A dependency in project management is where one task links to another: project dependencies control the order of work throughout a project. For example, if you are installing an air conditioning system, you will want to carry out a site survey and establish how the system will fit in the building before you show up on site to do the work.
Dependencies are important because they shape the structure of the project and make sure work is carried out in the most effective order. The information about dependencies is entered into project management software to automatically calculate what impact those task linkages will have on dates and milestones. It’s obvious that you need to design a system before installing it, but what impact does that really have on the project timeline? The dependency calculations done behind the scenes in tools like Microsoft Project and Primavera P6 work that all out for you. Then all you have to do is keep the work on track and hope that no other dependencies show up to change the dates!
Professional schedules built in Gantt charts take a lot of the heavy lifting out of managing project dependencies, but you still need some knowledge to get a head start on setting them up. Here are our top three favorite tips for managing dependencies in your project schedule.
1. Use subject matter experts
Whether you are the team leader or a project manager, you don’t have to work out the dependencies between tasks all by yourself. You have a team of subject matter experts who will be carrying out the work: building a schedule is a collaborative effort.
Talk to your colleagues about how they see the order of the tasks and what they would normally do first. Use that as the basis of creating linkages between work packages and activities.
It seems a pretty basic thing to say, but so often project managers feel the burden of scheduling falls strictly on their own shoulders. That is not the case, and as a team you should be coming together to create a schedule that is practical, realistic and represents the work of everyone involved. You can do this through workshops, planning meetings or by issuing work package descriptions and having individual team leaders be responsible for creating their own sections of the plan. The exact steps you will take will be as unique as the project itself.
2. Use professional scheduling tools
When you have the data from the team, use a professional-grade scheduling tool. Spreadsheets might have worked for you in the past, but if you have won a contract with a government agency or large organization, they will most likely expect you to use Primavera P6 or Microsoft Project to display your data and track progress.
These tools make it possible to see the impact of dependencies on the critical path in a way that sticky notes, task boards and spreadsheets cannot. Not only is it expected (and sometimes mandated by contracts), it’s also easier once you get used to it!
If you don’t have the skills to maintain your schedule in-house, outsource it to professionals so you can focus on doing the work you do best. We offer schedule management services to meet all your contract requirements and slot the dependencies in so you always know what’s coming next.
3. Monitor and track dependencies
Finally, make sure you have a system to monitor and track dependencies. As you carry out your project work, dates change and your schedule has to be updated with real time information. As a result, dependencies can shift around too. Something that wasn’t dependent on anything could suddenly become a blocker because timings have changed.
Set up structured reporting and ensure that the project schedule is kept updated and reflects actual progress. Use performance management reports to get a holistic view of how the project is going and then drill down into dependencies as necessary to ensure they are still accurate.
Make sure dependency management links to your change management process. Often, the process of introducing a change can have an impact on other items on the schedule. Take the time to review the impact of the change and update tasks appropriately. That could mean adding or removing dependencies or changing the type of dependency depending on what the change involves.
Pro Tip: Mark work as completed when it is done. When the project gets busy, you might not feel like updating tasks to show they are 100% complete is a necessary step. After all, everyone knows the work is done because it’s in the past and they have moved on to delivering the next part. However, keeping your schedule updated is a useful discipline because it improves management reporting going forward and highlights sections of the schedule where work is not progressing to plan.
Dependencies help manage the project
When your work is repeatable, and you tend to do the same types of projects for each client, it might feel like everyone on the team is aware of what gets done when. However, documenting that in the project schedule by using the built-in functionality to track relationships between tasks means that you can more easily coordinate the work.
Dependencies structure the plan but also act as a communications tool. They prompt conversations with colleagues and clients. They highlight what has to happen and what you are waiting for. That goes for things happening outside the project too.
Your schedule should make reference to critical dependencies that are not within the project’s control, for example, activities happening on other projects within the program that this team needs to be aware of. You can talk about these cross-project dependencies within the program team and make sure that other team leaders or project managers are aware of what your project requires.
If this all seems like an extra burden on top of your already busy workload, then it’s worth considering outsourcing the creation and maintenance of your schedule to people who do it all the time. Get in touch and see how we can help you meet your contract requirements, stay on top of the work and use your time efficiently by focusing on what matters.