“Zombies! They’re everywhere!” screams a terrified person running away from a darkened, dilapidated house. Behind her you see the zombies, slowly but relentlessly approaching, in a creepy mob, seeking to devour whatever they can catch.
You’ve seen this scene before in horror movies. But digital managers have their own brand of zombies, doggedly pursuing them at every turn. They are , those unpredictable connections between projects, between your and a host of unknowns, or other .
They lurk behind every corner. They haunt you day and night, seeking to overwhelm you with their sheer numbers and consume your in a tangle of complexity. They come up behind you when you least expect them and take over your . Zombies and are always sneaky!
In this article
- Rules For Managing Project Dependencies
- Project Dependencies And Risk Management
- Project Dependencies And Team Roles
- Managing Dependencies: Two Methods From The Project Management Toolkit
- Managing Project Dependencies: More Tips From The Zombie Handbook
- Project Dependencies: No Silver Bullets
A Zombie Handbook: Rules For Managing Project Dependencies
What managers need is a “zombie handbook” — a set of rules that will keep projects safe and healthy when internal dependencies within the and other factors try to hunt you down.
and dependencies are threatening to your because they add complexity and because they’re unpredictable. The PM on a single doesn’t have control over some other or function.
And yet projects within a company draw on a common pool of resources, from functions like sales, QA, regulatory, etc. When more than two projects are involved, complexity multiplies, and they can spin out of control, not just exponentially but factorially.
What any given stakeholder does has an effect on your team members whether you like it or not. For , your might depend on a piece of software that another is developing — a that must be completed before a in your can begin.
At first, it looks like that other will have no problem delivering on time, but as days slip by, and then a week or two, you start to hear the zombies approaching. They’re coming for your !
You might think it was difficult to anticipate this risk. But now it’s upon you, and then you’re in its grasp! It’s too late to consult your zombie handbook.
Project Dependencies And Risk Management
The first chapter in the zombie handbook advises that managers think of in terms of risk management. The moments when your is dependent on other people or events outside your control are inherently risky. An that is out of your control and that could have a negative impact on your is a type of risk.
An important step — often overlooked — is to define the risks to your early on. How do you anticipate these risks? Start by dividing them into categories such as:
- Technical risk — Example: You’re using a new technology, whether new to the world or new to your company; will it work as promised?
- Partner risk — Example: You’ve outsourced the development of an API; will the partner deliver on time to meet your ?
- Market risk — Example: Your will enter a new, but adjacent market; do we really know the field?
- Internal risk — Example: The sales team’s plate is full; will they have materials ready for my ‘s trade show?
- Resource risk — Example: You’re building a new website but it needs testing; you assume that the resources are available for this work but did you clarify it with the function in question?
Your may also become dependent on factors in the wider world beyond your control. For , platforms such as Bluetooth that always seem to cause headaches. Or your ‘s success may depend on a government like GDPR or another regulation, whether domestic or overseas.
Project Dependencies And Team Roles
Much of the risk around derives from unchecked assumptions. You thought so-and-so was working on an important deliverable, but the timeline was unclear. Managing complex dependencies requires proactive communication, and people just aren’t good at that. Too often, we assume, and assuming is always fraught.
So, here’s another rule from the zombie handbook: where you are able to anticipate dependencies, seek out the parties involved. Get them on the same page.
Sounds elementary? Yes. But how many projects run into difficulties of one type or another because of simple misunderstandings? At TCGen, we have developed a modified, improved version of a RACI chart that can help. It defines roles and responsibilities within your , not between projects, but it’s a start.
It helps you anticipate dependencies because it shows which functions will be involved in your and when. This enables you to define the areas in your that are likely to be dependent on other projects, or external factors like regulatory bodies or development partners. A tool like a or Kanban board can also help with this.
And speaking of tools:
Managing Dependencies: Two Methods From The Project Management Toolkit
Here’s two more tools that can help stave off the zombies:
You’ve heard of the concept of a team of teams. That’s when you frame your whole company as a meta-team, composed of many teams that freely come together in an adaptive way. Resources and people move elsewhere in a free flowing fashion when they’re no longer needed.
Now you may know the that maps dependent tasks, as part of a method. Imagine a map that showed the critical dependencies and the critical paths between . Like a of critical paths.
Just as the method shows the dependencies between activities, the of might show where there are dependencies between . A of would identify the key dependencies between projects, as well as within projects.
2. Release Plans
Another key chapter in the zombie handbook: release plans. You know this tool from Agile. It divides larger projects into separate releases, whether you’re releasing to the market or not, and breaks them down into their constituent sprints.
Identify the sprints that are the most risky from a perspective. Contact the key leaders and PMs. Give them fair warning about the zombies in your path.
Managing Project Dependencies: More Tips From The Zombie Handbook
What else do you need in your zombie handbook? Here’s a few common-sense tips for — before they start managing you!
- Accept that all projects have dependencies. The bigger the project, the more it’s going to have. If you don’t think you’re going to have them, or can’t imagine where they’ll be, try harder.
- Write down your assumptions about dependencies. Divide them into different types of dependencies like “partners,” “other projects,” “external parties out of my control,” etc.
- Understand the project architecture. Meet with the tech leads and map the project integration: when which pieces must fit together. Identify the known dependencies.
- Clarify functional roles and responsibilities. Get in touch with PMs of dependent programs. Talk about the dependencies and assess the project risks.
- Monitor dependencies and communicate. Include key dependencies as agenda items in team meetings or updates.
- Have a formal escalation process. Know who to reach out to in case of a problem.
Project Dependencies: No Silver Bullets
You can hear them coming but you can’t see them. To digital managers, these unanticipated risks and complex dependencies are the proverbial things that go bump in the night. But these “undead” don’t need to kill your .
It’s messy, since there’s no silver bullet or garlic necklace for neutralizing these monsters. But the steps outlined above can mitigate risk before you run out of the creepy house screaming.
Zombies are everywhere. So be prepared. With some planning and some care, you’ll always be one step ahead of them!
For more on preparing for and how they work in the real world, subscribe to The DPM Newsletter, or sign up for membership! Or, listen to our podcast: How To Talk About Risk And Have Everyone Listen.