Task Dependencies for Better Project Management

Task Dependencies for Better Project Management

Ready to talk task dependencies? Let's get right into it.

For starters, let's define what task dependencies are. Task dependencies are the logical links between individual project activities. Having an overview of task relationships enables you to create a project schedule where every activity happens in the correct order.

ActiveCollab task dependencies are finish-to-start, which means that a parent task must end before the Child task can begin. This is the most common type of task dependency and creates a string of sequential tasks. For example, if you're building a website, you have to finish the testing and deploy the template before giving your marketing team a walkthrough. There is a finish-to-start task relationship between testing and doing the demo.

Getting the right work done at the right time and within a pre-defined schedule is essential if you want to successfully complete your project. Task dependencies enable you to schedule the most effective sequence for your tasks, giving you a clear overview of the project's fastest route.

We'll be going through a list of steps you should take to make sure you're effectively utilizing your task dependencies:

Create a list of all your tasks

First off, make sure you have a complete list that shows every individual task. This list should include all activities required to complete your project as planned. For example, you can schedule a brainstorming session with your team to create this to-do list. It's important to include your team because many dependencies fall during a task's handoff to another team. One team member might need to do certain steps before accepting the task and continuing their flow. Knowing these steps upfront means you've got time to effectively schedule and plan the entire project with no nasty surprises.

Define Internal Dependencies

After you create the task list, it's easy to work out the natural links between activities. These "natural" links are internal dependencies that occur within the project. For example, giving your clients a demo of your new product is dependent on having the prototype ready.

Many projects have tasks and activities that the internal team can't deliver alone. Third-party contractors or other teams are often required to complete a particular task, like coding a new website widget or creating an illustration for the new blog post. Keep an eye on these dependencies as well, as they all impact your schedule and timeline.

Define External Dependencies

Next up, it's important to define all the links that your projects have to the world outside your team. Your project might be affected by other team's availability or other initiatives happening throughout the company. This might happen in multiple ways:

  • Another task or project has to finish before a task on your project can begin.
  • A person working on another initiative has to be available before a task on your project can begin.
  • Two projects need the same piece of work, so one person will do that activity for both projects at the same time.

More often than not, project managers tend to have less control over the external dependencies. Managing the external dependencies requires building a good working relationship with other project managers and other stakeholders within the organization.

Nominate Owners

A project manager is responsible for taking care of the schedule and exercises control over the project delivery. However, it's worth nominating the owners for each dependency. This way, you will make sure there's an accountable person that will make sure all linked tasks are advancing according to schedule.

When links between tasks are happening in a particular order, it makes sense that the task owners are delegated as dependency owners as well. Suppose your task dependency list includes a reliance on subcontractors. In that case, it's a good idea to pick someone who can effectively communicate and check whether the subcontractor stays on track to complete their part of work on time.

Task Dependencies and Team Collaboration

You made a list of all your project dependencies, assigned the owner, and scheduled all task relationships in your project management software. But does your team really understand what that was all about?

The impact of failing to execute a dependency can be devastating for a project, or even the organization as a whole. If a task is scheduled to complete on a certain date, those next in line down the chain will be waiting to take over. If the task isn't completed as scheduled, other people might not be able to pick up any other work while waiting. They can either sit around, making a dent in your budget, doing nothing. Even worse - they might be pulled off to work on other projects, making you wait for them to become available again.

On the other hand, if you finish a parent task too early, don't be too eager to celebrate going ahead of schedule. The assignees that need to take over might not be ready to do their part. They have to finish their current work before jumping to the child task. Therefore, you might not be saving time, after all. If you schedule two tasks to start simultaneously and one isn't ready, the other one will also fall behind.

Whatever the reason, the result is always the same: you're falling behind your schedule, and the project is running late. That's why it's important to stay on top of all project dependencies and maintain an effective communication chain both within your team and towards the stakeholders. Only a good collaborative environment will allow you to make sure everyone knows when to expect when is the next task coming their way.

In summary, understanding the purpose and benefits of task dependencies will enable you to manage all your projects much more efficiently. You'll be able to line up all the right people and other resources and make sure everything gets done on time, without constantly changing your project schedule. If you're looking for a tool that hosts a powerful task management system with task dependencies and automatic rescheduling, you're already in the right place! Make sure to check out ActiveCollab.

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