Dealing with Dependencies

Dependencies in software development is an inevitability, especially when it comes to complex projects involving multiple teams, components, or external vendors/systems. As a technical program manager, managing these interdependencies is what makes or breaks you, and leadership look to you to ensure a timely delivery and maintain agility. In this article, I explore strategies to identify, manage, and mitigate dependencies within an Agile framework, illustrated with real-life anecdotes.

Understanding Dependencies

Dependencies arise when one team or task relies on another team or task’s output. These can be categorized into three main types:

  1. Internal Dependencies: Dependencies within the same team.
  2. External Dependencies: Dependencies on external teams or third-party services.
  3. Cross-Team Dependencies: Dependencies between different teams within the same organization.

Internal Dependencies

In one of my previous projects, our team faced a significant internal dependency issue. We were developing a new feature for our application that required extensive database changes. The backend team was responsible for the database schema modifications, while the frontend team needed these changes to proceed with their work. Unfortunately, the backend team’s tasks were delayed due to some unforeseen technical challenges.

To address this, we implemented a solution where the frontend team created mock services simulating the expected database changes. This allowed them to continue their development without waiting for the backend team. Once the backend completed their work, the integration was seamless, and we managed to stay on schedule. This experience underscored the importance of flexibility and proactive problem-solving in managing internal dependencies.

Identifying Dependencies

Early identification of dependencies is key to managing them effectively. Techniques to identify dependencies include:

  1. Story Mapping: Visualize the product backlog to uncover dependencies between features and user stories.
  2. Impact Mapping: Understand the relationships between deliverables and their impact on the project.
  3. Dependency Matrices: Use matrices to map out dependencies clearly and identify potential bottlenecks.

I personally also use a risk register to identify and track dependencies over time, their impact, and possible mitigations.

External Dependencies

During another project, we relied heavily on an external vendor to deliver a crucial API integration. This external dependency was risky because any delay on the vendor’s part would directly impact our timeline. To mitigate this risk, we set up regular sync meetings with the vendor to monitor progress and address issues promptly.

Despite our efforts, the vendor encountered delays. By having a contingency plan in place, which included developing an alternative solution in parallel, we were able to pivot quickly and avoid significant project delays. This experience highlighted the importance of constant communication and having fallback options for external dependencies.

Managing Dependencies

Effective management of dependencies involves coordination, communication, and flexibility. Here are some strategies:

  1. Regular Sync Meetings: Hold regular cross-team sync meetings to discuss dependencies and progress.
  2. Clear Ownership: Assign clear ownership of dependencies to ensure accountability.
  3. Agile Planning: Use Agile ceremonies like sprint planning and retrospectives to identify and address dependencies.

Cross-Team Dependencies

In a large-scale project involving multiple teams, we faced several cross-team dependencies. For example, the mobile app team depended on the API team for new endpoints, while the QA team needed stable builds from both teams to perform comprehensive testing.

To manage this, we implemented a shared dependency board visible to all teams. During daily stand-ups, each team would update their status and discuss any blockers related to dependencies. This transparency fostered collaboration and allowed teams to anticipate and resolve issues proactively.

Mitigating Dependency Risks

Mitigating risks associated with dependencies involves both proactive and reactive strategies:

  1. Buffer Time: Include buffer time in your project timeline to account for potential delays.
  2. Decoupling: Design systems and processes to minimize dependencies whenever possible.
  3. Automation: Automate repetitive tasks to reduce reliance on other teams for manual interventions.

Conclusion

Managing dependencies in Agile requires a combination of early identification, effective communication, and strategic planning. By sharing these anecdotes and strategies, I hope to provide insights into practical approaches to handle dependencies in your Agile projects. Remember, the key to success lies in being proactive, flexible, and collaborative.

Feel free to adapt and expand upon these strategies to fit the unique needs of your projects. By doing so, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the complexities of dependencies and deliver successful outcomes.

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