Creating Cross-Project Dependencies

When you are managing a portfolio of projects, there is a good chance that your subprojects will be interrelated to some degree. Microsoft Project allows to you set up links across different projects to account for these predecessor and successor relationships.

In the example below, we have a two-project portfolio consisting of “Project A” and “Project B”. If you want to ensure that Project A doesn’t start before Project B finishes, you need to set up a cross-project dependency between the last task in Project A and the first task in Project B:

multi-project-dependency

Setting up a cross-project dependency is similar to setting up dependencies in a single project, and can still be done in the “Predecessors” field in Microsoft Project. Instead of only typing in the row number, you need to specify both the project name and the row number like this:

Project A\4

If you are using Project Professional on the desktop, the “Project A” name will be replaced with the physical location of your *.mpp file. If you are using Project Server or Project Online, the “Project A” name will remain unchanged.

Link Tasks, Not Projects

We recommend that you avoid the temptation to link project summary tasks directly. In other words, don’t make the Project B summary task depend on the Project A summary task. Instead, find the task in Project A that needs to finish before Project B can start.

Creating cross-project dependencies between actual tasks instead of summary tasks is a more accurate way to represent relationships between projects, and can save you some headaches down the line if the WBS of your projects ever change.

Do you have any tips for managing a Microsoft Project master file? We’d appreciate your comments!

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About Safford

Safford is a versatile technology professional with a solid history of empowering emerging growth companies in a broad array of industries. His employment history includes energy industry consulting at Quorum Business Solutions, Senior Manager of Business Development and Technical Sales at telecom service aggregator GetConnected, and Vice President of Strategic Partner Management at electronic payment processor IP Commerce. Prior to his tenure as OnePager's COO, Safford was the company's Vice President of Marketing and Alliances. Safford holds a BA in Psychology and management from Rice University.

9 thoughts on “Creating Cross-Project Dependencies

  1. When using Project Server the inter project linking can be a bit interesting to manage. The standard way to create links between schedules in Project Server is to add a link to the appropriate task in the predecessor column of the activity that is receiving the input (same place as you have described above). The format that the link need needs to be in is:

    <>\Project Name\Project ID

    In some cases however this format cannot be recognized, in those circumstances you should follow the more complex steps outlined below.
    1. Launch Project Professional and connect to Project Server.
    2. Open a new blank schedule.
    3. Click the Project tab and then click the Subproject button in the Insert section of the Project ribbon.
    4. Select the first project to be linked and click the Insert button.
    5. Click the Subproject button again, select the second project and click the Insert button.
    6. Expand the two subproject.
    7. Click the Task tab.
    8. Select the predecessor task in the first project, press and hold the Control key, and select the successor task in the second project.
    9. Release the Control key and click the Link Tasks button.

    After completed the preceding steps, you can close the temporary master project without saving it. When prompted to save each of the subprojects, click the Yes to All button. Your cross-project linkage information is contained in the individual projects and not in the master project.

    • Great tip, Shayne! Thanks for the thorough instructions. For our other readers out there, we should underscore your comment that your method is geared towards Project Server, while my original method uses MPP files. Most people use one or the other, but if you have a tendency to mix and match, read on:

      Project Server: <>\Project A\4
      Local MPP Files: Project A\4

      In the unlikely (and not recommended) event that anyone has both a Project Server plan and an MPP file lying around with the same name, be careful with which linking method you use. Otherwise, you might end up pointing to the wrong subproject entirely!

  2. Thanks for this post – just wondering, is there an easy way to visualise these inter-dependencies between projects in project online? Something like the network diagram does for intra project dependencies?

    • Thanks for the question, Arv! To be honest, we don’t have the answer, but we’ve reached out to our network to see if we can get you a solid response! Project is great at managing lots of data, but in our experience, it’s not something that can visualize anything easily (as you’ve asked). OnePager is a communications tool, Project is for management of data…I hope the difference is clear. We’ll get back to you!

  3. I’m interested in using PWA for program management. I saw a youtube from Australia where the author selected “Programme” as an option under “New”. I haven’t found that anywhere else. And it seems like the only recommendation I find related to program management is to create a master project with sub-projects but that’s way too cumbersome for me. Any suggestions?

    • The answer to your question depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with PWA.

      If you are looking to report on key milestones across multiple projects in PWA, then our OnePager project reporting app can do it without having to build a master project plan first.

      If you need the subprojects to talk to each other intelligently, then MasterLink from Matan Solutions is a good way to have a little more control over the management of multiple projects in a portfolio.

  4. I’m trying this out in Project Online and cannot get the project to accept anything in the format of Project A\8. What could I be doing wrong? Or does Online really not allow inter-project dependencies without the hassle of creating fictitious deliverables?

    • Kat, yes, it’s clearly not as simple as the illustrative points in the article. There is another comment further up, inked by Shayne MacNee, that discusses Project Server, and you may have to do something similar to get it to work if you plan on typing in your links.

      The internet seems to suggest that the easiest way to create cross-project links is by creating a Master Project, with embedded sub-projects, and I would tend to agree. Doing this once, may even show you the proper path that you’ll need to type into your links if you’d rather do it that way.

      To avoid sending you to the microsoft website, which can be a tangled web, here is a good article published on MPUG not long ago that may lend some assistance with Master Projects in Project Online: http://www.mpug.com/articles/creating-master-projects-and-sub-projects/

      Good luck!

  5. Hi, how does this work when using two linked projects as a template, such as A and B in your example? I find that when I copy and paste the two template projects to create two new linked projects A1 and B1, the link in A1 refers back to the template B and not the newly pasted project B1.
    Anyone else had experience with this?

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