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How do phases and dependencies work in a project?


How do phases and dependencies work in a project?

When you begin running complex projects for clients, newer MSP project managers will quickly encounter project management jargon and terminology that can be confusing if you don’t understand what the terms mean and how to use these concepts.  


As projects get more complex, it’s particularly important to understand the life cycle of a project and how to use project phases and dependencies to keep the work on track.  


Phases are the stages of a project. According to the Project Management Institute, these phases are typically: Initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closing. When setting up a project, it helps to think in terms of these five basic phases, though they may differ somewhat from project to project. 


Dependencies are tasks – or phases – that cannot happen until something else occurs. For example, you can’t get a beverage until you open the fridge door. The beverage is dependent on that door being opened. 


In project management – specifically in IT Services – getting a firm grasp on these elemental concepts will help your projects succeed. 



Break the project into phases 


Understanding how to apply the five phases of project management to the projects you are running makes it easier to list the tasks for each stage and decide who needs to be involved in each.  


A network project might – for example – have these five phases: 

  1. Project initiation or discovery 

  2. Planning & equipment preview 

  3. Configuration & implementation 

  4. Validation & training 

  5. Monitoring & maintenance 


A cloud migration project might look slightly different but would still, most likely, have those five parts of the life cycle. 



What are the tasks for each phase? 


In each phase of a project, there are tasks that make up the different parts of work. Your team might think of these tasks (or smaller portions of work) as tickets. But when discreet chores are part of a complex project, they are commonly called tasks. 


Every project and every phase in each project will have tasks that are specific to that work. The planning and equipment preview phase, for example, for the network project above might include an evaluation of the current equipment, decisions around cloud and on-premises tools, and choices about security. While the monitoring and maintenance phase would include monitoring the operational health of the network and installing patches and updates.  


A task list for phase one – Project Initiation or Discovery – might look like this: 

  1. Scope review 

  1. Internal kick-off meeting with sales and engineering teams 

  1. External kick-off meeting with customer to review plan and align on timelines. 

  1. Collect project deposit 



Identify the dependencies 


In most projects, there are tasks that cannot be completed until something else has already happened. You can’t have the external kick-off meeting, for example, until your team has developed the plan you intend to present to the customer. And you can’t have the internal kick-off meeting until you have a sense of the scope of the project.  


The relationship between the task that must be completed first and the task that is waiting for that completion is called a dependency. The second task is dependent on the first. But it is not always the case that the first task has to be completed before the second one is started. Some tasks can happen concurrently.  


A dependent task, for example, might only need the task it is dependent on to have started, not necessarily completed, before it is started.  


  • Finish-to-start: You must finish putting your shoes on before you can start walking in them. 

  • Start-to-start: You must start your car before you can start driving; these things happen concurrently. 

  • Start-to-finish: You can’t finish your drive until you start the car 

  • Finish-to-finish: You won’t be done driving until you complete the drive.  


When you calculate dependencies into your project plans, things start to get complicated. This is often where planning moves away from tickets and into project planning software.  


In our network update example, the internal kick-off meeting with sales and engineering might happen concurrently with the external kick-off meeting with the customer. One doesn’t have to be completed before you start working on and planning for the other. Those meetings won’t  begin until after the scope review is started, though. And the scope review as well as both of those meetings need to be completed before you can collect the project deposit.  



How do you manage dependencies in the plan? 


The way you manage dependencies in project management software depends on the software tool you use. This is a key feature. You should evaluate how well the tool you choose handles this aspect of planning. Some tools are quite flexible about dependencies. They might allow you to have dependencies across projects, phases, and tasks.  


It is common among the PSAs your MSP encounters, though, to limit the way you can handle dependencies across projects or phases. Many of these tools insist that dependencies remain within the same project or project board.  


This limitation will hold you back if you are managing complex projects.  


If, for example, you have parallel projects that need to start when that client kick-off meeting happens – perhaps you have one team installing hardware and another handling security – your project manager will have to build two projects and monitor them separately if you can’t set up cross-project or cross-phase dependencies. 


When your software allows you to set up triggers to alert everyone downstream when tasks with dependencies have been completed, it saves everyone a great deal of work. It cuts back on meetings and other methods of communication, limits delays, and keeps the project moving and your teams on the same page. But only if those dependencies work across phases. Having to set up and monitor separate projects because you lack the ability to build in cross-phase dependencies introduces opportunities for things to go wrong. 



Why you need Perfect Project 


Perfect Project for MSPs is the only project management software that allows you to create realistic plans that reflect the way you and your teams approach the work.  


It allows you to create dependencies that are as simple or complex as the work you do. It makes it easy to set finish-to-start, start-to-start, start-to-finish, or finish-to-finish dependencies. And it allows you to create cross-project and cross-phase dependencies. 


When work is completed that has a dependency, Perfect Project automatically notifies everyone downstream. This saves time.  


Perfect Project evaluates also every project as you build it – and as it unfolds – for mistakes, conflicts, and problems. Then it offers AI-guided remedies to help you remediate any errors it finds. It is simple to build a plan in Perfect Project, but that plan will also be capable of growing to handle projects that are as complex as you need them to be.  



Want to learn more about managing projects at your MSP? Check out our full feature set or read about strategies on our blog 

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