One of the most challenging aspects of running a business is project management. This is because good project management requires careful planning, execution, and control of a project’s dependencies.
Dependencies are tasks in a project that are interrelated. To make sure that the project turns out successful, it’s important that you know the different types of dependencies, how to identify and manage them, and the risks associated with dependencies. It will also help to know different tips for avoiding or minimizing dependency-related problems.
What are dependencies and why are they important in project management?
Dependencies have to do with managing and scheduling project tasks while keeping their specific requirements in consideration. For example, if a task cannot be completed without the completion of another task, then we say it’s dependent. Dealing with several interdependent tasks is what makes good project management a challenge.
Dependencies are essential because they are what keep the project going. Without them, it would be difficult to keep track of a project’s progress. It would be difficult to tell whether Task X was completed successfully if Task Y has no relation to it at all.
Finally, dependencies are important because performing tasks in a vacuum also open up a project to unnecessary risks. Imagine if a project team just released reimbursements without first requiring an expense report. There is a risk that resources will be wasted.
It’s important that your project management team keeps a sharp eye on dependencies to stay productive. After all, a recent PMI study found more than two-thirds of projects fail in organizations that don’t prioritize good project management.
Types of dependencies and relationships between dependencies
There are five types of dependencies in project management you need to know: logical dependencies, resource dependencies, preferential dependencies, external dependencies, and cross-team dependencies.
Logical dependencies mean anything that depends on the output of preceding tasks. They can’t be run in parallel to anything else. For example, the task of baking a pizza cannot start unless you have all the right ingredients first.
Resource dependencies refer to tasks that use the same resources and depend on each other’s completion. Think of a warehouse where bulky cargo must be transported and arranged. Because you need a forklift for both of these tasks, you can say they are resource dependencies.
Preferential dependencies depend on the team members, other stakeholders, and industrial practices. For example, press releases typically aren’t released on the weekend for fear of fewer media pick-ups. You can bypass the preferential dependencies in your tasks, but these may affect the output’s quality.
External dependencies depend on external factors and are often outside your team’s control. Perhaps the completion of a task depends on a third party's approval or the supplier's efficiency. The best way to mitigate the effect of an external dependency is to include backup plans in project management.
Cross-team dependencies, as the name suggests, happen when multiple teams rely on each other to complete their tasks on time. Imagine how a store sales team would perform if the inventory management team couldn’t reliably tell how much of a product was in stock. This is where the time management aspect of a project is most important—everyone needs to complete their tasks efficiently.
Managing project dependencies becomes easier when you understand that dependencies have four kinds of relations between them:
Finish-to-start. This is when Task 1 must be finished for you to start Task 2. For example, mixing ingredients like butter, sugar, and eggs together before baking a cake.
Start-to-start. Task 2 cannot start before Task 1 starts. You cannot paint a building unless there’s an assembled scaffolding in place. Task 2 can only begin once Task 1 has started.
Finish-to-finish. Task 1 can only finish when Task 2 ends. For example, a team fixing quality issues cannot finish its tasks unless a quality check team has inspected and flagged every product with issues.
Start-to-finish. Task 2 must start for Task 1 to be completed. A morning shift nurse must wait for the night shift nurse to arrive before leaving her post.
Knowing what dependencies to watch out for and their relationships to one another make it easier to point out where things can improve. After that, it’s just a few steps away from efficient and effective project management.
How to identify and manage dependencies
In order to manage dependencies effectively, it is first important to identify them.
You can anticipate dependencies in project management by setting aside time to visualize how your project will go. You can create a project schedule that lists all the tasks involved in the project and the relationships between those tasks. This is where aids like creating a Gantt chart will come in handy, as you’ll be forced to look at the start and finish dates of the different moving parts of a project.
Once identified, dependencies can be managed using various project management tools and techniques. For example, the Pomodoro technique is a time management method where work is broken down into multiple 25-minute segments with 5-10 minute breaks in between. This technique has been praised for its ability to encourage productivity while still making room for breaks that prevent burnout and info overload.
Many businesses also use Kanban workflow, which lists step-by-step processes between delivering a task. The Kanban system involves the use of cards listing tasks that need to be done and then creating a board where you can track a task’s progress (“assigned”, “in progress”, “for review”, etc). It is known as a Kanban board for visualizing workflows. This makes progress clear at any given point and makes project management easier by tracking every moving task within the project.
The risks associated with dependencies
Once you’ve learned how to manage dependencies, you still need to be aware of their risks.
The risk of delays is the first obvious when dealing with dependencies. If one part of the project isn’t working or takes too long to complete, the entire project is delayed too. In fact, a study from Harvard Business School shows that experienced entrepreneurs are especially susceptible to project delays, with the risk of delays going up about 21% every time an entrepreneur starts a new project. The reasoning behind this is that more experienced entrepreneurs are likely to take on increasingly complicated projects—and they forget to consider these complexities.
Second is the risk of conflict. This can happen if there aren’t enough project resources around or even if there are disagreements on what the project’s aims should be.
Then there’s the risk of change. If the circumstances around a project (say a suddenly earlier deadline) change, it causes a domino effect impacting all dependencies.
Mitigating those risks
The good news is there are several ways to mitigate the risks associated with dependencies.
For example, avoiding delays is possible by creating a buffer in the project schedule to account for potential delays. It’s worth remembering that many parts of your project may be out of your team’s control. Something like bad weather could easily delay a supplier’s delivery. You’ll be grateful for the extra buffer time when something like that happens.
Another way of avoiding risk is by proactively identifying and resolving conflicts. This can be as simple as calling a meeting and ensuring that everybody is on the same page about a project’s goals: what the end result should look like, who does what, when tasks should be completed, etc.
It should also be clear how resources will be allocated, such as who uses what tools and when. This sort of communication between teams is clearly prioritized especially in client-facing organizations where teams need to work together to guarantee customer satisfaction.
For instance, popular CRM tools offer features like easy internal file-sharing, quick feedback mechanisms, and role-based file storage. These features guarantee that everyone on your team is on the same page.
You should also include backup plans in your project management to minimize the impact of change. These plans should try to anticipate different changes and what to do in case they happen. Although creating time buffers in a schedule is a great technique, creating detailed backup plans also helps.
Tips for avoiding or minimizing dependency-related problems
If you can help it, the best tip for minimizing dependency-related problems is by minimizing dependencies in the first place. If a task is non-essential to a project, then see if you can do away with it entirely.
The second tip is to communicate all dependencies to project stakeholders clearly. Stakeholder communication means corresponding with people like project managers, team members, department heads, and company executives. When stakeholders understand what your team has to deal with in project management, the less likely these stakeholders are to impose a sudden change. In fact, even just the act of showing you’re aware of all project dependencies will help inspire stakeholder confidence in your project management going forward.
Finally, don’t hesitate to use all available project management tools at your disposal. Create charts and timelines to help you keep track of project progress. You can even use technology to supplement methods like the Pomodoro technique for time management. PomoDone app makes it possible to add the Pomodoro technique to your workflow seamlessly.
The app integrates automatically with any task management tool and begins tracking your time on each task. A PomoDone icon in your toolbar then tells you when to stop, start, and pause your work.
It’s worth keeping in mind that there are also project management tools web based that are easily available for project managers to use. These tools don’t require complex systems overhaul and are easily accessed through a browser.
These tools come with features handling project management, employee tracking, resource allocation, financial management, and so much more. Integrating these into your project management makes you as efficient as possible. There is a lot of help for project managers out there. It’s up to them to get it.
Efficient Dependency Management is Key to Project Success
You can’t avoid dependencies in project management. Even the most well-planned projects will have dependencies that need to run smoothly.
Rather than trying to avoid dependencies, it’s better to have a solid grasp of the types of dependencies and how to identify and manage them. You need to be able to anticipate what types of dependencies you’ll encounter, when you might encounter them, and what to do to resolve them.
By following the tips above, you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way. Assuming a proactive mindset and using robust technology tools like the PomoDone app will help keep dependency-related problems at bay.
About the author:
Natasha is a content marketing specialist who thinks it's kind of fun creating content marketing strategies for SaaS businesses. In her free time, she likes spending time watching Netflix.
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