Project Management

Dependencies 101: Making It Work in the Real World

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at [email protected] Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

Every project management foundations course will have some content about dependencies, but none of those courses seem quite adequate to me. They focus on the theory, but don’t apply that theory to the real world of projects.

Making it worse (when it comes to dependencies in particular) is the way that the most common project management software handles them. And then of course there’s the jargon; dependency-related work is full of that. So, here’s my brief summary of how dependencies should work in real life…

A brief bit of theory
We can’t completely ignore the theory; here’s everything I think you need to know. Dependencies are simply relationships between tasks, and there are three main types:

  • Finish to Start (FS) — where the second task can’t start until the first one is finished
  • Start to Start (SS) — where the second task can’t start until the first one has started
  • Finish to Finish (FF) — where the second task can’t finish until the first one has finished

Some people will tell you there is also a Start to Finish (SF) dependency, but I don’t agree. Invariably, those are misinterpreted or misstated FS dependencies.

There are also the concepts of lead and lag (I told you there was a lot of jargon). Lead is simply an early start, and lag is a delay. We usually write those as …

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It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all the answers.

- James Thurber