4 Types of Project Dependency

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: projects don’t exist in a vacuum. Like successful communities, a project is very much dependent on what is going on around it.The context of the project really makes a difference to how successful it is and how the team performs.

Identifying project dependencies is part of the activity of setting up a project, so if you have run a project before, you have probably done the exercise in which you get the team together to talk about where this piece of work overlaps with others.

But did you know that you could make that job easier by thinking about the 4 types of dependency? If you use these categories, you can brainstorm more effectively and you will probably identify a few more dependencies to write down in your project charter.

Let’s just be clear on what a dependency is first, before we start looking at the different types. A project dependency is the relationship that links the order in which activities are carried out (these are shown by the lines on a Gantt chart that join up tasks) but it’s a bit wider than that as well. Projects are also dependent on what is happening elsewhere in the company. So let’s look at those 4 types of dependency.

1. In-Company, In-Project

This is the most common type of dependency and the one that you and your project team are probably most familiar with. Tasks on a project have to happen in a certain order. For example, you can’t test the software until the developers have finished writing it.

The ‘Test software’ activity is dependent on the ‘Write software’ activity. The testing team is dependent on the development team, who have to do their work first.

These dependencies are relatively easy to identify. If you can’t spot them yourself, your team mates will certainly be able to guide you.

Knowing about this type of dependency is critical for putting together your project schedule. You will need to be able to input this information into your online project management software so that it can help you calculate the duration of the project once all the dependencies have been taken into account.

2. In-Company, Out-Project

This type of dependency is where your project is affected by work going on elsewhere in the company. For example, there might be another project that has to finish a certain task or deliver a product before your project team can use it. If you are using these 4 categories to document your dependencies, here is where you will note down all the links to other departments or other projects.

This category also includes things like changes in company strategy or policy. Your project is dependent on the current company strategy in order to deliver something of value.

That is not within your control — your project team can’t influence strategy — but it is something contained and managed within the company. Work with your project sponsor so that you are kept informed of any changes and how these could affect your project.

3. Out-Company, In-Project

This is a difficult category of dependency to manage, so it is worth taking the time to see whether your project has anything that falls into this box. These are things that you can’t control within your own company, but are a key activity or issue for the project.

For example, this could be the deliverables due from a contractor — something that you can influence but can’t directly control, but very important for the success of your project. Or they could be other external deliverables like printing or outsourced IT deliverables. Even shipping or the supply of goods could be a dependency for your project.

If you can’t get your orders in time, that could hold up the rest of your project, so you are very much dependent on your suppliers fulfilling their side of the bargain and delivering when they said they would. Third party arrangements fall into this category too.

4. Out-Company, Out-Project

The final type of dependency is those that fall outside of the company’s boundaries and also outside of your project’s boundaries. So why would these have an impact on your project? Well, this category covers things like regulation, health and safety standards, compliance requirements and other types of policy.

Your project may rely on certain standards in order to meet its deadlines or deliver something of value that meets the market requirements. So you are dependent on these standards and regulations staying the same. If they change, the project has to change too.

This type of dependency can be quite hard to identify and often has an overlap with assumptions, which are also documented in the project charter.

Using these 4 categories, you can identify all your project dependencies. Some of them will have a far greater impact on your project than others. Work with your project team and your sponsor to identify the ones that have the greatest impact.

You can also work out which ones are potential risks to the project and make sure that these are also recorded on your risk log. If any are already issues, you can note them on the issue log too.

You can add most of your dependencies on to your project schedule, so that you can see when tasks are due and what must come after them in order to make sure that the project completes on time and to the required scope.

Some of them may not be appropriate for recording in the schedule, so note these down somewhere else and refer to them often. This list, your schedule and your risk and issue logs will help you monitor how much of a problem (if any) a dependency is becoming and allow you to act with plenty of notice in case something needs active, hands-on management.

You can use your list of dependencies in your project communications — this is particularly relevant where your project is dependent on another project or department. Make sure that the other team knows that you are reliant on them, and check in with them often to ensure that their work is on track.

If it isn’t, you will have time to tweak your own schedule to accommodate any delays. Conversely, they may be ready early, and it also helps to know about that so again you can make changes to your own resource plan to be ready too!

Dependencies can change throughout the lifecycle of your project, so don’t hesitate to go back and update your list as and when you need to. That way, you’ll always be on top of what matters to your project and be able to plan and manage it accordingly.