What are Project Interdependencies in Project Management

What are Project Interdependencies in Project Management?

Learn what project interdependencies and dependencies are to improve your risk management efforts and better ensure your project goals are met.

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Project interdependencies and dependencies in project management

Understanding project interdependencies begins with knowing how it differs from a project dependency. A project dependency is within an individual project’s environment, whereas interdependency is across multiple projects. Identifying and overseeing project interdependency and dependency is part of risk management and project management.

At the project dependency level, when the project manager is mapping the project schedule, they must identify where each task has a dependency upon another to monitor where the status of one task can directly impact another.

For example, suppose the release of the company’s annual report to stockholders depends on the CEO’s approval of the final report. The report can only be released with that specific type of executive approval. The overall project schedule is impacted if the approval is delayed due to the CEO’s travel schedule. In this project, securing the CEO approval task is a dependency.

A project manager will likely have multiple dependencies within a given project. Knowing those various dependencies helps with making timely and effective decisions that can better keep the project on time, within budget, and on schedule.

The same concept of the status of one thing having a direct correlation to the status of another is within project interdependencies. Programs are collections of projects. Programs contain projects with resources, processes, and tasks that connect across multiple projects; those connections are the project interdependencies. Due to any interdependency shared by projects within the program, a shared resource, process, or task is a potential risk for each project within the program and the program itself. The project manager needs to know when a process or task can progress within the project. The program manager needs to know the impact the process or task progression may have at an interdependency level for other projects as part of managing the shared risk across all projects. The project manager should include input from the project team to inform the go/no go decision and share the business reasoning with the program manager.

A program manager overseeing related projects to achieve organizational goals should know of each project’s interdependency to maximize overarching results. Managing and mapping project interdependencies is called dependency management.

What is a project interdependency?

Project Interdependencies are when the work within one project has the potential to impact the work of another. Typically project interdependencies refer to things that carry over multiple projects connected within a program or portfolio. As a result, there is a mutual reliance across the projects and a shared risk. The program manager is responsible for getting input from each project manager to identify and manage interdependencies.

Types of project interdependencies

The project manager and project team should work together to identify every project interdependency across projects and within a related project program. There are many types of project interdependencies.

  • Corporate (Internal) | shifts in company leadership, budget, processes, and organization can trigger project changes
  • Knowledge | lessons learned and experience in similar projects can be used to prevent problems, reduce negative risk, and identify opportunities that will benefit connected projects.
  • Market | customer changes, customer demands, resource availability, resource pricing, or competition shifts all have the potential to radically impact a project in a way that has a downstream impact on dependent projects
  • Organizational Resource | increased simultaneous demand for critical shared services such as technology, personnel, budget, or materials, across multiple projects

Examples of project interdependencies

The industry in which the project work is performed, the company conducting the project, and the specifics of the project goals each influence and cause project interdependencies across a program. Examples include:

  • The start of a project depends on the deliverables of another project.
  • The software programmer is assigned to work on multiple simultaneous tasks across several projects but can only work on one at a time.
  • Budget overruns in one project due to increased material costs have a negative impact on other projects’ budgets due to the shared company budget assigned to related work.

What is a project dependency?

Project dependency is what must occur at the task level for a project to continue. It is a one-to-one relationship or self-contained state, meaning that the status of the project resource, process, or task directly impacts only the project’s overall status. The project manager is responsible for getting team input to identify and manage each project dependency and including project dependency information as part of communications provided to the program manager.

Types of project dependencies

The project manager should always encourage knowledge sharing within a team to reduce risk, enhance planning, and inform decisions, as many types of project dependencies occur within a project. Of course, not every type will apply to every project, but multiple dependency types exist within a given project.

  • External | occurs outside the bounds of the project yet have a direct impact on it.
  • Corporate (Internal) | shifts in company leadership, budget, processes, and organization.
  • Knowledge | lessons learned and experience in similar projects.
  • Best Practices and Required Protocols | follow a specific task sequence and apply the standard, pre-determined process.
  • Organizational Resource | increased simultaneous demand for critical shared services, including technology, personnel, budget, or materials, across multiple projects.
  • Task Scheduling
    • Finish-to-finish | successor (2nd) task can only finish after the predecessor (1st) finishes; both tasks can begin simultaneously, before, or after one another; the successor task can only be fully complete after the predecessor is finished.
    • Finish-to-start |predecessor task finishes before the next task can begin.
    • Start-to-finish |initial task cannot finish until the successor task starts.
    • Start-to-start | predecessor task starts before the dependent task can start, then the finish of both tasks can overlap or occur at different times.

Examples of project dependencies

Similar projects will still have different dependencies. Lessons learned are an important asset to managing dependencies, but there will always be unique circumstances to adjust to for a project. Types of project dependencies include:

  • The start of a task depends on the finish of another task within the project.
  • The software programmer is assigned multiple tasks but can only work on one at a time.
  • Cost increases for a project resource reduce the budget available for other project costs. 

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Benefits of managing project interdependencies and dependencies

The project manager, program manager, project team, business, and client benefit from well-managed project interdependencies and dependencies. The projects and program share risk, so when there is poor project management, the impact is far-reaching and beyond one project.

Effective management of project interdependencies and dependencies benefits every project regardless of the type or industry. Generally speaking, the benefits of solid project interdependency management for a project include:

  • saving time at a task level, leading to the potential for finishing the project under or on time.
  • saving cost at a task level, creating opportunities for completing the project under or on budget.
  • controlling risk by minimizing the negative and maximizing the positive potential change.
  • managing scope throughout the project to better ensure meeting all project goals.

At the professional level, the project manager and project team members can further benefit from a strong project interdependency and dependency management approach with the following:

  • enhanced formal and informal leadership skills,
  • deepened project management experience,
  • refined negotiation skills, and
  • stronger teamwork enabling higher productivity.

A team that can conduct effective interdependency mapping will better understand every resource, project task, and project risk so that they are more likely to function as a high-performing team. In addition, the valuable skills gained through the project experience will add to their professional profile.

How to manage project interdependencies and dependencies

The program manager and project manager should conduct consistent and timely communication and maintain accurate documentation throughout the work. As with all types of projects, communication within the team, stakeholders, and the client is key to reaching project goals.

To manage project interdependencies and dependencies, the project manager and project team can leverage these tools and techniques:

  • Identify project interdependencies and dependencies in project planning, resource planning, and project schedule mapping.
  • Gather project interdependencies and dependencies input from project team members and experienced project managers.
  • Discuss the project interdependencies and dependencies with the team to enhance shared understanding, improve planning accuracy, and inform risk management activities.
  • Monitor and adjust using project documentation, team input, and proven project management tools.

The importance and value of effective communication and robust documentation apply to project interdependencies, project dependencies, and the overall project.

Summary

While project interdependencies and dependencies are related, it is important to know the role each plays in the context of project management. They directly correlate to project and program risk with the potential for positive or negative impact. Furthermore, the time to map each project interdependency and dependency is time well spent as there will be increased accuracy of task duration estimates within improved resource requirement planning. Project managers who can effectively manage project interdependencies and dependencies can more consistently lead their teams to minimize risk while maximizing opportunities.

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO