Project managers need to be able to manage dependencies because otherwise project delivery is at risk. If you don’t know what items your project relies on from other projects or teams, you can’t plan and manage that work. It falls outside of your project, but not your sphere of influence and it’s important to control dependencies as far as you are able.
Of course, some dependencies also fall within your own project: these are the ones that other project managers are relying on. While your project might be able to succeed regardless of the situation with these tasks, the business as a whole requires you to work with other projects and take a holistic view of how all projects fit together.
The first step in being able to manage something is being able to identify it. A workshop is a good idea: invite other project managers from your programme or department and work together to see how your projects interact. Your programme manager, if you have one, will be in a perfect position to facilitate this discussion. However, many project divisions don’t have programmes structured like that, or you may believe that your project has dependencies on or with a project that falls outside of the programme. So ask around widely and involve the necessary parties.
You can discuss dependencies within your project at a scheduled team meeting. Get your team together and talk about how their tasks relate to one another. People should be clear about what role they have in ensuring tasks are delivered on time, especially when other people are waiting on them to complete their work.
Once you’ve talked to your team and the other project managers, you should create a dependency register for your project. This should include:
- The ID of the dependency (the easiest thing is to start at 1 and go from there)
- A description
- The name of the person responsible for managing the dependency
- A note of what or who is depending on the dependency
- The date.
You can also include an assessment of probability and impact around what would happen if the dependency is not delivered. Alternatively, you could put these on the risk register.
Managing dependencies is no different to monitoring and managing any other project task. If your name is down on the dependency log, consider it simply another project task to do. Tick off the tasks on your action plan and monitor the dependency accordingly.
In most cases, managing a dependency simply means making sure any work is completed on time and that if there are any changes that the downstream or upstream project or team member is aware of it. It is essentially managing the handover of work, so as long as you keep communication channels open and work together, you’ll find it easy to do.
The hardest part of project dependency management is identifying them in the first place. Once you know what your project relies on and what other people are expecting from you then it’s straightforward to keep those dependencies on track.