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August 07, 2023

#BigTip: Recognize dependency links with flying colors

Gantt
Hybrid Management
Project Management
Scheduling & Roadmapping

Colors speak louder than words.

When you see a traffic light shining bright red, you stop and wait for other vehicles to safely pass. Mimicking that same idea, we color-coded dependency links to help you navigate a busy network of task dependencies in your project. Each color visually conveys different information that you can interpret on the fly.

Dependencies between task cards on your Agile Board

An Agile board in BigPicture can display strong links (dependencies that have a scheduling impact on a dependent task) and soft links (default dependency types with no scheduling impact). How do you know which dependency is which? On the board, a soft link is displayed as a solid line, whereas a strong link is displayed as a dotted line. You will also find this information in “Dependency details” — simply click on the dependency link between two tasks on your board to open.

A dotted link between OA-6 and OA-10 is a strong dependency (End to Start). A solid line between OA-8 and OA-19 is a soft dependency. Click on the dependency link to inspect or change its type.

 

Both dependency types support color coding based on their “health.” Currently, the app displays four different colors: green, amber, red, and purple — each offering vital information about the source or target task, respectively. This way, you can know which task starts or ends earlier, in relation to others, so you may consider their scheduling impact accordingly.

Green dependency link

A green color tells you that the target (dependent) task is planned for the future. To be more specific, it tells you that the target task is assigned to a future Sprint or iteration.

So, when you see a green color, you know that the target task hasn’t started yet, which means that your plan is not at risk. Why? Because the only task that can block a target task is a source task. But the source task is in progress and expected to be completed in the current Sprint. So, unless your team is unable to deliver the source task before the Sprint, the target task is not at risk.

Green dependency soft link between tasks OA-6 and OA-15.

 

In the example above, the source task is in Iteration 1, and the target task (OA-15) is in Iteration 2. Iterations or Sprints (by definition) start one after the other. That’s why here, the target tasks’ period cannot overlap with the source tasks’ period. As a result, OA-15 starts after task OA-04 finishes; in other words, task OA-15 is in the future. 

Amber dependency link

An amber color means that the source task is planned for the same Sprint as the target task. It’s an important sign for your Agile team, informing them that they need to execute those tasks in the right order so as not to block each other’s work; doable but such dependency might cause a few problems.

Amber dependency soft link between tasks OA-6 and OA-19.

 

Here, both tasks (source and target) sit in the same Iteration 1. So the start/end dates of task OA-19 are in the present, in relation to the start/end dates of task OA-6.

Red dependency links

A red color indicates that the target task is in the past Sprint (or iteration).

Red dependency soft link between tasks OA-5 and OA-8.

 

In this particular case, task OA-5 is a source task in progress (as is the entire Iteration 2). This task is connected to task OA-8 which was already completed (the same goes for Iteration 1). Consequently, by connecting a present task to a past task, the dependency link turns red.

Purple dependency

A purple color informs you that a target task is out of your project’s view. This could be due to the fact that a target task belongs to the scope of another project (cross-project dependency); or because of your filter or view settings.

Task OA-12 in iteration 3 is connected to an out-of-view task.

 

The first thing you might notice is that there’s no purple link on the board (!). That’s correct. Considering that the target task is not physically present on the board, it would be difficult to draw a line. 

But even without the link, you can see that there’s a dependency thanks to a dependency counter that has turned purple. If you click on it, a little dialog box will tell you what kind of dependency it is (“S” for “Soft” and “SE,” “SS,” “EE,” “ES” for a respective strong link). It will also tell you what the target task is.

Task dependency details dialog box. On the right, an Infobar listing of all the dependencies, including the out-of-view ones.

Dependency links on a Gantt chart

Another tool you can use to manage your projects (e.g., Waterfall or Hybrid) is a Gantt chart.

Similarly to a board, BigPicture’s Gantt chart can also display strong and soft links, and assign them different colors based on certain criteria. But on a Gantt chart, the default dependency link type is strong. Also, the Gantt chart dependency links follow a different set of colors that have different meanings than the ones on the board. 

The reason is that, on the board, dependencies are just indicators that visualize the connections between tasks; while dependencies on a Gantt chart are a precise tool for scheduling complex projects with day-to-day accuracy. That’s why scheduling is paramount on a Gantt chart, and dependency color-coding is meant to support it.

So if you manage your project with the help of a Gantt chart, keep in mind that a strong dependency is displayed as a colored solid line (amber, blue, or gray). Whereas a soft link is always a gray dotted line.

Soft and strong dependencies (represented as dotted and solid lines respectively) on BigPicture’s Gantt chart.

 

So, a dotted line will only tell you that it has no scheduling impact — regardless of whether a source or target task is in the past, present, or future. After all, a soft relationship between tasks will not affect your project schedule, no matter which tasks you connect. A strong link, on the other hand, will have a different color depending on its health and ASAP mode.

ASAP mode

So what does the ASAP mode do?

It always schedules the target task to trigger ASAP (as soon as possible) with respect to its dependency type, making the target task strictly dependent on the source task. It also means that you won’t be able to drag and drop such a task to change its position on the Gantt timeline. When you try to do so, the target task will revert to its original position previously determined according to the scheduling rules. But, you will still be able to extend or shorten the task to change its duration.

On the other hand, if you change the dates of the source task, the target task will follow it according to the dependency type, saving you the manual effort of rescheduling each task and automating your work.

To enable/disable an ASAP mode, click on the dependency link you want to edit, then toggle the switch on or off (as shown in the screenshot below).

Dependency details for a specific dependency link.

 

On a side note, there’s another important factor that can impact your schedule (and dependencies) — a lag time that you can also specify in the “Dependency details.”

Lag time

A lag time creates a gap in the timing between source and target tasks — or a delay if you will. It’s the amount of time you can add between a predecessor task and its successor. You can apply a lag time to all dependent tasks regardless of their type (ES, EE, SS, SE).

Let’s now cover what the individual colors of strong links mean.

Gray dependency link

A gray link indicates a healthy dependency that has an ASAP mode enabled. Because the ASAP mode is active, there will be no delay time between the source task and the target task — the target task will start or finish as soon as the dependency allows it.

Gray dependency link between tasks OA-2 and OA-76.

Blue dependency link

A blue link tells you that your strong dependency is healthy, and has an ASAP mode disabled. Here, the target task has to obey the rules of the dependency. But, since the ASAP mode is off, your task doesn’t need to start or finish as soon as the dependency requires it. In other words, the blue link allows you to add some delay between the source and target task.

Blue dependency link between tasks OA-3 and OA-76.

Amber dependency link

An amber link color on a Gantt chart means that a strong dependency is broken. As a result, it will not trigger a change in your project schedule based on the dependency rule.

Amber dependency link between a task SHPBOWM-12 and a milestone; and between a milestone and a task SHPBOWM-9.

 

A dependency can be broken due to specific scheduling rules. For example, another strong dependency is already affecting the target task, or a scheduling mode is keeping dates.

So, if you see an amber link on your Gantt chart, be aware that it will not act as you expect it to.

Out-of-view dependency links

Similarly to the dependencies on the board, a Gantt chart will also inform you if a certain dependency connects your project tasks with an out-of-view task. Invisible dependencies are not color-coded but they’re marked with a crossed-eye icon on the Gantt chart timeline, and listed inside the Infobar.

It’s not possible to create links between non-visible project elements but you can “see” out-of-view dependencies anyway.

Sign up for a free BigPicture trial

BigPicture app lets you create dependencies between individual tasks, even if one of them belongs to the scope of another project. Then, you can easily track and manage them, no matter how complex your dependency “spaghetti” gets. So, if you’re looking for an efficient app that can handle a high volume of dependencies in your project, sign up for a free 30-day trial.

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