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3 Tips on How to Identify and Efficiently Manage Project Dependencies and Links

Projects, even when managed with Agile principles, come to a halt when project dependencies and links to other tasks are not identified at an early stage and when interdependencies block progress. Let’s start with a simple example: You are a successful consumer goods manufacturer and are expanding into a new market. The new headquarters office is set up, all the employees are recruited, the first customer contracts are signed, the product supply chain is ready, and all the marketing campaigns are prepared.

Project Standstill When the Smallest Link in the Chain is Held Up

You have managed each of these subprojects successfully with Agile and Scrum. But suddenly you realise that due to new government quality guidelines, you need to make some product adjustments, which will delay your go-to-market by three weeks. The guideline was first introduced after the whole project kicked off, and though the responsible subproject took the information into account for its own planning, it was too focussed on itself to pass on the information to all other subprojects in good time.

Although every subproject was managed with Agile and Scrum in a dynamic, efficient and resource-saving manner, the entire project would suddenly lose agility because the links and dependencies were not always transparent. Even if it is only a small task, a standstill in the smallest link in the chain can cripple the entire project. Another example, which illustrates the impact of dependencies managed in a suboptimal manner, can be found in our latest white paper – you can download it for free here.

Project Plans Do not Solve the Dependency Problem

The classic definition of dependency relationships is well known to project managers from the waterfall world, where showing project plans in Microsoft Project is still the preferred option. Whether it’s ‘finish to start’, ‘start to start’, ‘finish to finish’ or ‘start to finish’, project plans indicate transparency and control over dependencies. However, this apparent accuracy is rarely realised in project practice, particularly as the dependencies of special resources play a big role, alongside interlinking tasks. You don’t know what you don’t know – so when building the plan at the beginning of your project, things may not be obvious. Here the agile approach works much better as it is an evolving, step-by-step approach. 

Even complex projects with an international scope that have a wide range of stakeholder groups rarely follow a project and resource plan, even if the draft was very detailed. Agile and Scrum are therefore absolutely the right approach to getting results in terms of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) quicker and more efficiently when implementing business projects. This is achieved via Epics and Stories, which go into the project backlog and describe the desired result. However, the backlog can be long and comprehensive! So, how do we deal with dependencies using Agile and Scrum? 

1. Thoroughly Link Project Tasks with Epics and Stories

 Planning and preparation are proverbially the most effective options to avoid problems during the latter stages of the project. When you begin planning and defining project tasks, make sure you assign them to the overarching Epics and Stories. Maintain this system with the utmost precision, because links are documented right from the start, which makes them an integral part of your project backlog. In addition, estimate the time required for each project task – a rough estimate is always better than nothing at all. In the last step, set up the link to the responsible team or employee – this will quickly reveal which resources could cause bottlenecks.

2. Goodbye Microsoft Project, Hello Agile Toolset

Say goodbye to Excel spreadsheets and out-of-date project management tools. You need a toolset that makes dependencies that you defined in the first step transparent and actually available. Updates should always be available in real time for all project participants, without a central project manager having to manually enter new information from different subprojects. It’s no secret that Atlassian’s Jira is the most sophisticated platform for project management based on Agile and Scrum. This enables teams to work independently and information about dependencies is visible to everyone involved at all times. 

3. Use Tool Intelligence for Proactive Management of Dependencies

Once you have set up all the project tasks, Stories and Epics in a platform like Jira, you have laid the foundation to proactively manage dependencies. Using this information, smart add-ons can decrease the amount of work significantly by continuously monitoring dependencies and links. You will automatically receive a message in the case of imminent resource bottlenecks, a critical chain of tasks or the interdependency of subprojects, and will be able to correct them in good time. As artificial intelligence and machine learning develop, the cooperation between tools and the user will continue to develop so that tools will function like virtual project managers in the future and compensate for human weaknesses, especially in complex and confusing situations.

Summary: Agile and Scrum are the right approach to ensure complex projects enjoy success in a quicker and more resource-efficient way. By carefully planning and defining project tasks and choosing the right toolset, you lay the foundation for the effective management of project dependencies and links. For more information on this subject, as well as helpful tips and tricks, please read our new white paper that you can download here free of charge.