Traveling the Critical Path


Observations & A-musings of an Itinerant

Project Management Practitioner [1]



By Dr. Kenneth Smith, PMP

Honolulu, Hawaii

& Manila, The Philippines

Most of my civilian career was involved in Project Management: planning, scheduling, monitoring and evaluation – specifically the application of the Critical Path Method (CPM) and several directly-related tools & techniques[I first learned about the PERT/Critical Path Method (CPM) in 1961 as a civilian U.S. Navy Management Intern.]  So, I thought it might be useful to provide today’s practitioners with a quick summary of the Critical Path Method’s beginnings, and some innovative applications since those early days.

The first point I want to make is that Project Management is not new!  For thousands of years, numerous large-scale projects conceived by mankind’s ingenuity have been constructed in the service of past and present civilizations, and are still evident everywhere around the world; as well as hidden – and occasionally rediscovered — under its soil and oceans.

Most of these structures and artifacts could not possibly have been created without systematic program planning and project management!  However, we can only speculate how those early engineers and project managers accomplished what they dideven if perhaps not as efficiently as today — as we know practically nothing about how they planned and implemented them.  Furthermore, even with the technology we have now, we cannot replicate some of these edifices!

But today’s ‘Best Practice’ tools to plan, schedule and monitor projects efficiently were forged only relatively recently — during the 20th Century — first by (or for) the U.S. military, then subsequently honed for diverse use, world-wide!  The top three are:–

      1. Work Breakdown Structure,
      1. Gantt/Bar with Milestone Charts, and
      1. Critical Path Method.

The first was the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) — developed at the beginning of the 20th Century — in 1907 — by US Army Major George W. Goethels to plan the scope of work to construct the Panama Canal.

About the same time (1903) Henry Gantt — an American mechanical engineer working with Frederick Taylor — developed quantitative spreadsheet ‘Balance & Process Charts’ (BPCs) to improve efficiency and effectiveness in factory work production.  Later, Gantt upgraded his ‘balance’ charts in graphic bar chart form; and these new “Gantt Charts” quickly gained prominence as the eponymous benchmark methodology for planning and managing large scale engineering projects.  For example, during the 1930’s, Gantt charts were used by Henry Kaiser to plan and manage highway construction, and large-scale dams, while Henry Ford & George Sorensen applied flowcharts to establish automobile assembly-line production techniques.

Still later — during WWII (1939-1945) — Kaiser revolutionized shipbuilding with mobile ‘Rosie-the Riveter’ work crews to concurrently mass-produce ‘Liberty Ships’ in different dry docks.  Ford & Sorensen created a mile-long assembly-line plant to churn out aircraft with in-place ‘Rosie-the Riveter’ teams; and George Fouch of the Goodyear Tire Company optimized scheduling of repetitive activities and processes for wartime aircraft and materiel production with a Gantt variant — the “Line-of-Balance (LOB) technique.

But the biggest advance in project management methodologies occurred in the aftermath of World War II — during the 1950’s & 60’s — when a contentious “Cold War” between the Soviet Union and U.S. allies precipitated a nuclear arms race.

Two more major tools for developing and managing complex weapons projects emerged:

PERT/Critical Path Method (CPM)


Earned Value Method (EVM)[2]

The initial innovation for scheduling & managing projects was PERT/CPM as it was then known – that significantly changed the paradigm for planning, scheduling and monitoring to what we use today and became the synonymous ‘Icon” for Project Management.


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How to cite this article: Smith, K. F. (2022).  Traveling the Critical Path: Observations & A-musings of an Itinerant Project Management Practitioner, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue VII, July. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/pmwj119-Jul2022-Smith-Traveling-the-Critical-Path-story.pdf

About the Author

Dr. Kenneth Smith

Honolulu, Hawaii
& Manila, The Philippines


Initially a US Civil Service Management Intern, then a management analyst & systems specialist with the US Defense Department, Ken subsequently had a career as a senior foreign service officer — management & evaluation specialist, project manager, and in-house facilitator/trainer — with the US Agency for International Development (USAID).  Ken assisted host country governments in many countries to plan, monitor and evaluate projects in various technical sectors; working ‘hands-on’ with their officers as well as other USAID personnel, contractors and NGOs.  Intermittently, he was also a team leader &/or team member to conduct project, program & and country-level portfolio analyses and evaluations.

Concurrently, Ken had an active dual career as Air Force ready-reservist in Asia (Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines) as well as the Washington D.C. area; was Chairman of a Congressional Services Academy Advisory Board (SAAB); and had additional duties as an Air Force Academy Liaison Officer.  He retired as a ‘bird’ colonel.

After retirement from USAID, Ken was a project management consultant for ADB, the World Bank, UNDP and USAID.

He earned his DPA (Doctor of Public Administration) from the George Mason University (GMU) in Virginia, his MS from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT Systems Analysis Fellow, Center for Advanced Engineering Study), and BA & MA degrees in Government & International Relations from the University of Connecticut (UCONN).  A long-time member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and IPMA-USA, Ken is a Certified Project Management Professional (PMP®) and a member of the PMI®-Honolulu and Philippines Chapters.

Ken’s book — Project Management PRAXIS (available from Amazon) — includes many innovative project management tools & techniques; and describes a “Toolkit” of related templates available directly from him at kenfsmith@aol.com on proof of purchase of PRAXIS.

To view other works by Ken Smith, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/dr-kenneth-smith/

[1] This is a truncated version of a more extensive presentation TRAVELING THE CRITICAL PATH & EXTRACTING EARNED VALUE, I gave at a Symposium of the international Project Management Institute, Philippines Chapter, Metro Manila, June 2017.  The full presentation is contained in my book Project Management PRAXIS (available from Amazon).

[2] Which I discussed at length in last month’s article: Smith, K. F. (2022).  MONITORING & ANALYZING PROJECT COSTS: PMBOK+PLUS Tools & Templates to Facilitate Financial Analysis, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue VI, June. https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/pmwj118-Jun2022-Smith-monitoring-analyzing-project-costs-pmbokplus.pdf