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A Comprehensive Guide on Task Dependencies in Project Management

Task Dependencies in Project Management

Task dependencies in project management are similar to a bridge’s pillars. . They hold the project together. And without them, the project workflow collapses.

Picture this. You establish the project tasks along with their assigned resources and due dates. But, you do not assign dependencies. Then what? Should team members randomly go about taking up tasks with no particular sequence in place? Well, that’s making room for impending failure!

So, how do you set the right dependencies such that projects run smoothly?

You do this by analyzing the project structure and setting dependencies such that workflow is established in an optimized manner. You may also incorporate an online task management tool to effectively organize and track the project workflow.

This blog will explore task dependencies, their types, categories, benefits, and more.

What Are Task Dependencies in Project Management?

Task dependencies are designed to specify the sequence of tasks in which they must be performed. They define the relationship between tasks such that the succeeding task can only be started once the preceding task is completed. Thus, no two tasks can be taken up simultaneously or picked up out of order. This helps follow a well-analyzed path of execution which prevents your project from taking an unexpected detour.

You can understand this concept better with simple real-life examples:

  • A wall can only be painted once it has been built
  • A book can only be published once it has been written
  • The water will only start boiling when the gas has been switched on

So, you see, the concept is fairly simple. One task relies on the other task’s completion for its kick-off.

Task Dependency Types in Project Management

There are four types of task dependencies in project management. Let’s take a look at them.

1. Mandatory

A mandatory dependency is the one that is legally or contractually binding, i.e., it must be carried out without fail. These are also known as hard logic dependencies.

In this, you cannot perform a task unless the previous one is accomplished.

For example, you cannot construct a building unless you have the required approvals from the concerned government corporations.

2. Discretionary

A discretionary dependency is not binding on anything but is the result of preference or best practice. These are also known as preferential or soft logic dependencies.

In this, two activities can be independently performed. However, it is decided that one will be taken up only after the other one is done. So, here, preference, convention, or experience takes precedence and establishes the workflow to be followed.

For example, you paint a house’s inner and outer walls. Both these events have no dependency on each other and can be independently carried out. However, as per discretion, you might decide to complete the inner portion of the house first so that you can start with other things such as deciding the color of the furniture, the curtains, etc. Thus, the said activity is done as per preference and not by following a hard and fast rule.

3. External

An external dependency is the one that depends on an external action to be performed. Here, the internal people have no control over the execution.

For example, an IT team might depend on the HR team to hire more developers. In this, the IT team has no control over the recruitment process. They simply have to wait for the HR team’s response and quick actions to get a developer on board at the earliest.

4. Internal

An internal dependency is one that depends on an internal action for it to be performed, i.e., the internal actions have complete control over choosing the start of a task.

For example, while setting up your house, you might decide to go out for curtain shopping first and then for buying the kitchen items. These two events have absolutely nothing in relation to each other. You decided to carry out the two activities by choice and in no particular order.

Looking at the description and the dependency examples, you must have got a fair idea of the different types of task dependencies in project management. Wondering which types of dependencies are most common in project schedules? Well, there’s no set answer for that. Project managers go for different dependencies based on existing influencing factors.

Now, let’s dive deeper and look into the categorization of task dependencies.

Read More: How to Delegate Tasks Effectively to Get Work Done

Categorization of Task Dependencies

You can categorize task dependencies based on different factors. These factors help classify the type of dependencies and why they are surfacing.

Task Dependency Based on Resources

A resource-based task dependency refers to tasks that require the same resources for their execution. Let’s understand this with an example. If there is only one paper printing machine in a publishing house, then most of their printing tasks depend on the machine to be completed. In this case, tasks have to be aligned such that they can be taken up one by one in a specific workflow. This avoids overlapping and mismanagement of work throughout the project.

The Kanban board has one of the most useful views to visualize this category of dependencies. This is because the board throws light on which tasks are in progress, which ones are completed, and which ones are yet to be taken up.

Task Dependency Based on People

A people-based task dependency refers to tasks that have been assigned to the same person. For example, a team member may have five tasks assigned to them. You cannot expect the team members to work on all five tasks simultaneously. In this scenario, they will take up tasks one by one. Thus, here, tasks are achieved depending on the person it has been assigned to.

Using a Gantt chart is a popular technique for visualizing progress across multiple tasks. A Gantt chart helps view the ongoing tasks along with their assigned resources and due dates. It also helps track that there is no overlap between tasks at any stage of the project’s life cycle. This further helps eliminate multi-tasking and resulting inefficiency.

Task Dependency Based on Project

Often, two different projects have task dependencies between them. This is possible because two projects may share the same set of resources.

Imagine this. A team member is assigned two tasks but from different projects. The team member can only take up one task at a time, ensuring efficiency throughout. Once completed, they will be in a position to take up the other task from another project. Thus, here, the two tasks, though from different projects, are dependent on each other.

For smooth project execution, you must rely on a good task management software. It allows you to:

  • Visualize workflows in real-time
  • Analyze resource capacity
  • Manage workloads across projects
  • Monitor progress easily
  • Keep overlapping tasks in check

Task Dependency Based on Team

Task dependencies can be based on teams. This is possible because teams too can share the same resources. For example, both the content and marketing teams of an organization may need an SEO executive to gain key insights into their work. Here, too, the SEO executive can only cater to one team at a time. Thus, here the task dependency is based on teams.

For this too, a task management tool may come in handy for smoothly running workflows from beginning to end.

Read More: Workflow Optimization – 10 Ways to Streamline Your Systems to Get More Done

Task Dependencies Based on Predecessor-Successor Relationship

Another way to define dependent tasks is by establishing their relationship as a predecessor and a successor.

Let’s take a look at it.

1. Finish to Start (FS)

Finish to start dependency

The finish to start dependency is undeniably one of the most popular types of dependencies. In this, the predecessor task must be completed before starting the successor task.

Example

Take a scenario where you have to construct an office space. For this, you have to acquire the raw materials and start building the office. In this, you cannot construct the office until you bring in the raw materials such as cement, tiles, bricks, etc. So, here, acquiring the raw materials is the predecessor task that will be completed before the successor task, which is constructing the office building.

2. Start to Start (SS)

Start to start dependency

Start to start dependency means that one task cannot be started until the other task is started. This means that the commencement of one task is dependent on the commencement of the other task. So, here, the successor task can be started once the predecessor task is started, without any requirement to complete  the predecessor task.

Example

Suppose you’re filling a large tank and pouring water on plants using a smaller jug. Here, filling a task is the predecessor task which must be started first. Only then can you start pouring water. Thus, it is not necessary that you wait for the tank to fill completely to the brim so that you can start watering the plants.

3. Finish to Finish (FF)

Finish to finish dependency

Finish to finish dependency means that the successor task can only be finished once the predecessor task is finished. Thus, the successor task is dependent on the predecessor task for its completion. Note that both the tasks may be running simultaneously but cannot be completed together. One task will be finished after the other.

Example

Take an example of constructing a house. As the walls are constructed, the painting of the walls can begin. However, all the walls must be constructed to completely finish the painting work. Thus, the completion of the painting work is dependent on the completion of the construction of the walls of the house. Though both the tasks can be carried out simultaneously, one cannot be finished until the other is finished.

4. Start to Finish (SF)

Start to finish dependency

Start to finish dependency is one of the most complicated and rarely used dependencies of the four. In this relationship, the successor task cannot be finished until the predecessor task has started. Thus the successor task is dependent on the predecessor task’s commencement for its completion.

Example

Picture the scenario where you are unable to find a professional, full-time photographer for your regular corporate events. In such a situation, you go ahead and hire a student who agrees to work part-time for your events. Here, the tenure of the student cannot be finished until you hire a professional photographer.

Read More: 15 Best Must-Have Personal Task Management Tools (Free + Paid)

Managing Task Dependency in Various Project Management Methodologies

As a project manager, you might be incorporating a particular project management methodology for managing your tasks and workflows. However, how you manage task dependencies in every methodology varies. We’ll quickly go through how you can manage task dependencies better using Gantt, Kanban, and List views.

1. Gantt Chart Dependencies

Gantt chart dependencies help visualize task dependencies using a Timeline view.

To set a dependency to a task, go to the left-handed section of a Gantt chart view. It displays all the tasks of a project in a list. Now, click on a task to which you wish to set a dependency. You will see that a small side window will appear. On this, select the ‘Advanced’ section. The section will open itself to a lot of features. One of these features will be to set dependencies between tasks. Using this, you can select which task you want to tie the open task’s dependency to. As you select a task, dependency will be linked between both.

Once set, you can view this dependency by using a Gantt chart. This will allow you to view task dependencies at a glance for clear-cut workflows.

Read More: Gantt Chart Dependencies: Types and Importance

2. Kanban Board Dependencies

Kanban board dependencies define task dependencies using a board with task cards. These task cards are distributed across different columns indicating the stages of a project.

To set a dependency, click on the task card to which you wish to set a dependency. A side window will open. In this, select the ‘Advanced’ section. You will see a ‘Dependent Task’ feature here. Simply click on its drop-down button and select the task that you wish to set the dependency with. And, voila! Task dependency is set! You can view this dependency on the Kanban board and establish a well-defined flow of task execution.

3. Task Dependencies in List View

The List view offers you a complete view of all your tasks in a simple list. To set a task dependency in this view, scroll over the task that you want to set a dependency on. As you scroll on the task, a blue rectangular button will appear below the task title with the word ‘View’ written on it. All you have to do is click on it and a side window will open. This window will have a section named ‘Advanced.’ On clicking this, the tool’s advanced features will show up. Among these, there will be an option to set ‘Dependent Task’. Just select the task that you want to set the selected task’s dependency to and you’re good to go! The task dependency will be reflected in the List view.

Read More: A Quick Guide: How to Prioritize Tasks

Benefits of Following Task Dependency

Let’s look at the benefits of following task dependencies.

Working with established task dependencies helps:

  • Establish a well-defined project roadmap: By following the outline of task workflows, team members have a clear understanding of which tasks need to be completed first. This eliminates haphazardly done tasks that indicate real progress.
  • Improve resource management: By carefully analyzing individual capabilities, resources are allocated optimally such that no resource is overworked or underutilized.
  • Spot gaps in project execution: A clearly laid-out project schedule with dependencies helps keep discrepancies in check. Thus, you can identify gaps timely and take corrective action immediately, minimizing potential damage to your project.
  • Enhance efficiency and accountability: A well-defined project workflow impacts the accountability and efficiency of each team member. This further leads to high-performing tasks and projects.
  • Adjust workflows effectively: You often need to adjust a workflow while managing projects. Chances are that you may end up disturbing the project or maybe even another project’s workflow. For this reason, you need to set up dependencies. This will help you analyze which other tasks’ schedule will be impacted if, say, you push forward a task’s due date.

Read More: 10 Task Management Tips for Higher Productivity

How to Set Task Dependency in ProProfs Project

Setting task dependencies is easy if you’re working on a simple tool that requires no specific training.

So, we’ll go step-by-step on how to set task dependencies in ProProfs Project.

Step 1:  Set up the Project Dashboard

To start with, you set up the project dashboard. To do this, you either choose a ready-to-use template or start from scratch, building your unique dashboard. Firstly, name your project. Then, add tasks to your project. You can add a task to a project in two ways.

Setting up task dependency in proprofs project

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You can either use the Add Task text box or click the +Add task button. Next, you add in the variables of the task.

adding task variable in proprofs project

So, you can:

  1. Add in the task title
  2. Set up the task duration by adding start and end dates
  3. Select what % of progress is your task at
  4. Assign users to tasks
  5. Add a tag if required

You can even prioritize tasks so that they get picked up first. This ensures that these important or urgent tasks get accomplished right away.

Note that you can even create subtasks for tasks to make projects more manageable.

Creating subtask in proprofs project

And yes, you can even edit these details by clicking on the View task button.

Task view option in project software

Besides, you can create sections to organize your tasks throughout the project.

Task organization in proprofs project

This allows you to view your tasks under specific categories and their individual progress at a glance.

Step 2: Set up Task Dependencies

Now that your dashboard is set, you can move on to make the workflow clearer. For this, you set up dependencies between tasks. These dependencies will indicate the flow of tasks and establish a set path of task execution for team members. This will help eliminate any confusion leading to delayed tasks.

Let’s understand this better with a product screenshot.

set up task dependency

The above screenshot displays the tasks under a project. The amber, green, and red symbols together indicate the Traffic Light Status.

Amber indicates a task that is On-hold, i.e., you are waiting on something.

Green indicates a task that is Active, something you are working on currently.

Red indicates a task that is In-active, implying that you don’t need to think about the task right now.

These symbols help in establishing dependencies between tasks.

The red light status means that this task is dependent on another task to be started. So, if you get done with the Green light task, you can move on to starting the task in Red light and set its status as Green light while running that task.

This way, you and the team clearly understand which tasks depend on others to get started, eliminating confusion regarding task workflows.

Step 3: Simplify Team Collaboration

A tool enables team members to be on the same page with task progress. Using the tool, they can give and receive instant feedback via task comments. Team members can also share files on the go. Adopting a tool helps discuss ideas and address roadblocks immediately.

Step 4: Monitor Progress

The most crucial thing while managing tasks is to keep an eye on the progress. Look for gaps that need improvement. Track key metrics and be prepared to address discrepancies. You can visualize progress from different perspectives using:

1. Gantt Chart

Gantt chart dependencies

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A Gantt chart is great for visualizing progress from start to finish. Its bars display what percentage of progress is a task at. It also clearly displays the task dependencies throughout the project with overlapping task bars across the Timeline.

Read More: 15 Gantt Chart Examples for Project Management

2. Kanban Board

Kanban board dependencies

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A Kanban Board helps categorize tasks in different stages of the project execution process. Also, each task card displays the task title, its users, its percentage of progress, and file attachments, if any.

3. Calendar view

Dependency setting in calender view

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A Calendar view lets you view project progress at a glance. Using it, you know which tasks are accomplished and which ones are yet to be completed. You can also use a drag and drop action to extend deadlines for projects and tasks.

Read More: Workflow Diagram: What, When, Types & Steps to Create One

Step 5: Adjust and Optimize Workflows

It is rare that the scheduled tasks will go exactly as planned. You are bound to face some challenges for which you might have to adjust workflows. For example, a team member takes an unplanned leave, and a task has to be completed that day itself. What will you do? Will you wait for the team member to join the next day and risk your task deadline? No, right? Here, you go to your project dashboard and optimize workflows. You do this by assigning another team member to the task. Thus, you need a tool that enables you to adjust workflows on the fly to cater to existing needs. Also, a drag and drop functionality comes in handy in such scenarios.

Set Effective Project Workflows With Task Dependencies

Setting up task dependencies in project management is indispensable for creating a clear-cut project workflow. Dependencies help establish accountability so that everyone is certain about what needs to be done when. These also help track actual progress without struggling to join randomly done tasks together.

Thus, now you have a fair idea of the types of dependency and how they can be categorized depending on their types. So get started and set up task dependencies in your everyday workflows for smooth-flowing projects. This will not only eliminate any scheduling conflicts but also help you monitor progress in an orderly sequence.

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About the author

David is a Project Management expert. He has been published in elearningindustry.com, simpleprogrammer.com. As a project planning and execution expert at ProProfs, he has offered a unique outlook on improving workflows and team efficiency. Connect with David for more engaging conversations on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.