How To Handle Dependencies In Your Projects

Ken Martin
By | Updated December 14, 2015 | 7 min read
project dependencies

Project Managers must be able to plan for and manage the dependencies among tasks in their projects they are going to have successful outcomes.


Easily manage the project timeline with the Free SharePoint Project Management Template! 


The more complex a project is, the more dependencies there will be among project tasks that must be planned for.


What are Project Dependencies?

  • A project dependency is where a task, milestone or activity is dependent on another task or milestone being completed before it can start or be completed.
  • Dependencies exist when an output from one task or another project is needed as mandatory input for another task or another project.
  • Dependencies are something that must be delivered to enable a project’s delivery and these must be identified and tracked as they will impact on project success.
  • Dependencies form a key part of workload prioritization during the program and are a basic agenda item for any meetings and decision-points. As such, they must be consistent with all other aspects of the plans, projects, and programs.
  • Dependencies may be items that are being delivered from elsewhere, and that may not be directly under the control of a project manager.
  • The dependencies log will capture at least who the project is dependent upon and what they should deliver and when.
  • It is possible for a project to have interdependencies. This is where tasks, milestones, etc within the same project are dependent on each other
  • The other type of dependency is external. This is where the dependency is on a different project, program, or even business as usual. PMs should also keep details of the actual agreement and when it was made along any later variations of this
  • Project dependencies establish the links, and the type of links, between all the tasks of a project.
  • Project managers manage project dependencies as risks.


What Are The Project Dependency Types?

Understanding the types of dependencies inherent in the work that needs to be completed is one of the most important elements of creating a strong project schedule.

1. Mandatory Dependencies

  • These are dependencies that are logic driven e.g, a code module cannot be tested until after it’s written.


2. Resource-based Planning Dependencies

  • These are dependencies where the task could be accomplished faster or sooner if you had more resources.


3. Discretionary Dependencies

  • These are tasks that could be scheduled differently, but the Project Manager chooses to schedule this particular order.


4. External Dependencies

  • These are dependencies that are outside the control of the project team, but nonetheless, must be reflected in the project schedule.
  • Examples of external dependencies include completion of a project milestone that is linked to the completion of a milestone within another project.



Task Dependency Relationships


task dependency relationships


Dependency relationships are utilized to link two tasks in the most logical manner possible. The valid relationships in MS Project are:

Finish-to-Start (FS)




  • This represents the default relationship in MS Project. If you do not specify the relationship, FS is assumed.
  • This relationship is utilized to establish a sequential flow of work, this activity can start when the previous activity is completed.


Start-to-Start (SS)



  • Start-to-start (SS) dependencies are used when the second task in the relationship can’t begin until after the first task in the relationship begins.
  • This relationship is utilized when two activities will be launched at the same time.
  • They may end at different times (depending on the duration of each activity), but they can start at the same time.


Start-to-Finish (SF)




  • When you use this type of dependency, you are saying that the second task in the relationship can’t finish until the first task starts. However, the second task can finish any time after the first task starts.


Finish-to-Finish (FF)




  • If one of your tasks can’t finish until another one finishes, you can use a finish-to-finish (FF) dependency between them. Finish-to-finish dependencies don’t require that both tasks be completed simultaneously. They simply require that the first task be finished, in order for the second task to finish. The second task can finish any time after the first task finishes.
  • The two activities may start at different times (again, depending on the duration of each activity), but the completion of the two activities is coordinated.



Project Dependency Log

In a similar way to the management of risks, issues and assumptions, the recording and monitoring dependencies is by using a dependency Log (as part of the RAID template)

This Dependency Log should typically capture:

  • Unique Reference to identify dependency
  • Description to briefly describe the dependency
  • Enabling Project Name which delivers the task or milestone
  • Task Description details of the exact task that must be delivered
  • Dependent Programme Name which needs the task to be delivered
  • Dependent details of task that needs the delivery
  • Delivery Date of dependency that must be delivered by to not cause a delay in dependent project
  • Probability that dependency will not be met in required timeline
  • Impact of dependency not being delivered in required timeline
  • Status of dependency whether open or closed, etc
  • Owner who owns the dependency
  • Date Raised.


Dependency Awareness Workshop

  • The real skill for a PMO is identifying what are the dependencies as most times that are not obvious even when you have a room full of subject matter experts
  • This is a workshop that can be facilitated by a PMO lead where all the key stakeholders and subject matter experts of key programs and projects are brought together to walk through the proposed project to identify dependencies
  • The PMO lead will start by stating the purpose of the workshop which is to identify any dependencies between projects.


Each project should provide a one-page overview with the following:

  • Project name
  • Sponsor
  • Project Manager
  • Start/end dates
  • Current status
  • Business area / function
  • Overview of the project
  • Business process being changed
  • Platforms being implemented/changed
  • Key milestones
  • Key issues/risks.


In the workshop, Each project manager will have 15 minutes to briefly discuss their project.

  • This will allow other project managers to ask questions and identify potential dependencies
  • At the end of the workshop, the goal is to have a list of potential dependencies with a set of actions going forward
  • After the workshop, the PMO can review the list and determine the milestones of where the dependencies exist
  • The PMO will then publish this list and arrange a follow-up workshop to review the list as a group to align with project managers on either side of a dependency to confirm and agree that the proposed dates are realistic and achievable
  • The output of the follow-up workshop is to have all parties in agreement on the delivery dates of their respective project dependencies
  • Once the dependency dates are aligned and agreed, the PMO will now have a clear view of dependencies and the associated milestones in the different plans
  • The PMO will track progress against these critical milestones as part of the regular meetings and reporting.




  • It is a key responsibility for project managers to record, monitor, and manage these dependencies
  • Dependencies that are not properly managed quite frequently cause project failure.


Image credit 

Ken Martin
Ken Martin

Don't forget to share this post!