The critical pathway

The critical pathway is composed of only the necessary steps required to change the starting situation into the resulting situation.

From a Path Design point of view, the critical pathway is where you begin laying out the sequence of actions between starting and resulting point. Here's why:

  • It works as a compression algorithm. As a thinking tool, a critical pathway compresses unordered, near infinite information into a single hierarchy. There are an infinite number of possible paths between starting and resulting situation; the critical pathway forces you to consider which steps all the possible paths have in common.It's impossible get to a resulting situation of "ready-to-eat pancakes" without pancake mix, for example. Pancake mix, by necessity, features on the critical pathway between "not having pancakes to eat" and "ready-to-eat pancakes."
  • It's a quick first draft. An artificial sequence is much harder to design than a critical pathway. Starting with one forces you to consider the resulting point, the starting point, and the sequence of actions in between before pen has touched the paper. Starting instead with an amalgam possibilities for different outcomes means you have to organize much more information (that might or might not be useful) in a limited amount of space — a significantly harder objective than organizing focused and essential steps that build on each other.
  • It forces you to consider which steps of the process are unnecessary. Your idea of the path might include steps like inviting a teammate, or filling out a sales form, or watching a demo. Thinking about the critical pathway means asking which of these steps aid progress towards user value and which ones hinder it and decrease the likelihood of people actually getting to the desired result.