Project management dependencies and how to tackle them

business project

Inevitability of dependencies doesn’t have to damage project outcomes

In all projects, the Project Manager will encounter dependencies. In this article, we look at the nature of dependencies and how they affect a project. You’ll also learn how project management dependencies can be talked.

What are project management dependencies?

A dependency is the way in which one item relies on another. For example, the distance someone can travel in their vehicle depends upon how much fuel is in the tank.

Extrapolating from this example, you will also see that an item can have more than one dependency. For example, the distance that can be travelled on a certain amount of fuel also depends upon driving style (speed, braking, etc.), condition of the tyres, and efficiency of the engine.

Project management dependencies are similar. A project management dependency is the relationship between two tasks or activities which makes the completion or start of one task dependent upon the other.

If you are baking a cake, mixing the ingredients is one task while putting it in the oven is another. You cannot put the cake in the oven to bake unless you have first prepared the cake by mixing the ingredients.

Now, if the store is closed when you go to buy the ingredients, the baking of the cake will be delayed until after the store has reopened. One task is dependent on the other.

How are project management dependencies described?

There are several terms used in project management when discussing dependencies. These include:

·       Constraint

A constraint restricts the completion of a task. Usually the constraint will be caused by a lack of resources, such as labour, time, or funding. If you have 10 electric sockets to fit but only one qualified electrician to do it, the completion of the task is dependent upon the constraint of labour.

(See also our article “Is your project suffering from the triple constraint?”)

·       Lead

This is the length of time that a task can be moved forward or pushed back because of a previous task. For example, if task B is set to begin when task A is complete in five days’ time but starts in three days, then task B has a lead of two days. This is only possible if starting task B is not wholly dependent upon the completion of task A – in other words, any dependency is only discretionary.

·       Lag

This is the length of time that a subsequent task must be delayed because of the previous task.

·       Critical path

The critical path is the longest unbroken chain of tasks that would cause the project to be delayed because of a change in the completion of one of the tasks. When taking a road trip, your progress depends upon getting to filling stations on time and refuelling efficiently. If one is closed when you arrive, the delay to refuel will have a knock-on effect to the entire road trip.

Some project management dependencies cannot be avoided; you can’t bake that cake unless you mix it first. These are called causal dependencies.

Some project management dependencies are guided by best practice or preferences. For example, you may prefer to make that road trip during daylight hours. These are called preferential dependencies.

Tackling project management dependencies

Effective project management requires a Project Manager to plan for project management dependencies, by being aware of all possible dependencies, understanding how they may affect the project delivery, and helping others to understand this too. Here are three ways in which experienced Project Managers tackle project management dependencies to reduce potential impacts:

  1. Brainstorming to consider all possible constraints and dependencies, thereby identifying critical paths, too.
  2. Communicating dependencies to project stakeholders, thereby ensuring that they are aware of the dependencies, understand their nature, and are informed as to the impacts possible.
  3. Brainstorming solutions to dependencies with others. This provides several viewpoints and may lead to pre-emptive actions or other solutions to manage and limit project risks associated with the dependencies.

Constraints and dependencies are inevitable. However, with the right approach, their effect can be minimised or even geared to provide execution advantages.

To discover how focused project management using PRINCE2 methodology can help your project be successful, contact Your Project Manager:

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