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December 19, 2022

How to easily handle dependency spaghetti in your project

Gantt Project Management
Agnieszka Sienkiewicz

In the previous articles, we discussed Jira Issue Links and how you can map them to specific project dependencies. We also covered cross-project dependency management that lets you visualize and track relations between tasks from other initiatives. Depending on the size and complexity of your project, a high volume of project dependencies can be overwhelming, and thus, make dependency links hard to follow.

And we mean real spaghetti-like links. Below, you can see dependencies visualized on a Gantt chart and Agile board in BigPicture.

Project dependencies visualized on Agile board (top) and Gantt chart (bottom).

Looks pretty intense, doesn’t it? Let’s see what clever features you can leverage to declutter your views and focus on tasks and their dependencies more easily.

Hint: If you are not a BigPicture user yet, create a dummy project or use the existing one on our demo page to test all the app features.

See all project dependencies in one place

One way to tackle the visual spaghetti you are seeing on your Agile board or Gantt chart is to roll them up in one place in the form of a neat list. And that is exactly what the Infobar does—it provides a comprehensive list of dependencies, including cross-project (out of view) ones.

The list groups project dependencies by their type, so you will see Soft and Strong links separately. Thanks to this, you can immediately find out how individual tasks relate to each other and impact the other task’s schedule. You will also know whether a given link is in the ASAP mode or has a lag time added.

The Infobar (section on the right) on the Board module in BigPicture. This SAFe® project features one Strong dependency (End to Start type) and several Soft dependencies (meaning they have no impact on the task period).

Track specific issues and their relations

If you want to narrow down your view to focus on a specific task, a search bar situated at the top of the Infobar will let you look for individual project tasks. When the app finds a match, it will display it along with the full set of information applicable to the source and target tasks.

Let’s have an example.

Dependencies search results and summary presented in the Infobar.

The Infobar on the screenshot above displays two tasks (PP-119 and PP-823). After a quick glance, we know that the first task is the source task and the second one is the target task. We can also see that the first one has an ASAP mode enabled but neither has a lag time. Additionally, the tooltip over the project dependency icon tells us how the respective tasks relate to each other.

Quickly find the source and target tasks

What if you wanted to find specific tasks without having to scroll your Agile board or Gantt chart timeline? This might be particularly difficult if your board or Gantt chart is populated with hundreds of issues.

Here’s a tip. Find the tasks you want to see through the Infobar search bar. And then, snipe to them with the “Focus on the source” and “Focus on the target” options. By choosing the respective focus variant, the app will highlight the task you want to see. In the case of the Gantt chart, the app will additionally adjust the timeline so that you can see the selected taskbar.

Click the three dots or mouse right-click on the task to select the respective focus option. “Focus” will let you see the source or target task on your Board or Gantt chart.

If the
task you want to focus on is out of view (i.e., does not belong to your project), you will not be able to focus on it. The special icon will additionally indicate that the task you want to go to is out of your current project view.

Highlight the selected project dependency link

In certain situations, you might not want to see all the dependency links but rather focus on a specific one. There is a way to do that too. When you identify the task whose relations you want to inspect, click on its issue card (Board) or a taskbar (Gantt chart). The app will automatically gray all the remaining project dependencies in your view and highlight only the link(s) that belong to the selected task.

Dependency links that are not connected to a selected task are less visible but still present.

In the example above, we selected the taskbar for the QA-13 issue. We can
clearly see it has a relation with two other tasks. With all the project dependencies links visible, it might have been difficult to spot it.

Keep track of relations for each task

Another way for reducing the noise on your Gantt chart or Agile Board is to collapse all the dependency links. Now, you might start wondering, how will you know if there are any dependencies if they are hidden?

One way to go about it is to click the taskbar you are interested in to display a task dialog box. The dialog box will give you a full list of both outgoing and incoming project dependencies for a given task. While it is a very useful feature when you have a specific task in mind, it might not be efficient enough for a group of tasks—or all the tasks present in your project. But don’t worry. BigPicture has it covered too.

When you collapse the links, the app will keep count of every link that connects a task to another. If there is at least one relation for a task, a little dot with a number on it (a dependency counter) will tell you how many links connect a particular task to other issues. Additionally, if you click on a counter, a dialog box will give you details on the task’s connections and let you add more links on the fly.

According to the dependency dialog box and counter, task QA-13 has two End to End (EE) relationships. You will find similar counters on the Kanban board.

See also
: Displaying dependencies (documentation)

Recognize the health of dependency links

A uniform spaghetti can be confusing. So how about adding some meaningful colors to it?

Depending on the link’s health, the color will change to red for past dependencies; amber for present dependencies; and green for future dependencies. This way, you can immediately tell one link from another and focus on those that are in the now or about to impact your tasks. This rule applies to both Soft and Strong links.

In addition, you will also see the same coloring scheme on the dependency dialog box and the dependency counter. The little dots on the box for Soft (S) and Strong (EE, ES, SE, SS) dependencies will also turn red, amber, or green.

The source task for the Soft (S) link is in the future (green) and the source task for the Strong (End to Start) link is in the present (amber), therefore the color of the dot is amber. The dependency counter is also amber.

In the example above, we can see that there are two links: one impacts your schedule now (within the same timebox) and the other one will impact it in the future. The app applies the color scheme based on the dependency priority. Since the
present has higher priority than the future, the color of the link and “dots” is amber. Similarly, if you would have two past links and one future, the color applied would be green.

Jump to the source or target task

Dependency links can connect a neighboring task or task that is far away. On a Gantt chart, the source or target taskbar may not be visible on the timeline due to the low granularity. Likewise, on the Board, the other task can be somewhere at the bottom of the column, or even in another column or iteration. So the point is that following the dependency line from one task to another is not always efficient. Here’s a solution.

Snipe to task

When using the Infobar, you have the possibility to use the “Focus” option to find the source or target task on a board or Gantt chart. The “Snipe to task” option works in a similar way. When you prompt the dependency dialog box by clicking on the counter, you will notice 3 handy options: edit, snipe to task, and delete. So not only can you edit or delete individual links on the spot, but also jump to another task without having to look for it manually. (Unless the task you want to snipe to is out of view.)

Hover over the task you want to jump to and click on the “Snipe to task” to let BigPicture take you there.

See also
: Dependency links (documentation)