Project interdependency mapping
Context of approach and need for methodology
Projects are complex processes, they are a combination of people, resources, and planning with focus on one or several objectives and goals. Projects can occur in enterprises, all kinds of organizations, or be born in any kind of environment. The external aspect of projects affects both directly and indirectly to the course of the project itself and the outcomes.
Projects interact with other projects, and this gives a mass of dependencies between them. These dependencies can be given by projects of the same category, sector or even between competitors. For instance, if a project depends on supply from an specific company that will only deliver when having demand fulfilled, the decisions been made by other competitors can affect the supply chain. It has been studied that knowing these dependencies can help improve the performance of a project. The similarity with a company would be through the stakeholders of that company. Having information about their weaknesses and strengths and how they affect one’s own business can help a company use this for its own strategy. The same happens with project interdependencies, which means that having that information can lead to a better decision-making process.
In addition, projects have some level of uncertainty and coping with that uncertainty is a very difficult thing managers must deal with. Having uncertainty in a project means that the managers will have to deal with losing money, time and resources, and therefore having to reschedule all of the above. Because of this, it can be very useful for project managers to have some tools that will help them reduce the uncertainty on their project and portfolios.
This paper introduces a methodology for understanding better the interdependences in projects and portfolio. This tool uses visual representation and mapping to facilitate the process of getting to know the project better and its relations with others. There can be different implementations of this tool depending on the characteristics of the project and the scope and objectives. The methodology can be named in different ways since it has been developed by different sources and studies. In this case we will use project interdependency mapping as well as sometimes visual project mapping.
Basis of methodology and situations in which it can be used
This methodology is based on the idea of project interdependencies combine with the visual aid that network mapping provides. The interdependencies are defined as capabilities to assess a project successfully. These can be seen from different perspectives, as capabilities that the project requires from external sources or capabilities that the project needs to deliver to external sources.
As it can be seen interdependencies explain the relationship between the project and its external context, in particular with other projects. A good example could be a when a project needs to have some resources and these have to be shared with other projects or maybe the company has to wait to use it.
This methodology is based on what is called network mapping. Network mapping is a tool used in different feels such as mathematics, biology, management, and so on. The tool consists of creating a network with notes that are connected with arrows or simple lines. this network represents their relationships between the nodes. The meaning of the layout can change accordingly to the needs of the project and the company. A special version of the network mapping is called the social network mapping which describes the relationship between people in companies as well as organizations within organizations. in this way of implementation of the tool each node represents a person in the network and its importance can be represented as the size of the node, for instance. As we will see below people are not the only possible usage for this methodology in this case it has been proven that projects can be used as the nodes for the network.
Even though projects are of very different natures and half a huge variety of scopes they all have in common that they depend on other projects. these projects can be government interests and their own objectives, other companies’ projects which collapse in interests, or it may be inside the same company projects from different departments that has to align inside the same framework. This makes the project interdependency mapping tool one that can be used in any case scenario which makes it a very interesting methodology for any type of project.
Specific implementation for project interdependencies with resources and data required. Steps to follow
As we have indicated above there are different approaches for this methodology developed by several sources. In this specific case we will follow the methodology developed by Catherine Killen and Cai Kjaer named visual project mapping for project interdependencies.  As an overall view of the methodology there are three phases for conducting the tool:
- initial qualitative research and scope definition
- quantitative data collection and analysis
- final qualitative feedback session.
In the next sections we will detail the methodology for a better understanding of the process and for the reader to be able to reproduce the methodology. At the end of the article an example, developed by Catherin Killen and Cai Kjaer, the “creators” of the methodology, will be shown as well as the limitations, advantages and disadvantages.
Define objetive of the methodology
Every time you start an analysis of a situation you need to stablish the objective of the analysis. This will help at the moment when making decisions and getting into arguments, having a stablished objective helps the whole team and people in charge of the decision making, go in the same directions reducing conflicts. Also, this helps on achieving the main goals, without an objective maybe the analysis does not give us the information we initially needed.
Main reasons for conducting this methodology are reducing uncertainty levels, having an overall knowledge of the project, anticipate opportunities as well as threats, and restructuring project planning, among several.
The reason all projects are affected by is uncertainty. As explained before, project managers want to reduce as much as possible the unknown parts of parts, as these entail money and time loses. With this objective the analysis will focus on finding the bottlenecks of the projects and most affecting projects.
If the objective is having an overall knowledge the data that will be collected wont need to be very specific. The managers will use this tool to help make decisions in a superficial level, it won’t be their main driver for decision making. In the contrary we have the objective of restructuring planning details. In this last case the managers are looking for the small details that can be changed in order to make the process more efficient and take advantage of the interdependencies. In this case, the search will be much more focused with detailed questions.
Choose type of data that will be gathered and proxies of data collection
Having chosen the main objective of the methodology, data has to be collected. This methodology lies on the data collection that will be represented in the visual network. This process will comprise qualitative and quantitative data collection, which has to be handled carefully. Combining an analysis with both types of data makes it harder to study and arrive to conclusions. That is why, choosing a good data collection method is very important for this tool.
There are multiple types of data collection methods. Catherin Killen and Cai Kjaer used primary data collection, conducting interviews of different sorts. This will always be the case for this methodology, using primary data. Secondary data is not available for projects since each project is unique and has a specific network of communication with other projects, this means that primary data will always be necessary. However, it does not need to be only from interviews. In the first phase of the data collection, it helps to have an understanding of the big picture. This can be done with interviews with project managers and executives. Once this has been done, more detailed interviews with other project managers or questionaries can be done to gather specific information.
Analysis of data and development of network mapping
After collecting all the data, the next step is to understand it in order to create value out of it. Analyst consultants know how hard it is to utilize the information gathered in a process like this for arriving to conclusions. In this case the first thing to od would be understanding the information deeply and organizing it to create the network. For creating the network making the first thing would be to lay out all the projects involved in the mapping and connecting them. In here we would have to include all the possible relations between the different projects and create a customized network for the different type of interdependencies. In the experiment, Killen and Kjaer, they categorized the dependencies by strength (minor, important or critical) and type (outcome, learning, resource or other). The strength categorization could be identify with a color, for instance, which can help when using the mapping because it gives important information very fast.
Results and conclusions
When having the interdependency mapping, the project managers will use it to make decisions and understand better their project and external sources. The interpretation of the resulting map can lead to several findings. These can be communicated to the project managers in different feedback sessions from a consulting group that has examined the interdependency network mapping in depth. The project might have strong dependencies with different stakeholders, and the managers would benefit from reducing those dependencies. They may also identify key dependencies that will need to be informed of the project status on a regular basis.
Pros and limitations of methodology
The VPM displays are a way helping the managers focus their strengths on key dependencies of the project, but it is true that it may also have some limitations.
- The methodology lies on the visual representation of things.
- The process is easy to understand and put into practice. There is no need to have a lot of learning to develop it in a project.
- The managers can get new insights from the mapping. The insights can vary from new information presented in a different way as before, maybe extra information gathered in the data collection or thanks to how easy are connections visualized.
- Benefits on communication and decision making. This map can be useful in several stages of the process, so each manager has to decide where it will be necessary and of use for the project.
- Might be time consuming to create and update the map. The mapping requires lot of information, both quantitative and qualitative, and this is not static in time. The dependencies between projects vary, the have a beginning and they have an end. This tool needs of a regular update in order to be valid for making decisions.
- Not all interdependencies are guaranteed to be included. Due to the possible complexity of a project and multiple connections to other projects, it may be possible that not all information is gathered in the data collection. This might leave out some interesting or residual dependencies among projects, that may not be the most important ones, but still affect the project.
- Some relations might not be able to be represented in a visual way. Not all interdependencies are direct and bidirectional. Although there are multiple ways of creating the legend and representing the interactions within projects, there might be some of these dependencies that can not be explained in a visual way. Of course, this map will always need of more detailed information that can help the understanding of the visual representation.
- ↑ Project interdependency management (2002, October) from: https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/project-interdependency-management-1038
- ↑ Visual project mapping of project interdependencies (2007)Project Management conference. Project Management Australia, 2011. from: https://opus.lib.uts.edu.au/bitstream/10453/17448/1/2010004326.pdf
- ↑ Killen, C. P., & Kjaer, C. (2012). Understanding project interdependencies: The role of visual representation, culture and process. International Journal of Project Management, 30(5), 554-566. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-14251-3_2#citeas