MS Project Tutorial: Network Sensitivity and the Critical Path

You may have heard the term network sensitivity if you’ve been studying critical path methodology (CPM) and project schedule development. Without going into a lecture on constructing project networks with forward and backward passes, I’ll define sensitivity in simple terms.

A project schedule is considered sensitive if the critical path will likely change during project execution. The critical path is all the tasks that drive the end date of your project schedule. If your project schedule has multiple critical paths, then your project schedule is considered sensitive. If your project schedule only has one essential path and there is slack among the various tasks, then your project schedule is considered insensitive.

Figure 1 depicts an insensitive network with only 1 critical path. (I know it’s a simple 5-task example, but explaining sensitivity with a 1000-task schedule can be daunting!)

Figure 1 – Network Sensitivity

Why understand network sensitivity?

Understanding the critical path is helpful to know when tracking a project schedule’s performance. In Figure 1 above, if Task 4 is late, the project manager will not have to worry as much compared to Task 1, 2, 3, or 5, as these tasks are on the critical path. If any of these tasks are late, they will directly impact the project’s end date. Task 4 has some slack or free time before it affects the project schedule.

Understanding the number of critical paths and the available slack in the schedule determines how much time the project manager needs to spend specifically managing them. Project managers already have enough work to resolve issues, manage vendors, and communicate status, in addition to the excellent practice of weekly project schedule control. Monitoring the critical path is just one more valuable task the project manager must consider when monitoring project status.

How to Find the Critical Path in Microsoft Project

To find the critical path in Microsoft Project (and its related sensitivity), please follow my tutorial on identifying the crucial path in Microsoft Project 2007.

For more tutorials on using Microsoft Project, check out this course about Microsoft Project BEGINNER to EXPERT.

Suggested articles: The Pros and Cons of Using MS Project Software | Microsoft Project Pricing Plans & Costs Guide


Andrew Makar

Andrew Makar, DMIT, PMP, CSM is an IT director with delivery experience across projects, programs and portfolios in Digital Marketing, Automotive, Software and Financial Management industries. He is an enthusiastic leader who effectively translates project management theory into practical application. His area of interest and practice is in implementing Agile processes and SCRUM techniques to deliver better software to his customers. Find out more about Andrew on and please reach out and connect with Andrew on LinkedIn.

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