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Cross Project Dependencies

Cross Project Dependencies - Wellingtone PPM - Rachel Goodwin

A question asked with almost every Project Online/Project Server deployment is “How do I create and manage cross project dependencies?”

Projects rarely happen in isolation, and you will find that most projects are dependant on other projects tasks or deliverables to enable successful implementation.

In this article we will explore two approaches for creating and managing cross project dependencies, using out-of-the-box MS Project functionality, these include:

  1. Cross Project Links – this involves creating task dependencies across projects; otherwise referred to as creating “Hard Links
  2. Inter-project dependencies – this involves setting up your tasks to be dependent on another project’s deliverables, rather than its tasks; otherwise referred to as creating “Soft Links”.

Both approaches have merit and are designed to be used in different situations.

Cross Project links / “Hard links”

Cross Project links or “Hard links” should be used when you have a task that relies on or drives a task in another project. You can create a task dependency to link the tasks in different projects.

To create a cross project link, begin by opening both projects from PWA in MS Project Professional. In the Predecessor column of the dependent project, enter the Project Name and the Task ID of the task dependency in the following format <> \ ’Project Name’ \ ‘Task ID’ whereby the ‘Task ID’ is the ID of the task in the project you want to link to.

The link then creates what we refer to as a ghost task/milestone in both projects, this is displayed in a different colour, usually in light grey. This ghost task/milestone is used to show the relationship that exists between two projects.

See example below, whereby the “Start Design” task in Project B (Task ID 3) is dependent on completion of the “Complete Initiation Stage” task in Project A (Task ID 4).

Project A:

Project A - Cross Project Dependencies - Wellingtone PPM

Project B:

You can see that the predecessor ghost task is inserted just before the corresponding internal successor task (in Project B), and the successor ghost task is inserted just after the corresponding internal predecessor task (in Project A). This visualisation quickly and easily enables the relevant project manager to keep track of cross project dependencies via the Gantt chart view.

When a dependency between tasks in different projects is created using hard links, any changes to the start or finish dates of the predecessor task are automatically reflected in the successor task of the dependent project. For example, if the “Complete Initiation Stage” milestone in Project A were to slip, when the project manager for Project B next opened the schedule, they would be notified via the Links Between Projects window. They will then be prompted to accept the change. Once the change is accepted the schedule will be updated to reflect the new and later start date for the “Start Design” milestone.

Note: You cannot undo acceptance of the changes after you click OK — however, you are assured that the project is synchronised with all external files.

Be careful to remember which changes you do not accept, because your project will not be synchronised with the external files that contain any changes that you reject. There will be no record of the rejected changes.

Inter-project Dependencies / “Soft Links”

Inter-project Dependencies or “Soft Links” should be used when a task in a project requires the completion of a specific deliverable in another project.

Deliverables

To create an inter-project dependency you must first define your project deliverables. Deliverables are products that will be delivered by the project. Publishing these as an external list then enables other projects to place dependencies on these deliverables.

To add a deliverable, begin by opening the schedule from PWA in MS Project Professional, select which task in the schedule the deliverable will be a product of, then go to the Deliverable icon in the Task pane and select ‘Create Deliverable’.

Note: You will only be able to add or update Deliverables in your plan when you are connected to Project Web App and have published the project and created a workspace site.

The deliverable icon should then appear in the indicator column for the relevant task, which, when hovered over, will state that “This task is linked to a deliverable”.Deliverables - Cross Project Dependencies - Project Online - Wellingtone PPM

Note: You will only be able to add or update Deliverables in your plan when you are connected to Project Web App and have published the project and created a workspace site.

The deliverable icon should then appear in the indicator column for the relevant task, which, when hovered over, will state that “This task is linked to a deliverable”.

The deliverable should also appear as a coloured marker or bar in the Gantt chart that displays the start and finish date of the deliverable.

When using soft links, note that the deliverable is decoupled the from the task, whereby if the task start and finish dates change, the deliverable start and finish dates will not automatically be updated. The project manager must choose to synchronise the deliverables with the revised schedule. Project Managers also have the added option of altering the deliverable name as well as the start and finish dates. You can do this via the Manage Deliverables pane.

Once the schedule is published, this deliverable will be available to other projects to place dependencies on. The deliverables will also be stored as items in the Project Site (the project’s SharePoint site).

Dependencies

To create a dependency on a deliverable in another project, begin by opening the schedule from PWA in MS Project Professional, select which task in the schedule will be dependent on the deliverable, then go to the Deliverable icon in the Task pane and select ‘Manage Dependencies’. Via the dependency pane, select the relevant project from the drop down, choose a deliverable to connect to, click ‘Link to Task’. Once done, the dependency icon will appear on the indicators column for that task.

Dependencies - Cross Project Dependencies - Wellingtone PPM

It’s important to note that when deliverables in other projects change, the dependency does not update automatically. The Project Manager must manage dependencies. A red exclamation mark will appear in the dependency pane, warning that a change has occurred, i.e. the associated deliverable dates have moved. The project manager then has the option to accept the changes and also whether to synchronise the dependant task dates with the deliverable dates from the external project.

This gives the project manager more control over the schedule. By setting up inter-project dependencies/soft links, project managers are able to track cross project dependencies without causing automatic scheduling shifts.

Note: more control means more maintenance. The Project manager will have to manually check and update deliverables and the associated dependencies.

By Rachel Goodwin – Senior PPM Consultant

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