Projects don’t exist in isolation: even a single project involves dependencies between its tasks and depends on a number of other internal and external factors. As for a multi-project environment, it’s a complicated system that in addition to task dependencies has dependencies between projects, which should be taken into account to ensure the seamless flow of every project and wise utilization of resources.
So, how to tackle all these dependencies and deliver each project successfully? Let’s figure it out in the article.
Types of Dependencies in a Multi-Project Environment
First, let’s start with task dependencies. They are specific relationships between project tasks and are peculiar to both single-project and multi-project management. PMBOK Guide defines the following four types of task dependencies :
- Finish to Start: Task B (successor activity) doesn’t start until Task A (predecessor activity) is finished;
- Start to Start: Task B can start when Task A starts;
- Start to Finish: Task B finishes after Task A has started;
- Finish to Finish: Task B finishes after Task A has finished.
Knowing these dependencies in a project will give you an idea of the sequence of tasks’ completion and help assign resources accordingly.
We can speak about project dependencies in case the success of a project depends on other projects. Also, they may have common resources, budgets, and goals and in such a way be dependent on each other . Here are the examples of dependencies between projects.
- Financial dependency.
It exists when projects depend on the same financial factors. There can be a variety of such factors (e.g. unbudgeted expenses, changes in the currency exchange rate, etc.) that should be taken into consideration to make sure that there won’t be a significant cost overrun in the whole project environment.
- Market/interest dependency.
It represents the complementary or competitive effects of projects on each other.
- Resource dependency.
This is the result of sharing the same resources, either human or material (e.g. failure of equipment in one project will affect the other projects that require the same equipment; an employee’s involvement in one project affects their availability for the other one).
- Learning/experience dependency.
The knowledge or experience obtained in one project will be used in the other project (e.g. a new process or technology is implemented in one project, and this experience will be used for the other one).
- Outcome dependency.
This refers to the results obtained upon completion of one project that will affect the implementation or success of the other one.
Dependencies vs. constraints
We often speak of dependencies in conjunction with constraints – limiting factors for a project or the factors that narrow down possible choices. There are four basic project management constraints – time, scope, budget, and quality. For example, the need to complete a project by a certain date is a time constraint. Having a limited amount of money for project completion is a cost constraint. But in fact, the variety of limiting factors is wider – they can be related to resource availability, the need to follow government regulations, technical constraints, and more.
Some constraints can be a result of dependencies between projects – e.g. when two projects share the same human or material resources, there will be a resource constraint that must be taken into account in the project management process. Knowing all the existing constraints will affect the way you’ll manage a project and what outcomes you’ll achieve at the end. 
Let’s review how a project manager can deal with all dependencies effectively to ensure the timely and successful completion of multiple projects running in a company.
How to Tackle Project Dependencies Effectively
A multi-project environment can be compared to a gear wheel mechanism: if one of the gears is out of service, the whole mechanism will stop. So, the main reason for managing dependencies is to avoid the risks of inability to complete tasks or even the whole project, which will negatively affect the other projects and overall results. Here are some useful tips on handling project dependencies.
Identify the dependencies and constraints
To be able to manage dependencies between projects properly and minimize related risks, the first thing is to determine the types of dependencies that you will have to deal with. Identifying the types of dependencies will also provide you with a vision of constraints that are likely to appear as a result. Document all existing dependencies and constraints to be able to track them throughout the project delivery process.
Assess the risks
Having identified the areas of the projects that will be affected by the dependencies, it’s important to consider the dependency-related risks and prepare proper responses to these situations. For example, if a project is dependent on external suppliers, it’s reasonable to think what you’ll do if they don’t deliver the required materials or equipment on time.
Set priorities with regard to dependencies and constraints
The main idea here is to focus on the dependencies that result in the most critical constraints at this point in time. Setting the right priorities between projects with regard to constraints will significantly reduce the likelihood of bottlenecks in the project’s life cycle. For example, if there is a resource dependency between projects, their prioritization will be critically important to utilize the available resources in the most efficient way and prevent them from overload.
Review the dependencies regularly
Dependencies between projects in a multi-project environment are not something that can be dealt with only once: their management is rather an ongoing process. For example, changing circumstances outside the company (e.g. delay in raw materials delivery caused by bad weather) in the process of project implementation affects Project A which is dependent on these circumstances. In turn, it will affect Project B if there is a dependency between them. It means that corresponding changes will have to be made to Project B as well. Therefore, as long as a multi-project environment is often accompanied by uncertainties and changes, dependencies between projects should be monitored and managed regularly.
Pay closest attention to resource performance
In a multi-project environment, it’s critically important to keep focus on the state of every project. But what is even more essential is tracking resource performance, as it becomes the basis for seamless workflow across the whole project environment. For example, a team member who has an excessive workload cannot cope with it on time. This delay affects other team members’ work. After all, these snowballing issues have a negative impact on other projects, which finally becomes visible on the project level. Resource performance analysis makes it possible to fix the situation before it causes too many negative consequences.
Leverage a resource management tool suitable for multiple projects
When managing multiple projects, you’ll hardly do without a robust software solution. Its varied functionality makes it possible to effectively manage both workflows and resources and ensure every project’s timely and successful delivery. All this is about Epicflow – a multi-project resource management tool. Here’s a quick overview of some of its capabilities that help manage project dependencies.
- Providing an overview of all project dependencies.
Epicflow’s Gantt Chart schedules activities across the whole project environment. In addition to this, you can set dependencies between tasks and then monitor them as work on projects progresses.
- Prioritizing work on projects.
Epicflow takes dependencies and constraints into account and sets task priorities across the whole project environment accordingly.
- Monitoring the state of the whole project environment.
You can get a comprehensive view of all projects running in a company and never lose focus on the ones that require your immediate management attention.
- Keeping track of resource performance.
Epicflow’s Historical Load Graph makes it possible to gain insights regarding resource groups’ performance as well as identify bottlenecks and their causes.
- Preventing future resource bottlenecks.
The Future Load Graph demonstrates the future workload and output of your resources and allows you to plan future project work without bottlenecks.
These capabilities represent only a small part of Epicflow’s potential for efficient management of multiple projects, their dependencies, and resources. Book a call with our experts to gain a better understanding of Epicflow’s functionality and its contribution to improving project and resource management processes as well as business outcomes.
- Project Management Body of Knowledge. 5th edition. Retrieved from: https://repository.dinus.ac.id/docs/ajar/PMBOKGuide_5th_Ed.pdf
- Gozde Bilgin et al. (2017). Handling project dependencies in portfolio management. Procedia Computer Science, 121, 356–363.
- Harrin, Elizabeth. (2022). The Ultimate Guide to Project Dependencies and Constraints. Retrieved from: https://rebelsguidetopm.com/dependencies-and-constraints-an-introduction/