What is Critical Path?

Critical Path is the longest distance between the start and end of a project. More specifically, the Critical Path model is used to determine essential steps and their corresponding deadlines that must be adhered to in order to complete a project within a set timeframe.

What is Critical Path?

At Blacksmith, your dedicated product manager uses the Critical Path method to ensure your product is made and delivered on time.

Product development and manufacturing has many critical stages. As a product company, it is imperative for you to understand what those stages are, how long each takes, and the consequences that deviating from the Critical Path can have on your production timelines.

Critical Path in Product Development & Manufacturing

A Simple Introduction:

The Critical Path for every unique product will be different. There are a multitude of factors that will affect your Critical Path steps and timelines. Product type, location of manufacturing, and holidays are just a few examples.

However, there are some general steps that every product goes through during the design and manufacturing process. The following is a basic Critical Path template that Blacksmith uses for apparel products manufactured overseas:

As you can see in the Gantt chart, product development and manufacturing for apparel can take six months or more. Progression through these stages will be longer or shorter depending on a variety of client and product-specific factors. For example, a company that already has their product designs completed can move straight into materials and factory sourcing, saving a couple weeks at least.

Critical Path Deep Dive:

The previous example of Critical Path contains broad stages, but Critical Path goes much deeper. This Stages of Apparel Production Infographic is a visual representation of the complexities contained within each stage of apparel development and manufacturing. Fortunately, your dedicated Blacksmith product manager has a deep understanding of the intricacies involved in creating your product, so you don’t need to be an expert. However, brands that have an awareness of these stages will be able to avoid delays and get their products delivered faster.

Consequences of Deviating from the Critical Path

There are several reasons why a deviation from the Critical Path might occur and some deviations are more detrimental than others. Some common reasons why deviations occur include:

  • Changing the product design after the sampling stage or during production
  • Unclear product designs (tech pack) requiring multiple factory samples before the design is correct
  • Being slow to give the green light on approving samples and starting production
  • Holidays are always planned for, but sometimes setbacks can result in additional delays from holidays that become unavoidable – for example a product being manufactured in China that needs a re-design in October runs the risk of not finishing production before Chinese New Year, which would further delay completion and delivery
  • Natural disasters

Consider this real-world example of a brand that deviated from their Critical Path, which had devastating consequences:

Critical Path Scenario:

A US brand manufacturing in China wanted to sell sweatshirts during the holiday season. In order to get the sweatshirts designed, approved, manufactured and delivered on time, the process began in April. It took about 45 days for designs, materials, and quotes to be finalized. In mid-May, before the brand began sampling, the brand executives decided that buttons needed to be added to their sweatshirt. By making this change, their product design tech pack needed to be updated, buttons sourced, and an updated quote submitted, which added 20 days. The brand was still on track to get their sweatshirts before the holidays, but there was no more room for error. After the first sample, they were 95 days (or slightly more than 3 months) into the process. In early July the sample was approved, and the brand was still on-track to receive their sweatshirts by early October. However, the brand delayed approving production – waiting 3 weeks to do so. Because of this delay, the brand was no longer projected to receive their sweatshirts before November and had to cancel their production. By not understanding how their choices affected their Critical Path, the brand ended up in a worst-case scenario.

Staying on the Critical Path

Blacksmith is diligent about keeping our clients on a defined Critical Path in order to avoid delays. Aside from natural disasters, common deviations from the Critical Path are avoidable. It’s natural to want to make adjustments to a new product or be hesitant to commit to a large production order. However, it’s critical for brands to know the consequences associated with decisions that affect the Critical Path.

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