A Quick Guide to Dependency Structure Matrix (DSM)

Project-Management.com’s Top 3 Software Recommendations


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.

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 release Social Media Marketing Development Quality Control Customer Support
PR release x x
Social Media Marketing x x
Development x x x x
Quality Control x
Customer Support x x x

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.

Recommended Project Management Software

If you’re interested in learning more about top rated project management software, the editors at Project-Management.com actively recommend the following:

1 monday.com

Visit website

monday.com Work OS is an award-winning no-code work management platform that helps teams manage projects and workflows more efficiently.

Used by 152,000+ customers worldwide, this fully customizable software lets you plan, manage, and track every project in one place. monday.com offers time-saving and easy-to-use features such as automations, time tracking, document sharing, and real-time collaboration. Multiple board views such as Gantt and Kanban help you structure and navigate tasks and projects the way you prefer, and dashboards give a high-level overview of your progress.

In addition, integrations with apps such as Outlook, Microsoft Teams, Gmail, and Excel, allow you to easily continue working with your favorite tools from within the platform. monday.com also offers dedicated solutions, such as monday dev and monday sales CRM, designed to answer the needs of specific industries.

Learn more about monday.com

2 ClickUp

Visit website

ClickUp is one of the highest-rated project management tools today. Use Docs, Reminders, Goals, Calendars, Chat, scheduling, assigned comments, custom views, & more with this all-in-one project management tool.

Used by 800,000+ teams in companies like Airbnb, Google, and Uber, it brings all of your projects into a single app! Built for teams of all sizes and industries, Our fully customizable & proprietary features make it a must-have for anyone wanting to keep project management in one place.

Learn more about ClickUp

3 Smartsheet

Visit website

Smartsheet is a leading work execution platform that has real-time work management features, collaboration and automation tools. Users are presented with a familiar and easy-to-use spreadsheet-like interface. However, it has enterprise-grade capabilities that even Fortune 500 companies like Cisco, Bayer, HP, and PayPal are confident to adopt in their business. Strong project management features enable teams to utilize different views of real-time data, and switch easily from Gantt, card, grid and calendar views. Smartsheet has automatic update requests, and can be used for waterfall and agile projects, product launch, sprint planning, and more. The resource management feature provides users the visibility who is busy, and who is not, in real-time. They can also attach files, share sheets, get notified, view the activity log, export, email, and print.

Learn more about Smartsheet

Share Article


Balaji Viswanathan Avatar
Get the Free Newsletter!
Subscribe to Project Management Insider for best practices, reviews and resources.
This email address is invalid.
Get the Free Newsletter!
Subscribe to Project Management Insider for best practices, reviews and resources.
This email address is invalid.

Demos, trials & More information

Check out our library of 60+ pm books