When we are managing projects using a predictive delivery approach, dependency identification and tracking is done as part of the BPUF (Big Planning Up Front) exercise using the activities from a work breakdown structure and the collective wisdom of our team members and key stakeholders. If a major scope or solution approach change is identified afterwards, the impacts of addressing new dependencies is usually considered in the analysis of the change request.
But on those projects which follow an adaptive lifecycle, this gets a bit trickier. Given the emergent nature of requirements and design, we are only able to see dependencies to the extent of our team’s “headlights” which might just be showing us the next two weeks of work. A team might have “Have all dependencies been identified and captured?” as a guideline within a Definition of Ready (DoR) but that doesn’t always mean that it is possible to satisfy that dependency just-in-time.
We always strive to build a whole team which possesses all of the skills and authority needed to deliver the full scope of the product or project.
But sometimes, we need a subject matter expert for a small subset of the product features and if we don’t identify that need early enough, we won’t be able to deliver those features in a timely manner. In addition, building a whole team in larger organizations is often challenging as there are established delivery or control partner teams who must contribute to specific product features but won’t necessarily be available at a moment’s notice.
One way to reduce the risks associated with dependencies being identified too late is the combination of upfront story mapping with ongoing look ahead planning.
Story mapping provides an opportunity to bring together key delivery and control partners to review the high-level stories which the Product Owner and team are identifying. Giving these external partners a chance to indicate which stories they are interested in will help the team know who they need to line up as the time approaches to complete one of those stories. Based on how high those stories show up in the story map, they will understand how soon they might need to be engaged. Team members can also start to identify and capture the inter-dependencies between individual stories to help the Product Owner with backlog prioritization.
As stories with dependencies start to move up the backlog, as part of a look ahead planning activity, the team can proactively contact the external partners to request their participation a sprint or two into the future.
Planning is an ongoing activity with adaptive approaches so without this, an external partner your team needs is likely to respond with the old cliche: “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”