Manage Dependencies using MS Project 2010

-- Vivek Prakash

Dependency Diagram

Dependencies among various project activities and deliverables are one of the most risky areas. They often give surprises and delay the deliverables if not identified and managed well in time.

There is always a specific reason for an activities to happen at certain time. Either inputs needed to start the activities are not available earlier or because of various limitations we have scheduled the activity at specific time.

There are two types of dependencies — Hard and Soft. Hard dependencies are dependencies that are imposed and cannot be changed, they need to be followed. For example review can only take place once document is prepared.

Soft dependencies are discretionary and decided by person-in-charge e.g. Project Manager, keeping project objectives in view.  They are as such not dependent but due to some common constraints, they become dependent. For example, if there are two tasks A & B, both involve same technology and you have only one person of that skill. You need to schedule A & B in sequence.

Many time work on the dependencies has to start way ahead of when it is required. For example, you need to setup a testing site and it takes two months to get the hardware. To get the hardware at right time, you need to order hardware at least 2 months in advance. If it is not in your control you need to follow up with concerned department to get hardware delivered at right time

Managing dependencies is all about identifying them…

…correctly and assigning them in the project schedule. Identifying right dependencies is not so simple. Some activities are so close to each other, segregating them could be challenging. On the other side, some activities will be so distant that finding a relationship between them become difficult. If we continue on the project without resolving them early, they will hit the project at some point of time and cause damage depending upon their intensity. Some time damage goes beyond repair but it will bring some kind of rework for sure.  DSM (Decision Structure Matrix) is a good tool to identify the dependencies in the project specially when things are complex.

MS Project or any other scheduling tool plays a critical role managing the dependencies. Using MS Project, you can assign dependencies among various activities and if you have estimated duration of the activities also, you can sketch the full network diagram and know total length (duration) of the project.

Total duration of the project is decided by critical path. Critical Path is the longest path and the shortest duration, project can be completed. Beauty is that you need not to calculate critical path but MS Project does it for you. At any point of time, you can see what activities are on the critical path that to be managed closely. Because you have defined all dependencies in the schedule, MS Project will let you know the impact of any delay on any dependency at any point of time. You get to know about delays and challenges in meeting dependencies well in advance not at the eleventh hour.

This enables you to take preventive actions and optimize your schedule to manage the delays in turn completing the project on time. If you cannot prevent delays, you can adjust it by either crashing or fast tracking the project. Discretionary dependencies could be helpful in fast tracking by looking at the options of doing activities in parallel that were in sequence. Other option is of crashing by adding more resources in the project to reduce duration of a critical task. Remember, you can manage only if you get to know about delays well in advance and you have time to adjust the remaining schedule.