What is Dependency Mapping in Project Management?

Updated on: 20 February 2024 | 11 min read
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Dependency mapping is a simple visual technique where you identify the tasks involved in a project and determine how they depend and relate to each other. By mapping these dependencies, you can see the logical flow and sequence of work, spot potential issues, and plan your resources accordingly. In this blog post, we will discuss what dependency mapping is, why it’s useful, and how you can create a dependency map for your own projects. We’ll also look at some examples to illustrate the technique.

Dependency Mapping Templates

Project Dependency Template

Project Dependency TemplateEdit this Template
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Dependency Map Template

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SAFe Program Board

SAFe Program Board for Dependency MappingEdit this Template
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PERT Chart for Dependency Mapping

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PI Planning Template

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PI Planning Template for Dependency Mapping

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PI Planning Template for Project Dependency Mapping

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PERT Chart for Dependency Mapping

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What is Dependency Mapping

Dependency mapping is an important technique in project management where you identify and visualize the order of tasks and how they depend on each other. This allows you to plan the project schedule efficiently and manage risks.

When mapping dependencies, you list all the tasks that need to be completed as part of the project. Then, you identify which tasks depend on the completion of other tasks. You can show these dependencies in a diagram or list.

There are different types of dependencies in project management, including:

  • Finish-to-Start (FS): The dependent task cannot start until the task it depends on has finished.
  • Start-to-Start (SS): The dependent task cannot start until the task it depends on has started.
  • Finish-to-Finish (FF): The dependent task cannot finish until the task it depends on has finished.
  • Start-to-Finish (SF): The dependent task cannot finish until the task it depends on has started.

Dependency mapping is a ludic technique that transforms complex projects into a visual representation, allowing for better planning, risk management and communication. The diagram becomes a dynamic tool that you can update as your project evolves over time.

Key Elements of Dependency Mapping

Let’s take a look at the key components of a dependency map.

  • Nodes or boxes: Each task, activity, or element in the project is represented by a node or a box. These nodes are the building blocks of the diagram.
  • Arrows or lines: Arrows or lines connect nodes to show the dependencies between them. The direction of the arrow indicates the flow of dependency (e.g., from the predecessor to the successor task).
  • Dependency type notation: Use different arrow styles or annotations to indicate the type of dependency (e.g., Finish-to-Start, Start-to-Start, Finish-to-Finish, Start-to-Finish). This helps clarify the nature of the relationships.
  • Task labels: Clearly label each node with the name or identifier of the task or activity it represents. This way stakeholders can easily understand what each node represents.
  • Timeline or duration: Optionally, add information about when each task is supposed to start and finish.
  • Critical path: Highlight the most important tasks that determine how long the whole project will take.
  • Milestones: Use special symbols to mark important achievements or completion points.
  • Legend or key: Include a legend that explains the symbols and colors used in the diagram.

How to Use Dependency Mapping in Project Management

In project management, dependency mapping is used for planning, executing, and controlling projects. Some of the key applications are:

  • Identifying critical paths: Dependency mapping helps identify the critical path in a project, which is the sequence of tasks that determines the minimum duration of the project. Understanding the critical path helps the project stays on schedule.
  • Optimizing project schedules: By visualizing task dependencies, project managers can optimize their schedules to minimize delays. This is essential for efficient resource allocation and timely project delivery.
  • Risk management: The use of dependency mapping allows project teams to identify and assess potential risks associated with task interdependencies. Project managers can mitigate risks by understanding how changes to one task can affect others.
  • Resource allocation: Resources can be managed more effectively when dependencies are mapped. As a result, project managers can identify potential resources conflicts or constraints and allocate them efficiently to meet project deadlines.
  • Communication and collaboration: Dependency maps serve as a visual communication tool for project teams, stakeholders, and others. Team members get a clear picture of task relationships, making collaboration and coordination easier.
  • Scenario planning: A dependency map can help project managers explore different sequences of task execution for scenario planning. By evaluating different approaches and understanding the consequences, you can make better decisions.
  • Prioritizing activities: Knowing task dependencies helps project managers prioritize activities that affect timelines. In this way, you reduce the likelihood of project delays by focusing on critical tasks.

How to Create a Dependency Map

1. Identify all the tasks and subtasks for each project

The first step is to make a list of all the tasks and subtasks you need to complete for your project. Make sure each task is clearly defined, and break bigger tasks down into smaller, more manageable subtasks. This list serves as the foundation for building your dependency map. For example, if your project is to organize an event, tasks could include finding a venue, sending invitations, and setting up decorations.

Work Breakdown Structure for Dependency MappingEdit this Template
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Work breakdown structure to break bigger tasks down into smaller ones

2. Assign responsibilities and stakeholders

Decide who on your team is responsible for each task. If someone is responsible for finding a venue, make sure it’s clear. This step helps everyone know what they’re in charge of, making the project run smoother. Also, consider involving people outside your team if their help is needed.

Project Organizational Chart for Dependency MappingEdit this Template
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Project organizational chart to map roles and responsibilities

3. Identify each task’s internal and external dependencies

For each task, identify both internal dependencies (dependencies within your project team) and external dependencies (dependencies on factors outside your team, such as vendors, other teams, or third-party services). These dependencies are crucial for understanding the flow of work, so document them clearly.

4. Sort dependencies by type

Sort out the dependencies based on how they relate to each other. For example, some tasks might need to finish before others can start (Finish-to-Start), while some might need to start at the same time (Start-to-Start). This step helps you understand the order of tasks.

5. Figure out constraints

Consider any limitations or restrictions that might affect your tasks. This could include limits on your budget, the number of people available, or the time you have. Identifying these constraints early helps you plan more realistically.

6. Map out the dependencies and constraints

Create a map that illustrates the dependencies and constraints you identified in the previous steps using a visual collaboration tool like Creately. You can use shapes, arrows, colors, and labels to represent tasks, dependencies, and constraints. Make the map easy for everyone to understand, so you can communicate and coordinate effectively.

Who are Involved in Dependency Mapping

Dependency mapping involves various individuals in a project, including

  • Project manager: Leads the project, making sure everything goes according to plan. They use dependency maps to guide the project and manage resources and risks.
  • Team members: Help figure out how tasks are connected and work together to understand the whole project.
  • Stakeholders: These are people interested in the project’s outcome, like clients or bosses. They give input, understand timelines, and approve important decisions.
  • Subject matter experts: Experts in specific areas who share their knowledge to identify task connections based on their expertise.
  • Resource managers: These individuals make sure that resources (like people or materials) are used wisely by considering task connections and constraints.

Importance of Dependency Mapping in Project Management

Mapping dependencies is an important part of project management. Understanding how tasks and work items relate to each other can help you plan and execute projects more effectively. Here are some benefits of dependency mapping to consider.

  • Dependency mapping allows you to identify the critical path or longest path of tasks that determines the earliest your project can be completed. Any delays in tasks on the critical path will directly impact the overall schedule.
  • You can also identify slack or float time within your schedule to determine which tasks have more flexibility.
  • By visualizing dependencies, you gain a holistic understanding of your project that helps you communicate plans more effectively to stakeholders.
  • You can also identify risks early if you see that too many tasks depend on a single resource. Then, you can take actions to mitigate the risks through things like task duplication.

Best Practices for Successful Dependency Mapping

Follow these best practices to make dependency mapping more effective, leading to better project coordination, reduced risks, and more successful projects.

  • Start simple and build up. Don’t try to map all dependencies at once. Start with a small section of your system that is well defined and contained. This will allow you to learn the process and build up a library of reusable templates.

  • Use a visual tool. Mapping dependencies visually using a tool like a diagram or chart makes it easier to see relationships and spot gaps or issues.

  • Be exhaustive and specific. Name each dependency explicitly. Vague descriptions like “uses data from” are not helpful. Specify the exact APIs, functions, or data used.

  • Map dependencies in both directions. Show not only who depends on whom but also who provides dependencies to whom. This gives a more complete picture.

  • Categorize dependencies. Group dependencies by type such as data, API, infrastructure to simplify the map and identify dependency hotspots.

  • Update the map regularly. Dependencies tend to accumulate over time, so the map should be reviewed periodically and updated to reflect any changes.

  • Socialize the map. Share the dependency map with relevant teams and stakeholders. This can help teams become more independent and resilient by identifying single points of failure.

  • Use the map proactively. The dependency map is meant to be a living document that helps you make more informed architecture and design decisions for your system.

How to Use Creately for Dependency Mapping

Creately offers an array of useful features that helps simplify the process of dependency mapping.

Drag-and-drop interface

Creately’s user-friendly interface with drag-and-drop functionality allows for easy manipulation of tasks and dependencies. Team members can quickly rearrange elements on the canvas to reflect changes in the project plan.

Shapes and nodes

Creately comes with comprehensive shape libraries representing task or activity symbols to simplify the process of creating a visual representation of your project. Each shape can be labeled with the task name or identifier.

Templates and frameworks

Get a head start with pre-designed templates or frameworks designed specifically for project management and dependency mapping. These templates can serve as starting points, providing a structured layout for your dependency map.

Real-time collaboration

Get any number of participants on the same workspace and track their additions in real-time. Collaborate with others in the project seamlessly with true multi-user collaboration features including synced previews and comments and discussion threads. Use Creately’s Microsoft Teams integration to brainstorm, plan, run projects during meetings

Notes and attachments

Record additional details and attach documents, files, and screenshots related to your projects dependencies with per item integrated notes panel and custom data fields. Or easily embed files and attachments right on the workspace to centralize project information. Work together on project documentation with teammates with full multiplayer text and visual collaboration.

Conclusion

Creating a dependency map early and referring to it often during your project is a powerful technique to surface issues, socialize your plan, and increase the chances of project success. While there are tools that can automate parts of this process, the act of drawing out dependencies manually using a simple diagram can be a highly ludic (playful) exercise that sparks creativity and insight into your work.

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Author

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Amanda Athuraliya Communications Specialist

Amanda Athuraliya is the communication specialist/content writer at Creately, online diagramming and collaboration tool. She is an avid reader, a budding writer and a passionate researcher who loves to write about all kinds of topics.

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