So what are dependencies in project management?
For starters, they’re inevitable.
Kind of like how you depend on your accountant for finances.
Or your boss for approvals.
To put it simply, project management is impossible without dependencies.
In this article, we’ll discuss what dependencies are, show you different types and real-life examples of dependencies, and how to manage them easily.
If you’re more of a visual learner check out this vlog on dependencies in project management!
What Are Dependencies in Project Management?
Dependencies are any task, occurrence, or condition:
- That depends on the completion of a former task
- Or, on which a successor task is dependent
They help project managers understand the relationship between tasks, giving them a clear idea about the order in which they should carry them out.
Do you feel you could understand this better if you had an example?
Luckily, there are tons of project dependencies examples.
Here’s a simple one:
Let’s say you’re the project manager and have to discuss this month’s targets with your project team in a meeting.
This depends on you first having the meeting, right?
And that depends on your meeting preparation.
Right there is a dependency.
4 key dependency-related terms
We get that project dependencies can seem a little daunting at first.
But don’t worry, here’s a breakdown of some specific terms related to dependencies in project management:
- Constraint: project constraints are restrictions, delays, barriers, or bottlenecks in a workflow.
The most common is the triple constraint (time, cost, and project scope) but there are other factors such as regulation, environmental issues that make up all the constraints.
- Critical path: This is the collection or chain of essential tasks you must complete in a project to touch the finish line
- Lag: Lag time is the duration by which you delay a succeeding task with respect to the preceding task
For example, a particular task B is supposed to start in five days, when task A completes. However, predecessor task A got deleted, so task B began in seven days. As a result, task B is considered to have a lag of two days (5+2)
- Lead: Lead time is the duration by which a successor activity can be quickened or advanced with respect to the previous task.
For example, task B must start when task A completes, and that’s in eight days. However, if predecessor task A is completed early, and task B begins in just five days, then task B is considered to have a lead of three days (8-5).
Types of Dependencies and Examples Faced by Project Managers
You now know what dependencies are… But how many different kinds of dependencies are there?
Note: This is a detailed look at the different kinds of dependencies you may encounter when managing projects. However, if you want to just skip ahead to learning how to manage your dependencies, click here.
Types of dependencies based on conditions
Here are some of the common major dependencies you may face.
1. Logical dependency
Logical dependencies, also known as causal dependencies, are the ones that occur naturally in a workflow, and you can’t dodge them.
You can’t carry out tasks with logical dependencies simultaneously.
For example, when you’re making a dress, the design comes first, and then you can begin stitching. Or, when you’re making a social media video, the script and storyboard need to be planned before you shoot.
2. Resource dependencies
Resource based dependencies are spotted when two or more tasks need the same resources for completion. There could be only a limited number of these resources. The resource can be a team member, an imported component of a machine, funds, skilled professionals etc.
For example, you need the hard drive that contains this month’s reports. Unfortunately, so does the finance team. So one of you is going to have to wait!
3. Cross-team dependencies
This is when different cross functional team members or departments depend on one another to complete a complex project or project activity.
“As a project manager for a hospital, our team’s use of workflows and dependencies is critical for accuracy, communication, and consistency. In order for us to create medically accurate articles for consumer-facing content, physicians were needed to edit or approve the content itself. A dependency that we struggled with was who was going to review the content and when?
“Prior to using project management software, I needed a separate department to identify the physician, and then I could send out my email asking for their changes or approval. By implementing ClickUp’s dependencies, my project timeline was more accurate and everyone involved knew which phase the project was in – waiting to review, ready to send out or there was a blocker.”
Read more: Guide to Healthcare Project Management
4. External dependencies
There are always some things that project managers can’t account for in the project plan because they’re out of their control. Those are external dependencies.
“When you work in agency marketing, client communication is huge – especially when a project is dependent on resource deliverables from the client (ie. creative, branding, etc.). By bringing clients into project management software for communication and accountability, we were able to have fewer meetings, cut back on email communication, and provide a sense of transparency to our points of contact.
“Things like assigning tasks, setting up the right notifications when deadlines are approaching, and automated reporting have been a huge progression in mitigating former dependency issues and have greatly improved relationships between internal teams and client points of contact.”
5. Internal dependencies
An internal dependency is the opposite of an external dependency. The control is in the hands of the project teams without any dependence on external parties.
“One of the biggest dependencies that we have at our company is the logistics behind hiring new employees. For example, we need to work with the IT department in order to get a new employee set up with the proper computer and email access. We also need to order any necessary supplies, like business cards or a company ID badge. In addition, we have to collect and review the new employee’s credentials and make sure that they are up to date before they can start working.
“To overcome this challenge, we’ve implemented several different strategies to streamline our hiring process, such as creating a ‘hiring coordinator’ role at our company. This person is responsible for overseeing the hiring process from start to finish and making sure that everything is on track, working cross-functionally and keeping everyone on the same page.
6. Preferential dependencies
Simply put, preferential dependencies are ones that you prefer to have.
A preferential dependency isn’t mandatory for completing the project. However, you want it because it improves the quality of the project deliverables.
Let’s take a good example.
A blogger can edit their work right after completing the writeup. But they may prefer a gap of a few hours before editing to spot more errors. This is a preferential dependency that boosts the blog quality.
But we’re not done!
Some other common dependencies include:
- Direct dependency: when task A depends on task B entirely
- Transitive dependency: dependencies that your task needs just because another dependency needs them
- Optional dependency: dependencies that exist only if a specific condition or item is used in a project
- Upstream dependency: a condition where something must occur before the project can begin work on something else
- Mandatory dependency: also known as hard logic. They’re dependent tasks that are essential in the nature of the work and are legally required
- Bi-directional linking: Creates a relationship between tasks with a path to the page, doc, or task where you insert a reference link.
Bonus: Learn how to show dependencies in Excel!
Types of dependencies based on task relationships
Based on this classification, there are four kinds of logical relationships.
1. Finish to start
The simplest and most common logical dependency in the real world is the finish to start dependency (FS). It helps you visualize sequential project tasks.
Here task B (second task) can’t start unless task A (first task) is complete.
For example, if you’re catering at a wedding, you can’t begin food preparation (task B) unless you’ve decided on a menu (task A).
2. Start to finish
This logical relationship isn’t so simple.
In start to finish (SF) dependencies, you can’t complete the successor task unless the preceding tasks have started.
For example, the catering staff can’t refill the food trays unless the people have started dining.
3. Finish to finish
In finish to finish (FF) kind of dependency in project management, the successor task can’t complete unless the predecessor task is complete too.
For example, you can’t pay the catering staff unless the wedding event is complete.
4. Start to start
And finally, we have the start to start (SS) dependency. Here, the successor task can only begin after the predecessor activity has started. After that, both the tasks can run simultaneously as well.
For example, you can start plating the dessert as soon as the mains have started going out. The waiting team can serve the mains while the kitchen team plates the desserts.
More Expert Tips to Streamline and Optimize Your Dependencies
Break down processes into small batches
“This game examines how each individual on a team has different processing times that while, productive may cause inefficiencies that can be avoided by breaking down work into smaller batches and reducing hand-offs. When work activities are done in larger batches, the successor cannot start or finish his or her work until the predecessor hands-off the task, which often creates a bottleneck effect.”
Maintain a healthy line of communication
Kimberly Davis, freelance and contract project manager, involves herself in projects which require consistent client communications.
“One of the dependencies that will inevitably lead to risks are mishandling key stakeholders for your project. Currently, my clients are small business owners in the pest control industry who brought me in to help with their change of management. Since my clients are high-touch, they rely on me to walk them through choosing the right CRM platform to satisfy their needs. At the same time, they are busy individuals whose time needs to be respected and prioritized.
“Since my workflow can’t continue without their approval for implementation, it is my job to make sure that our meetings remain swift and productive for everyone involved. It’s important to maintain strong and healthy relationships with all stakeholders, because their approval is key for your plan’s success.”
Switch from Waterfall to Agile to remove bottlenecks and dependencies
“When I worked on a project where we used the traditional waterfall method, we didn’t check with the client or get feedback at every stage. The drawbacks of this began to show when the project was almost at the delivery stage and we realized a requirement had been missed and more changes were needed. Seeing this problem, I approached my manager and asked if we could consider adopting the Agile methodology. My manager’s approval of switching to an Agile mindset saved money for the company as my team received feedback from the stakeholders, before implementing new changes or additions and most importantly before the final delivery.
How to Manage Dependencies in Project Management?
Handling dependencies is no joke.
Whether it’s a resource, time, quality, or cost, a project manager must handle everything to ensure that project activities stay on track.
If not, the project will crash.
However, project managers can always make things easier with proper planning and the right project management software.
So let’s get managing!
1. Identify dependencies and constraints
The first thing to do is understanding task dependencies and constraints that can have an impact on your project.
You’ll have to brainstorm a ton to know where all the dependencies exist.
So it’s best if you note every project constraint and dependency you identify.
You’ll see some of the tasks:
- Depend on the completion of other tasks
- Are related to one another
- Need completing to ensure the workflow doesn’t come to a stop
But what’s the point of just noting these project management dependencies?
Put them to work with a project management software like ClickUp.
Here, project managers can set three kinds of Task Dependencies:
- Waiting on: All the tasks that need to be completed before this task
- Blocking: All the tasks that can’t begin unless this task is complete
- Link to: All the tasks that are related but not dependent on each other
All you have to do is click on the ‘…’ menu to open the action menu for the Task and then add one or more tasks as a dependency type of your choice.
Additionally, it might just make managing project dependencies easier if you can create a timeline of your project’s tasks.
Well, you can always hit the old marker board to create your network diagram. Or use complex software repository tools like Python to create a dependency graph.
Or… you could ClickUp’s Timeline or Gantt view to identify Dependencies.
This way, you can easily identify which tasks are dependent on each other:
2. Add the dependencies to your project charter
The next thing to do is add all the dependencies to your project charter.
If the list of dependencies is short, that’s well and good.
However, if it’s long, only add the essential dependencies to your project plan.
Use ClickUp’s Docs to draft a project charter and document your dependencies.
The rich text editing possibilities in Docs are endless.
Add headings, banners, numeric lists, fonts, tables, etc.
You can even Template the outline of your draft in Docs to save time when creating charters for future projects.
Unfortunately, creating a good project charter can be a time-consuming process.
Here’s the solution. ClickUp’s Gantt chart is designed to quickly set Dependencies.
Bonus: Team Charters
You just draw lines between tasks, and it automatically sets the Dependencies.
Want to reschedule?
Enable ‘Reschedule Dependencies,’ then simply drag and drop a task with Dependencies.
Don’t worry about the other chain of tasks.
They won’t get messed up. Instead, the tasks will automatically reschedule.
Don’t forget to add the Milestones to keep track of your awesome achievements.
And most importantly, to grab a drink and celebrate it with your colleagues after work!
3. Calculate the critical path
Did you identify too many dependencies?
Then it’s a good time to find the critical path.
Finding the critical path helps you prioritize your tasks and dependencies to ensure your entire project doesn’t fail.
Now, we won’t stop you from going back to that marker board of yours to determine your critical path.
But here’s an idea.
You can use ClickUp’s Gantt view to calculate the critical path too!
And all you’ll have to do is click a few times.
- Open Gantt view
- Click on the path calculations icon
- Toggle on ‘Critical Path’
And boom! There’s your critical path.
4. Share with stakeholders
You must always keep your stakeholders in the loop.
When they’re aware of the project dependencies and constraints, they have a better understanding of your functioning.
The project charter can communicate these details to your shareholders.
However, if you’re using ClickUp, you don’t have to send your stakeholders any documents.
You’re probably worried about privacy, right?
5. Track dependencies
Lastly, as a good project manager, you must constantly track and visualize your dependencies to deliver a successful completion.
To do so, you must track the completed tasks and progress made by different teams.
So basically hours and hours of emails, meetings, and calls? Nope.
You need a project management tool to track project dependencies easily and accurately.
Remember the different Dependencies ClickUp offers?
Well, tracking them is also super convenient because of the task dependency notifications and warnings.
So if you’re trying to close a task with Dependencies, there won’t be a mess.
The Incomplete Warning will notify you if it’s a dependent task and is unfinished. So the entire project schedule and tasks are undisturbed.
And you’ll always receive Notifications when:
- A new project dependency is added or removed
- A task or work item is unblocked and can begin
This way, nothing slips through the cracks!
All of these views keep workflow and Task Statuses clear as day, so you don’t have to go around asking for updates.
Depend on ClickUp for Dependencies
Look, dependencies are here to stay.
There’s no project without them.
The good news is dependencies aren’t all bad.
You just need to manage them the right way for successful project management.
And the easiest way to do that is through ClickUp.
Forget documents and software like Python Package Index because ClickUp is the only tool you’ll ever need.
From task management and Gantt charts to Time Estimates and dependency management, ClickUp can do it all.
It’s the ultimate package and an expert at handling multiple projects at a time.
So get ClickUp for free and manage expected (and unexpected) dependencies like a pro.