A Quick Guide to Dependency Structure Matrix (DSM)


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As a project grows in size, the number of interactions and dependencies grow exponentially. Independent tasks become less and majority of tasks become more dependent on the completion of other tasks.

For instance, take the case of a product launch. The marketing team has to bring out its messaging and identify the channels in which take the message to its target market. The development team has to finish the product, QA team has to sign-off on the product quality, the support teams needs to be ready to field all the requests and PR team needs to be ready to pitch loudly.

At some point, it becomes very hard to manage all the interdependencies involved in the launch and there is a need for an elegant representation of the project dependencies.

This is where the Dependency Structure Matrix (DSM) (also known as the Design Precedence Matrix or Problem Solving Matrix) comes in. Dependency structure Matrix (DSM) is a square matrix used to represent the project dependencies. A quick look at the DSM should convey what are the other tasks that are dependent on the output of a given task. Its visually compact way to represent complex systems is one of its biggest advantages. The DSM is widely used in engineering projects that exhibit feedback loops and cyclic dependencies.

Industries such as property development, construction, aerospace, automotive and semiconductors actively use the DSM for their project management.

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A typical DSM matrix

Let us take the product launch example and construct a simple dependency matrix. The rows and columns are both tasks. For each cell, we mark as X if the task in the column is dependent on the task in the row. In the example below, PR release is dependent on product development and Social media marketing and quality control is dependent only on product development.

Once we build this matrix we can see the rows represent the tasks that are impacted by a given task and the columns represent what tasks impact the given task. This allows us more effective scheduling. Constructing a well thought DSM would allows us to use computing tools to prioritize the delivery of tasks whose rows have the maximum “X “es.

 PR releaseSocial Media Marketing DevelopmentQuality ControlCustomer Support
PR release x  x
Social Media Marketingx   x
Developmentxx xx
Quality Control  x  
Customer Supportxxx  

In summary, when used correctly, DSM provides a very compact and visual way to look at tasks and allows us to make the project management more efficient.

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