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Documenting Interdependencies amongst Projects within a Program

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Documenting Interdependencies amongst Projects within a Program


Great question from the PMI group.  I’ll look at a couple of ways to handle this depending upon the tools you are using.  If you have projects that are part of a program that have separate plans… Then you have an issue where you need to have working sessions to determine cross dependencies. That being said, there are a couple of ways to identify views of your “Program” plan which will have all of the cross dependencies in it as well as critical path items represented from each of the sub programs.  I think we need to establish some assumptions on the environment that you have.  I’ll show 3 scenarios:

  1. Your on an Island (no cross functional communication or automation) – You use Excel and get updates via reach outs to the external dependency owners.
  2. You are in a City with cell phone access…. in touch but not as one… – You have a shared drive that you are storing either your excel spreadsheets and or MS Project documents.  There is some automation here, but not fully desirable.
  3. You are in Nirvana… using centralized tools… – You are using a SaaS tool that has the single point of editing from a browser so updates and collaboration are automatically distributed and updated once.

In Option 1.  The Pro is you have complete control.  The cons are too many to list so let’s just identify what you will have to do to manage external dependencies…

1. List each Critical Path item and below that show all dependencies below it. this would potentially show one Task with different project tasks below it.

  • By Critical Path, what tasks have impact to the timeline meaning other tasks are dependent upon them to be completed or your Milestones and or project completion will be in Jeopardy.
  • ItemDetailWithCP

2. Show the same view but based upon your resource. Subtasks will show what projects this resource is associated with.

Ideally you would be using a tool that allows that. If not, you should have each of the sub project plans reference their external dependencies in their plan as a milestone with the “EXT” in front of the task name. It can be a milestone task and then any of the items that are dependent on it will be listed properly. Any changes to the expected task completion will need to be communicated amongst the team (most likely in the weekly status meeting) hopefully as it happens. Some PM’s do not like to have other people’s tasks represented in their plan because the think they will be editing their plans, or possibly negatively impacting their plans.  That is exactly why you do want them in there, you just have to clearly identify them as external and diligently follow up on them.

When dealing with multiple plans, I usually have a single Integrated Project Plan which pulls out program specific tasks as well as all Critical path items from each sub project.  If you don’t have a tool that combines all this for you you need to create some “standards” across your sub projects so you have consistency.  As an example to set up your programs so you can track interdependencies:

  1. All tasks that are considered “Critical Path” will have the identifier “CP” in the keyword column of the task.  You can have multiple Keywords, just comma separate them.
  2. Any Task that you are dependant on from an external project should be listed as “CP” as well as the task name should be edited to include “EXT-” in front of the task description, or you could also identify it with the “EXT” in that same keyword column mentioned above.
  3. This get’s into a little bit of Database Design, but if you think of your Excel sheet as a Database you can clearly identify the information you need to track.  If you are using an online tool, well, that is a database ;).
  • Note in excel, you can do filters in Tables easily by wildcard searches.  EXelFilterExcelFilterCP







Now you have the information identified so you can produce reporting and status against those key tasks (note: You might tag a summary item as critical path representing multiple child tasks).

Here’s an example of how this looks. note: I am using our online tool for this, but you can do the same thing in Excel.  In Fact our online tool was created from the excel tools that did this.


There are 3 items in this dependency across 3 different projects within the same program.  The key here is they are each being managed by different project managers, but because of the online tool, there is automatic updates across projects.  If we back up one level and track by updates, then there would be 3 separate tasks that are managed by 3 separate PM’s that ar eupdated manually in each of their plans.

You can now provide status updates on cross project Critical Path items:


This is only reportable if you have put standards in place so you can report off of them.


I will be speaking at the OC-PMI Leadership conference on September 10th 2016!  Please feel free to research and hopefully register for this event. It will be in Anaheim CA. I will be speaking about Tools and Tools Maturity within an organization as well as a Project Manager’s tool chest.

This session will cover 3 levels of tools maturity:

  1. Basic List
  2. Automated List
  3. Centralized Data with automation (Many editing at once)

Key Takeaways:

  • A good understanding of the importance of tools in there project management
  • What information to track within their tools with an understanding where that information should be tracked.  (On the Project schedule vs. an Action Log)…
  • Ability to start developing or modifying their existing tool set.


Click Here to Register and get more information.  Here is the link to my BIO page.

Thanks and I hope to see you there!





Darrell Gardner

Written By 

Contract Program Manager ☁ Contract Project Manager ☁ IT Professional ☁ PMO In A Box Founder


  1. Cris Casey says:

    Darrell –

    Thanks for an interesting read on an important topic. However I do have an issue on a topic I have spent 30+ years explaining to clients and colleagues: Critical Path

    Your definition of Critical Path is spot on. It is your directive that “All tasks that are considered “Critical Path” will have the identifier “CP” in the keyword column of the task. ” I take exception with.

    Critical paths in any project are dynamic entities that shift over time. A task is not on the critical path because someone thinks it’s important. It’s on the path because the dependency model at a particular point in time it puts it there So it is both misleading and wasteful to spend time prefacing tasks with “CP”.

    On the other hand, one might want to flag tasks that are very important or some other measure to draw attention to them (like you suggest with the “EXT” prefix), and that’s great. Just leave CP to be defined by the model and use a different word than ‘critical’ when labeling an item that has special significance.

    Other than that, the “PMO In a Box” looks like a great tool and could be very useful to help identify and easily track cross dependencies between initiatives.

    • admin says:

      Thanks Cris,
      I agree and the CP is a way to flag items that are tracking. By the dynamic nature of projects and they way tasks might be critical by the definition you could have a risk / issue that was critical but was not on your timeline therefore not showing as a system generated one but shown on reporting as one. I could call it something different to show the difference of system generated critical path items due to dependency relationships vs. Trackable ones that I want to report on and keep an eye on.

      Thanks for the input! 🙂

  2. Darrel,
    I believe that tools like this will evolve over time to fit organizational needs — so I do support this kind of tool development. I have become a huge advocate of Modelling and Simulation for a number of reasons. One is that critical paths can be deceptive, and near-critical paths can turn out to be more important — from a statistical stand-point. Use of modelling and simulation tools in conjunction with integrated master scheduling would be harder to implement, but could potentially be much more effective. We might want to collaborate on something like that.

    • admin says:

      Agree Mike, and as the developer of a SaaS tool for this we are constantly fine tuning this capability based upon our real world experience. It really takes exposure to large programs and adoption of the tools set across all sub projects in order for you to understand the true implementations of being able to track this type of inter dependencies. Drop me a line and I would love to discuss collaboration.

    • admin says:

      Mike wasn’t sure if you got my response last year so just checking back.

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