Project dependency mapping is a vital part of the planning process, enabling you to work out how the tasks in a project are connected and contingent on each other.
Ever been lost and thought to yourself, “I wish I had a map to get me out of here”? Ever felt lost at work when a project has gotten the better of you? You can’t possibly use a map at work can you?!
Project dependencies describe the relationships between work projects that determine the order and timeline in which items need to be completed by teams. In large projects, there are often many individual tasks involved – and keeping track of them all can be a pain.
With this in mind, learning how to map tasks and their dependencies is an essential part of project management. The purpose of this blog is to walk you through how to identify, map, and manage dependencies to boost agility and reduce delays within teams.
Take a look at what we’re going to cover today:
UNDERSTANDING PROJECT DEPENDENCIES
Dependencies in project management help to manage and schedule tasks in a project while considering their requirements and order. If task X can’t be finished without the completion of task Y, then task X is considered to be dependent on task Y. Sounds simple right? Well in large projects with multiple interdependent tasks, things can become far more complex.
As such, setting out a project’s dependencies is critical to its success. It goes hand in hand with a project plan, which lays down the sequence of tasks and how they’re going to be completed. It's not until you understand each individual task that you can begin to look into its dependencies, but if you’re looking to do it properly, you’re going to have to lay down the groundwork.
WHAT IS A PROJECT DEPENDENCY MAP?
A visual project dependency map highlights the dependencies between tasks in a project so that teams can manage them effectively. The ultimate aim of producing a dependency map is to reduce bottlenecks and delays that could otherwise occur where one task is contingent on the output of another.
Dependency mapping allows teams to understand these two crucial capabilities:
Where dependencies and dependency patterns exist
How work corresponds between different teams
Without an effective dependency mapping strategy, you’re opening up the door to operational inefficiencies, poor data quality, and communication issues (to name just a few). During a project, a project manager will spend a lot of time tracking and managing different dependencies. The project dependency map is the key tool for doing this, allowing insights to be shared with teams in an easily digestible format.
THE BENEFITS OF PROJECT DEPENDENCY MAPPING
Being able to predict more accurately is a valued goal of any company. This cannot be achieved however without identifying, visualizing, and managing dependencies. If you can’t see the dependencies between your tasks and projects, it is near impossible to estimate the potential impact of changes or identify the cause of a problem.
Project dependency mapping identifies all the elements in an ecosystem and how they work collaboratively in real-time so you can test changes and understand their effect. When something goes wrong, project dependency mapping helps teams find the area of failure quickly and proceed with the best course of action.
For instance, if a project isn’t going well, project dependency mapping can help you to locate the bottleneck and work out which resources are being overused.
Project dependency mapping can help you:
Improve workflow, cutting context switching
Aid teams to set more realistic goals and expectations with all stakeholders
Enhance work sequencing to rescue roadblocks
Improve lead times
Facilitate more efficient capacity planning and prioritization across teams
Dependency mapping doesn’t need to begin as some massive company-wide initiative. It works just as well if it starts with a single team dedicated to identifying and managing dependencies. The more this team practices it, the more skilled they become.
HOW TO CREATE A PROJECT DEPENDENCY MAP
So, by now you understand project dependency maps and their benefits, but how do you actually make one!? Below, we’ve compiled a step-by-step guide that details how to create a project dependency map so you too can visualize dependencies with ease.
Before you continue, make sure that you have a good understanding of the different types of task dependencies and project constraints. Not sure about all this? Check out our post on understanding task dependencies for more info.
1. Identify all of the tasks and subtasks involved in each project
The purpose of this section is to get a complete picture of every task in the project which could impact or be impacted by the progress of another task. You will create an initial dependency mapping document in this stage, which will be used throughout the project, so it's crucial to note down all of the relevant details associated with each task.
Get as many people involved in this as possible, so that all bases can be covered and nothing is left unstated going forward after this stage. Bringing in different teams who may be able to identify specialist tasks that other departments have missed is a great plan to ensure nothing gets missed. There needs to be an environment where everyone feels confident to speak, as things left in the head at this stage could prove fatal to the project down the line.
2. Assign responsibilities and relevant stakeholders to each task
Once stage one has been completed and each individual task has been listed out, identify the owner of each task. This can be an individual or a whole team, but you will need a main point of contact for every task involved in the project. Based on the nature of the task, owners should be picked according to their skill set and their relevance to the task. For example, a task relating to IT infrastructure should be overseen by a senior-level employee in the IT department. It's a big game of connect-the-dots to see where time can be saved with the most appropriate person assigned to each task.
3. List the internal and external dependencies of each task
The next step is to figure out the dependencies between all of the tasks. The completion of one activity may rely on the progress of another task within the organization (an internal dependency). Alternatively, you may find that some tasks are contingent on the progress of something outside of the company altogether (an external dependency).
An example of an external dependency is a supplier delay. In this situation, there is little that can be done to influence the delay directly, so the best course of action is to have a solid backup plan in place. The best project managers will no doubt have some sort of contingency plan to ensure everything runs as smoothly as possible.
Consult all of those responsible for tasks in the project and work together to identify all of the dependencies that exist. Once you understand what each task is dependent on, determine whether the dependencies are internal or external – and keep a comprehensive log.
4. Categorize dependencies into their types
Dependencies between tasks can also be described as either downstream or upstream: a downstream dependency refers to a situation in which the progress of task A influences the progress of task B further down the line. Looking at this from the other perspective, task B could also be said to have an upstream dependency on task A (i.e. the progress of task B is contingent on the progress of task A)
Understanding the direction in which each task dependency flows is a vital part of project dependency mapping. Additionally, we also need to identify exactly how the progress of the two tasks is related. Each task dependency should be labeled as one of the following types:
Finish to Start (FS): task A must finish before task B can start.
Finish to Finish (FF): task B can only finish when Task A has finished.
Start to Start (SS): task B cannot start until task A starts.
Start to Finish (SF): task B must be started for task A to be complete.
These categorizations help us to work out how a delay in one of the tasks could potentially impact the progress of its dependent tasks (and how this could affect the overall timeline of the project).
For more information on the types and relations of dependencies, see our guide to dependencies in project management.
5. Factor in constraints
A key outcome of this section is to specify and delve into any limitations and risks associated with the project. Many potential risks often swim around the mind throughout the project, but this is the key stage to communicate these and make contingency plans.
There are six main types of project constraints to account for during this phase: scope, cost, time, quality, resources, and risk. See our post on understanding task dependencies and project constraints for some examples that you may want to consider in the context of your project.
Once you’ve accounted for all of the potential constraints, set up efficient feedback loops. This is the ultimate action plan for the risks you’ve already identified. Each substantial risk needs an owner within the project and relevant communication channels to ensure information is traveling both ways and is being seen by all relevant teams.
6. Visualize the dependencies and constraints in map form
The final step is to take all of the information you’ve gathered in the previous stages and put this into map form. Being able to see the project, its tasks, and the dependencies between them is the ultimate way of ensuring no issues fly beneath the radar. As well as highlighting every dependency, your map should signal whether these are up- or downstream and exactly how the progress of the tasks is related in each case (remember FS/FF/SS/SF).
In this way, your visual project dependency map will offer deeper insight into the intricat
e relationships between every task – and present all of this information in an easy-to-read format for all relevant stakeholders. Making this visible to every team encourages seamless collaboration and means there is always a track of what work has been completed, when, and by whom.
USING SOFTWARE TOOLS FOR PROJECT DEPENDENCY MAPPING
With Precursive’s capacity planning and resource scheduling functionality, you also have the ability to assign multiple task dependencies, meaning you can link multiple successors and predecessors to a single task. This means tasks do not have to be scheduled one after the other, and instead can be run simultaneously by assigning multiple tasks to the same predecessor for optimum efficiency. You can use Precursive to easily visualize, review, and manage your task dependencies. Precursive automates the allocation of tasks to your staff and ensures that those activities map into the resource plan. When tasks move, the impact of your staffs’ utilization is visible in real-time. Whether you’re on-site, or working remotely, you can always keep on top of things with Precursive across any device.
Like the sound of that?
Book a demo with Precursive today and see how we can help visualize and manage your important task dependencies or, if it's Professional Services Automation you're after, discover our cutting edge PSA software.