Project interdependency management


Management hates surprises. How often is senior management required to make a project decision without the complete picture or an understanding of its impact on the overall portfolio? The Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) is unfortunately not immune to this challenge when it comes to our Information Management portfolio.

In 1999 the Defence Messaging Handling System project was permitted to slip to the right without a good view of the project's interdependencies. This caused a ripple effect on five other projects within the portfolio, which translated into significant schedule impacts and ended up costing an additional $1M.

This impact, along with other similar situations, underlined the need for a solution to gain a better understanding of the numerous and complex linkages typically found within a large portfolio of IM/IT projects. DND's Information Management Group (IM Group) has since developed and implemented a practice that has gone a long way to eliminating these challenges. This paper describes this practice and demonstrates how a simple set of processes has significantly reduced the number surprises that management faces when it deals with their portfolio of IM/IT projects and has better armed them to take appropriate action when required.

What is Project Interdependency Management?

Contrary to the opinion of some project managers, no project is an island unto itself. Like it or not, most projects depend on other projects or initiatives to deliver some enabling capabilities that are essential to their successful implementation. Most also contribute some enabling capabilities to other projects or initiatives. The trick is to get all this “enabling” coordinated to minimize schedule slippage, reduce solution conflict, and prevent duplication of effort so that overall portfolio performance is optimized. Interdependency Management takes a performance-based approach to this coordination challenge.

DND has developed and implemented a Project Delivery Management (PDM) discipline aimed at increasing the delivery success rate of individual projects and increasing the cohesiveness of the Information Management/Information Technology portfolio as a whole. PDM has helped fill the gap between project management and DND's IM portfolio management by developing and implementing a number of best practices. PDM has created an environment where the PMs are provided the processes and tools to better address the project challenges as well as providing senior management with more timely and accurate decision support at the overall portfolio level. One of the key practices within PDM is Project Interdependency Management (PIM). At the project level, PIM provides processes, tools, and techniques to better manage the project linkages. At the portfolio level, PIM provides senior management with a map of these project linkages and a better understanding of their impact on the portfolio. This practice was developed and piloted by DND with the expertise and support of Fujitsu Consulting.

Project Interdependency Management Practice

The Project Interdependency Management practice (PIM) is a combination of processes, tools and techniques enables the PM to identify, validate, analyze, track, advise on, and report on the external project linkages. PIM does not, however, deal with linkages over which the PM has (relative) control: internal linkages such as the coordination of deliverables between teams within the project, or linkages associated with well-established business processes such as normal staffing activities and/or procurement activities. PIM refers to the external linkages as “Interdependencies.”

Project Interdependencies

Interdependencies are defined as capabilities required for the successful delivery of an individual project, which, by extension, affect the success of the overall IM/IT portfolio. Interdependencies represent a subset of the overall project risks. They are categorized as either “dependencies” or “contributions.” “Dependencies” are the capabilities that the project requires from external sources in order to deliver successfully. “Contributions” are capabilities that the project needs to deliver to external sources, which impact their delivery capability and in turn affect the health of the overall IM/IT portfolio of projects.

Project interdependencies are viewed from three dimensions that are combined to define each interdependency and its impact.

•  Sources—The external sources of a project's interdependencies include other IM/IT projects or non-capital initiatives, but also extends to include capabilities well beyond these sources. It is difficult enough for project managers to keep track of what other IM/IT projects are doing to meet expectations (or possibly not doing), but they must also concern themselves with business and organizational initiatives that contribute to or depend upon their success.

Exhibit 1. PIM Processes

PIM Processes

•  Service Area—Each interdependency relates to one of the following service areas: business processes, application/system services or IT infrastructure.

•  Type of capability—Each interdependency falls within one of the following types of capability: a technology enabling product, a physical interface, a business policy and/or other organizational function.

PIM Processes, Tools, and Techniques

While DND's PIM practice is new, it is not based on a new concept. PIM has packaged some standard project risk management principles and expanded to a portfolio view. These concepts were the basis for the development, piloting and implementation of standardized rigorous processes, tools and techniques. The PIM processes ensure that the project interdependencies are managed with objectivity and structure. The following provides a general description of the main PIM processes, tools, and techniques.

PIM Processes

The PIM processes are best described by breaking them down into three elements:

•  The “Initiation Process” deals initially with identifying and validating the project interdependencies. This process results in an approved set of project interdependencies that includes a detailed description of each interdependency and a risk rating based on impact and probability. The project interdependencies are recorded in a Project Interdependency Profile, Map and Timeline diagram (see PIM Tools for more details).

•  The “Ongoing Process” deals with the ongoing tracking of project interdependencies and the updating of the information stored within the PIM tools. This process also includes communicating with dependees and contributors in order to identify and/or clarify interdependency changes. This element of the process can be time consuming but is critical to the accuracy of the project inter-dependency data.

Exhibit 2. Project Interdependency Map

Project Interdependency Map

•  The “Decision Support Process” includes the activities required to determine the overall performance rating (health indicator) of the project's interdependencies as well as providing advice on recommended solutions and the way ahead so that senior management can make better informed decisions. Interdependencies are reported on a monthly for each project within the broader PDM function through the use of stoplight indicators. The combination of all PDM indicators graphically illustrates the health of each project within the portfolio. Yellow indicates a warning signal while a red indicator underlines the need for immediate attention from senior management to avoid future surprises.

Exhibit 1 provides a graphical representation of the PIM Processes. The PIM processes are time-ordered in order to present them in a logical manner but, as with PMBOK® process groups, they are iterative in nature depending on the type of project (e.g., phased, cyclical).

PIM Tools

In support of the PIM processes, a number of PIM tools have been developed and refined to meet the needs at the project and portfolio level.

•   Project Interdependency Profile. This tool is a Word table utilized to capture the characteristics associated with each interdependency for a particular project. It includes tombstone project information, a section for dependency details and a separate section for contribution details. It is the main registry of the project's interdependency data and is maintained throughout the life of the project. It defines each interdependency, the date the project requires the capability, the date that the capability is expected to be delivered, a basic impact statement and their individual risk rating. It's a reference tool for the PM and project team as well as senior management requiring more details than the PSR provides.

•   Project Interdependency Map. This tool is a graphical representation, in PowerPoint format, of the basic interdependency information found in the Profile. It centers on the project and illustrates the capabilities required or being delivered as well as the dependent or contributing organization/initiatives. This tool has been very effective in communicating a project's complexity. Typical project maps range from 10 to 50 interdependencies, providing a very effective illustration of the project's external influences. Exhibit 2 presents a map of interdependencies for a fictional project entitled “Project X.” The interdependencies shown are generic and the numbers of dependencies and contributions are restricted in order to illustrate the typical format of a map.

•   Timeline Diagram. This tool is a graphical representation, in PowerPoint format, and time ordering of the basic project interdependency information. This allows the PM to gain a better understanding of the interdependencies that will require attention in the short, medium and long term. This tool can also be utilized to analyze the impact on the project if any its dependencies were to slip to the right (i.e., be delayed from target delivery date).

•   Project Status Report PIM Section. This tool represents the portion of the PSR that represents the health of the project's interde-pendencies. This tool is a Word table formatted report that illustrates the number of dependencies and contributions by risk rating as well as providing basic information for those interdependencies that are yellow or red. Dependencies and contributions are represented in two separate tables to reflect the health of the project's dependencies and health of the contributions to the overall portfolio. This is the tool utilized by the PM and senior management at the Delivery Management Meeting (DMM) to focus the interdependency discussions and identifies changes from the previous month.

PIM Techniques

A wide range of techniques is utilized throughout the three main processes of PIM. Individual interviews, facilitated sessions, group work meetings, risk rating and diagramming techniques are commonly utilized in order to baseline the project's interdependency profile, map and timeline diagram. Monthly review meetings are also utilized to track changes and discuss any issues associated with the project's interdependencies (e.g., Mid-Cycle review meeting, Delivery Management Meeting). The mid-cycle review is conducted with the PM while the DMM is chaired by a portfolio executive and reviews the health of the project based on all PDM performance indicators. The application of these techniques remains, to a certain degree, flexible in order to adapt to the varying styles and requirements of individual project managers and portfolio executives.

PMBOK® Alignment

At a first glance the Project Interdependency Management practice can be seen as replacing or reinventing PMBOK's Risk Management Knowledge Area. While many of the processes, tools and techniques are similar, the PIM practice was developed to complement the standard project risk management processes in dealing with project interdependencies. The commonalities and differences between the two practices are highlighted below.

•   Project versus Portfolio—In addition to managing the risks that impact the health of the project, PIM introduces a new dimension by identifying and tracking project risks that impact the health of the overall IM/IT portfolio of projects.

•   Event/Condition versus Capability—The risks that the PIM practice deals with are known as interdependencies, which are a subset of the larger set of project risks. The difference lies with the definition and scope of these interdependencies. PMBOK® defines risks as an event or a condition while PIM focuses primarily on capabilities. PIM was designed to complement the standard risk management processes by dealing with risks, external to the project, that are not within the control of the PM. PMs are still expected to manage those risks that fall outside the scope of interdependencies.

•   Similar Processes—Both practices include processes associated with Risk Planning, Risk Identification, Qualitative Risk Analysis, Risk Response Planning as well as Risk Monitoring and Control.

One Approach to Implementing PIM

Implementation Approach

While the PIM practice can be applied by a PM to effectively manage his or her own interdependencies. DND's IM Group, responsible for the delivery of IM projects, chose to deliver PIM as a service.

The following illustrates the steps taken to implement the PIM practice within DND's IM/IT portfolio of projects:

•   DND funded and staffed a startup PIM team in the spring of 2000 to define and develop the practice.

The practice was successfully piloted on four IM/IT projects through the summer of 2000. The feedback was extremely positive.

•   The startup team was expanded to an implementation team comprised of three IDMs and team leader.

•   Over the last 18 months, the PIM Team has been implemented and delivered the PIM services to the remaining IM/IT projects within the portfolio.

•   The PIM practice and services have now been refined to a mature stage. Providing a consistent approach to interdependency management as well as providing value-added to the projects and the organization.

The services provided by the small-specialized PIM team includes the following:

•   At the project level, with the cooperation of the project team the IDMs identify, validate, prioritize, analyze, monitor and report the project's interdependencies. In the course of these processes, the IDM helps identify potential interdependency issues, facilitates the resolution of these issues and assists in the escalation of these issues in order to increase their visibility to the appropriate management group. On a regular basis, the IDM advises on the project's inter-dependency risks and issues. As part of the validation process, the IDM establishes communications with the appropriate dependees and contributors and maintains the communications throughout the remaining phases of the project in order to validate any changes/deletions/additions to the project interdependencies.

•   At the portfolio level the IDM reports and advises on his or her group of projects through the use of decision support tools. The IDM is also required to support project Readiness Reviews, Senior Review Boards and Independent Reviews as part of the broader services provided through PDM.

What are the Benefits of PIM?

The consensus in the organization is that PIM is worth the Bang for the Buck. Interdependencies that would have gone unnoticed or been ignored in the hopes that they would resolve themselves have been identified and dealt with as a matter of course. There have been fewer unpleasant surprises arising from interdependency breakdowns and there is growing confidence in the ability of Interde-pendency Management to help improve the cohesiveness of the overall IM/IT portfolio.

Benefits of the PIM Practice

The development and implementation of the PIM practice has proven to be beneficial to both the project managers and senior management. Some of the most prominent benefits are as follows:

•   A consistent and structured approach for the management of project interdependencies

•   Formal documentation and escalation processes for interdependency risks and issues

•   Early management intervention based on timely and accurate interdependency data

•   Identification of accountability ensures interdependencies are dealt with at the appropriate level

•   Prevention of PIM risks becoming issues

•   Enhanced communication between project dependees and contributors.

Benefits of the PIM Services

The packaging and delivery of the PIM services by the Interde-pendency Management team has also resulted in benefits to the projects and the portfolio:

•   Increased objectivity through the use of an unbiased third-party resource

•   Minimized impact on project resources through the use of an IDM for the management of interdependencies

•   Increased effectiveness through the use of a small-specialized PIM team (economy of scale)

•   Creation of a good knowledge source since each IDM is assigned a group of projects that span all programs within the IM portfolio. They will also add value by bringing in interdependency information from other projects within the portfolio.

PIM Success Stories

As stated above, there are significant benefits to the PIM practice and its services. To demonstrate some of the added value, a small sampling of PIM success stories were selected as typical examples.

Example 1. The Interdependency Manager assigned to a Virtual Private Network project helped manage the expectations of dependent projects and identify the need for contingency plans as it became increasingly apparent that VPN capabilities could not be delivered to the extent originally conceived. The PIM decision support tools triggered management to adjust the scope and schedule of dependent projects with sufficient advance notice to minimize impact on the overall portfolio.

Example 2. The ongoing PIM assessment of new messaging infrastructure projects highlighted dependent business system misconceptions that would have resulted in inefficient use of new capabilities and frustration with perceived loss of “traditional” capabilities. Management intervention resulting from the increased visibility afforded by PIM is reconciling the policies and processes involved and improving communications efforts to ensure that required business transformation activities occur.

Example 3. Interdependency Management for a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) project and the business projects dependent on the use of PKI helped identify the need for an overarching enterprise policy to authorize and provide direction on the use of digital signatures in National Defence. Senior management has used the PIM indicators on this corporate dependency to help focus policy generation priorities.

Lessons Learned

As with any new concept or approach it's important to revisit and objectively identify Lessons Learned in order to continuously improve the processes, tools and techniques. The following lists some of the lessons that we have learned during the last 24 months.

What Did We Do Right the First Time?

•   The PIM practice and services were piloted with a small sampling of projects. This gave us the chance to truly concentrate on the processes and adjust as required prior to taking on the remainder of the portfolio.

•   The scope of the PIM practice was clearly defined from the start, which was instrumental in managing project expectations and PIM Team workload in order to apply the effort in the appropriate areas.

•   The IDMs assigned to the PIM team possessed significant project management experience and a good understanding of the organization's workings, which was key to establishing a good level of credibility with the client community.

•   A strong trust relationship was established between each project manager and the assigned IDM. This was a critical element in ensuring open communication with regard to project interdependencies.

•   The PM and the client representative within the project team were engaged throughout the PIM processes in order to provide validation of the data.

•   Executive support and engagement was present from inception, providing appropriate funding as well as helping to ease the transition brought about by the various PDM practices.

What We Would Do Differently

•   We have found that it's very important to maintain an up to date user guide and practice manual that reflects the latest PIM practice through the use of a change management process in order to ensure it's implemented consistently and effectively.

•   We need to develop a better communication vehicle to our user community (PMs and senior management) in order to maintain a good understanding of the practice and enhancements as well as making the latest tools available.

•   We required a stronger linkage with the department's project database in order to maximize the value of the project interdependency information and eliminate the need for double reporting by the project teams.


The development and implementation of the Project Interdependency Management practice within DND has proven to be a resounding success in improving project delivery. It has brought to the table a number of benefits for the project manager as well as senior management. From the time the first interdependency map was developed it was immediately utilized by senior management and the PM to underline the complexity found within DND's IM/IT portfolio of projects. The project interdependency map was able to tell a story in a way that reports could not in the past, supporting the concept that a picture is worth a thousand words. PIM has quickly gained credibility and is currently widely accepted as a best practice. Try it … you'll like it.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
October 3–10, 2002 • San Antonio, Texas, USA



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