A design structure matrix (DSM) to plot how a complex project should proceed

A tool to help communicate about and plan for a complicated project is what some analysts call a design structure matrix (DSM). As described in the Harvard Bus. Rev., Oct. 2011 at 106, in a DSM, “a project’s tasks are listed along the rows and columns of a matrix, and the team marks whether each item is related to the others, designating each relationship as either a direct dependency or a feedback loop.”

Matrix algebra can than calculate a recommended order for the tasks or a simpler spreadsheet function can show the interactions. DSM sounds like industrial-grade GANTT charting, but for hefty projects run by legal departments, a watered-down version might be helpful.

I have written about matrices, which are sometimes simply tables or grids (See my post of March 10, 2005: Johns Manville’s RAPP matrix; May 28, 2005: a spending matrix; May 3, 2006: PetSmart’s complex matrix; Feb. 1, 2007: nine-box tool; March 25, 2009: grid analysis methods; Aug. 4, 2009: Laffey matrix; Aug. 9, 2010: law firms put in portfolio matrix; Sept. 27, 2010: patent lawyers team with colleagues to prepare an opportunity matrix; and Nov. 8, 2010: contract approval matrix.).

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