, team collaboration, note-taking, resource management, progress tracking, workplace productivity boosting, and many more purposes. 

The platform provides customizable summary views and other professional features for managing various processes.

Customer ratings (as of Q4, 2023):

  • G2: 4.6/5.
  • Capterra: 4.5/5.
  • SaaSworthy: 4.5/5.

How to identify a critical path in Hive

Hive is known for its simple and user-friendly interface.

To start a new project, you just need to click on the New button and fill out a few important fields.

Hive critical path planner: project creation

The platform offers six options for displaying your project and the tasks included in it:

  • Status view.
  • Team view.
  • Label view.
  • Calendar view.
  • Gantt chart.
  • Table view.

The example of our project is planned to be implemented within one month. It is quite convenient to use the Gantt chart view to manage it.

Navigate to Gantt by going to Change layout and choosing Gantt chart. You can find the option in the top right corner of your screen.

Hive critical path planner: tasks, dates, and participants

Now, as in the previous examples with other tools, you need to link dependent tasks and establish the necessary hierarchy of all project activities.

Visualizing project milestones is also a simple and quick action within a Hive timeline.

Hive critical path planner: dependencies and milestones

To view a critical path in your project, turn on the related feature by going to More and then clicking Show Critical Path.

Once this option is turned on, you’ll see the sequence of tasks that add up to the longest overall duration and thus define the overall forecasted project completion.

Hive critical path planner: enabling a critical path

To turn this feature off, simply go back to More and click Hide Critical Path.

4. nTask

The list of the leading critical path planners continues with nTask.

nTask critical path planner

Premium: starts at $3 user/month (billed annually).
Business: starts at $8 user/month (billed annually).
Free trial: 7 days.

nTask enables project teams to collaborate, plan, manage, and analyze their everyday activities using an intuitive and user-friendly interface. 

The platform allows for keeping your priorities in focus through advanced features such as project scheduling, budgeting, resource allocation, and financial summary.

You can use Kanban boards, the Gantt chart view, grids, and calendars to organize your workflows, even using pre-built templates. nTask suits various teams from different industries, and they don’t need much time to get accustomed to the platform.

Customer ratings (as of Q4, 2023):

  • G2: 4.4/5.
  • Capterra: 4.2/5.
  • SaaSworthy: 4.0/5.

How to identify a critical path in nTask

nTask is no exception in terms of the logic of searching for a critical path in a project.

This online critical path planner offers a free trial during which you can try to create your project from scratch or use a pre-made template.

nTask critical path planner: project creation

You’ll need to fill your project with tasks. The task hierarchy looks simple and convenient here.

After that, the intuitive interface with the Gantt view will suggest you specify the start and end dates of tasks, set their duration, and add project participants.

nTask critical path planner: tasks, dates, and participants

Your next step is to highlight the most important activities, which are also called project milestones in nTask.

Then connect related tasks according to your project plan using the dependency functionality.

nTask critical path planner: dependencies and milestones

After these simple manipulations, you can find out the sequence of activities that must be completed on time to ensure that your project finishes as scheduled.

In the top right corner of your workspace, you’ll see a special button. By expanding the drop-down list, you will find the Critical Path option.

nTask critical path planner: enabling a critical path

You will see the familiar red highlighting of critical task bars.

5. MS Project

Many project managers are used to the Microsoft suite of products. They often apply MS Project as a critical path planner.

MS Project critical path planner

Project Plan 1 (cloud-based solution): starts at $10 user/month (billed annually).
Project Plan 3 (cloud-based solution): starts at $30 user/month (billed annually).
Project Plan 5 (cloud-based solution): starts at $55 user/month (billed annually).
Project Standard (on-premise solution): $719.99 (one-time purchase).
Project Professional (on-premise solution): $1409.99 (one-time purchase).
Free trial: 30 days.

Microsoft Project provides essential planning features and enables project teams to monitor their resources, budgets, and timelines efficiently, especially if they run large projects. It offers multiple options and dozens of customizable reports. You can use cloud-based solutions or choose on-premise options, depending on your goals and needs. 

Microsoft Project supports the drag-and-drop format as many popular PM tools do. 

The software provides different views in boards, grids, and convenient timelines. Visualizing a critical path in MS Project is also available.

Customer ratings (as of Q4, 2023):

  • G2: 4.0/5.
  • Capterra: 4.4/5.
  • SaaSworthy: 4.0/5.

How to identify a critical path in MS Project

Like the examples of tools described above, Microsoft Project allows for identifying a path of linked tasks that directly affects the project finish date. 

To visualize this path, you should create your project and put initial tasks on your timeline. 

Breaking tasks into subtasks, adding dependencies, and highlighting important milestones in MS Project follow the same principles as in the tools described above.

MS Project critical path planner: dependencies and milestones
The image is taken from the video provided by Simon Sez IT YouTube channel.

To identify the tasks that make up a critical path within the Gantt chart view you should choose Format and select the Critical Tasks check box.

The location of this feature is simple and clear for MS Project users.

MS Project critical path planner: critical path functionality

The tasks on your critical path will now be colored in red.

This will allow you to quickly navigate urgent and problematic tasks and complete your project on time without unnecessary delays.

MS Project critical path planner: enabling a critical path
The image is taken from the video provided by Simon Sez IT YouTube channel.

In case you have a lot of tasks and crucial activities are spread in your project, you may need to view only critical ones.

To do it, you should go to the View button and apply Filter. This option will let you see in red only those activities that make a critical path.

The roundup of the best critical path planners went by in the blink of an eye. Now you know how to use them to find the most important tasks and optimize your project workflow.

Choose the top-notch critical path planner for winning project outcomes

Not all tasks have a direct impact on project duration or completion. Certain activities are critical. It means that any alterations to them may significantly affect all other tasks and the overall project. 

This is where a professional critical path planner becomes indispensable. Such a tool eradicates uncertainties by identifying the sequence of tasks necessary for successful project execution.

Modern planners offer flowcharts, organizational charts, RERT diagrams, or other ways to visualize a critical path. However, the most popular and efficient option to do it is a Gantt chart view. 

Such platforms as GanttPRO, Smartsheet, Hive, nTask, and MS Project assist project teams in the proper planning and identification of critical paths.

Explore these software solutions and choose your favorite to identify the most important tasks for completing your projects on schedule and within the defined strategy.

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Paolo Kukhnavets

Paolo Kukhnavets

Paolo writes about the exciting world of project management, innovative tools, planning strategies, time management, productivity, and more.
He has a professional journalism education, over ten years of writing experience, and a vast bag of enthusiasm to comprehend and learn new things every day.
In his other life, he is addicted to traveling, gym, and sci-fi movies. He cycles and runs a lot.

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