Uncertainty and Project Management: Beyond the Critical Path Mentality

Better Essays

Arnoud De Meyer1), Christoph H. Loch2), Michael T. Pich3)

1) Professor of Technology Management, INSEAD (
2) Associate Professor of Technology Management, INSEAD (
3) Assistant Professor of Technology Management, INSEAD (

Keywords: project management, uncertainty, project profiles


Project management is often identified with network planning techniques such as PERT, Critical Path Methods, Gantt Charts, etc. These techniques help us to cope with the management of complexity in a project. But projects are often confronted with a high level of
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The final twenty percent is driving the site and keeping track of what is really happening out there. The Gantt chart is more a reflection of what happened last week, and what someone hopes will happen next week. … The problem is that every play we run is an option play (and the Gantt chart fails to reflect that).”

This reaction is typical for many of the project managers with whom we interacted. They don’t find the existing formal planning techniques very useful – the critical path method (CPM, PERT) and a plethora of heuristics, algorithms and concepts elaborating it. They dutifully draw the critical path, refer to it for formal performance review meetings, but often pay more attention to other factors. This may, of course, not always be the case: sometimes the Gantt chart is indeed the bible by which the project is managed. The problem faced by project managers is recognizing which approach is appropriate for the particular project at hand. Should they strictly enforce the discipline inherent in critical path thinking or should they adopt a more ‘contingent’ style of management, utilizing a set of tools and techniques better suited to the particular characteristics of the project?

There are few guides to inform the project manager in this important decision. Managers are left to their intuition as to which methods and style of management to choose. The pressure to adopt the discipline of
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