Interdependency impact. Picture dominoes falling!

Project interdependencies; an all too frequently overlooked (and often deliberately disregarded) area of project and programme management.

Repeatedly, it is only when issues crop up with a key milestone (one that will be either delayed or already missed) that the right level of attention is given and escalations are pursued.

What is a interdependency?

The term “Interdependency” is used in the context of a reliance between two or multiple projects. For instance, where a deliverable needed by one project is produced by another project, the recipient project of that deliverable is dependent on the other project.

There are numerous ways this reliance can manifest itself and often encompasses multiple ways (obviously adding to the complexity). Such ways include:

  • One project cannot start until the other project is finished (or implemented)
  • One project cannot start until the other project starts (interrelated activities, such as business change project and technology enablement projects for a specific area, e.g. finance, HR)
  • One project cannot end until the other project is finished (or implemented) (such as an implementation of a finance system that requires a separate training project to complete its staff training)
  • The projects share key resources (such as a Subject Matter Expert, while he/she works on one project, he/she cannot work on the other project. Spending too much time in one impacts the other)
  • A deliverable (or more than one) from one project is necessary for another project to commence
  • A deliverable (or more than one) from one project is necessary to enable another project to complete its own deliverable

There are many other examples. Such as when multiple projects complement one another (all the projects have to be finished in order to deliver a product or a service, just finishing one or a percentage of the projects is inadequate, “all or nothing”.

In programme terms, the interdependencies can become incredibly complex. Not only are there dependencies between projects within the programme, but its common to have deliverables between one programme and another programme in order for the programme to deliver its stated outcomes or to make desired progress.

Whatever the scenario such interdependencies need to be actively managed. The project manager with the reliance on the other project(s) must manage the other project manager(s). Acting as a customer to that project manager. Such interdependencies are noted in the business case, such as the section covering ‘impacts and interdependencies’.

Interdependencies between projects create complexities for the management of the projects (and programme).

Projects are nonetheless risky endeavours, the uncertainty the interdependency challenge produces is can multiply this many times. Interdependencies have a knock on impact when they are not delivered to schedule. Picture dominoes falling!

Why? It is often difficult predicting the cascading impact from changes to projects. A delay upstream to one project may have knock on impact one or with several projects downstream. It may be a sequential impact or several projects concurrently. If you are really unfortunate, a couple of interdependencies may result in a combination of both.

It is therefore imperative that a thorough understanding of project interdependencies is achieved. And as early on in the project lifecycle as feasible.

This understanding is critical during a programme. (I’ll address this next challenge tomorrow)


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