Start to Finish Relationship (Dependency) With Examples

In this article, you will find explanation of Start to Finish logical relationship in project management with examples and diagrams. It provides visual depiction of the relationship using Project Network Diagrams and Gantt Charts.

Start to Finish Relationship (Dependency) in Project Management

An activity relationship is loosely termed as project dependency. However, these two are different. A relationship between two activities can be established only if one activity is dependent on the other.

Start to Finish (SF) is one of the four relationships that are used to prepare a project schedule. The other three are:

  1. Finish to Start (FS)
  2. Start to Start (SS)
  3. Finish to Finish (FF)

Note: There are four types of dependencies, which are different from the four relationships of the project management.

Definition of SF Relationship

As per the PMBOK Guide “Start To Finish is a Logical Relationship in which a Successor Activity cannot finish until a Predecessor Activity has started”.

However a better definition is, “Start to Finish is a Logical Relationship in which finishing event of a Successor Activity is dependent on the starting event of a Predecessor Activity”.

To understand the definition further, let us look at the activity events and not at activity as a whole. The two distinct events of any activity are:

  1. Start Event (S)
  2. Finish Event (F)

In SF relationship, the Finish of Second Activity is dependent on the Start of First Activity. The Second Activity is called the Successor and the First Activity is called the Predecessor.

You can also look at Max Wideman’s Glossary for a complete set of PDM definitions.

Start To Finish Examples

Let us consider two activities X and Y. X and Y are predecessor and successor activities respectively. The following examples show FS relationship between X and Y:

  • X – Duty of Evening Guard (E), Y – Duty of Morning Guard (M). M cannot Finish her/his duty till E Starts. Simple speaking M cannot abandon the post even if E gets delayed.
  • X – Start using New Software System (N), Y – Phase out Old Software System (O). It is assumed that N & O cannot be used in parallel. O cannot be phased out until N is started.

Gantt Chart Representation

An FS relationship can be visually depicted using using Time Scaled Bar Charts, which are popularly known as Gantt Charts.

Let us consider two activities A and B.

  • Duration of A is 3 days.
  • Duration of B is 1 day.
  • B has a SF relationship with A

The Gantt Chart below shows SF relationship between A and B.

As per the above diagram B’s Finish is dependent on A’s Start, which means that B can Finish(F) as soon as A Starts(S).

In the above example, A and B together are scheduled to be completed in 4 days.

Project Network Diagram Representation

An FS relationship can also be drawn by using Precedence Diagramming Method (PDM), which can be visually depicted by Project Network Diagrams.

Let us again consider the above two activities A and B. The Network Diagram below shows SF relationship between A and B.

start to finish

Mathematical Representation And Formulas

Again considering the above two activities A and B and using 0 method, we can mathematically represent the relationship between A and B as:

B(F) = A(S)

Or, if we use 1 method, we can say that:

B(F) = A(S) – 1

Start to Finish with Lead and Lag

SF relationships can be further modified by introducing Lead and Lag modifiers.

The following Lead and Lag examples use 0 method representation.

Two activities J and K having FS relationship with 1 day of Lead:

K(F) = J(S) – 1 day

Two activities L and M having FS relationship with 2 days of Lag:

M(F) = L(S) + 2 days

Finish to Start is Different from Start to Finish

SF is not a very difficult concept to understand but sometimes it is confused with Finish to Start (FS) relationship. Some authors (incorrectly) claim that FS and SF are essentially same but it is not true.

FS is the most common and natural relationship but it cannot represent every sequence of activities. Although SF can be mathematically transformed to FS to achieve seemingly similar results, the mathematical transformation modifies and tampers the natural logic.

Let’s revisit the Guard example from the previous section to understand why SF is more natural than FS. In the above example, there were two Guards who are doing a shift duty – Evening Guard (E) and Morning Guard (M).

In a natural scenario, M can “Finish” her/his duty only “only after” E “Starts” his/her duty. The critical point here is that “M cannot Finish her/his duty even one minute before E Starts”, otherwise it will be tantamount to abandoning the post. Since M cannot abandon the post, she/he has to guard the post even if E gets delayed in starting her/his duty.

The Finish of M is logically dependent on Start of E.

Over to You

PDM Relationships are logical relationships that can be represented by using mathematical equations. However, not all mathematical relationships represent the natural logic. While making a project schedule, you should ensure that all dependencies follow the natural logic and are true in the real world.

Do you think SF relationship is useful in real projects? Have you ever used it in you project(s)? Or have you seen it being used?

I would love to hear from you.

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I have also compiled a PMP Formulas Cheat Sheet. It contains 45 formulas and 57 abbrviations. It will help you in your exam prep. It is the best and most comprehensive cheat sheet based on the PMBOK Guide 6th edition. You can download it free of cost for your studies.

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13 thoughts on “Start to Finish Relationship (Dependency) With Examples”

  1. Good article, but one instance that you hadn’t considered in your explanation which is more often used in my arena: When you develop a project schedule with a Finish Date in mind (customer defined requirement for Launch Date). In “working backwards from the end date” planning, the SF dependency is used quite a bit.

    If you have a better suggestion than SF dependencies in this scenario, I’d like to hear about it.

    Reply
    • Hi Bob,

      The relationships do not change whether you “Schedule From Start Date” or “Schedule From Finish Date”. I suspect most of your relationships would be FS. Plese note that these are Logical relationships and not mathematical relationships.

      I think you may want to read more about constraints like “As soon as possible” and “As late as possible” if you using a tool like MS Project.

      You should also read more about the network diagrams. You can start with:
      Need for a SF relationship – https://www.pmbypm.com/need-start-to-finish-relationship/
      Project Network Dagram explaned – https://www.pmbypm.com/project-network-diagram/

      BR
      Praveen.

      Reply
  2. Can you give a concrete example in construction wherein the predecessor must start before a successor could finish. I saw one in the internet, eg. the installation of a new pipeline wherein the old pipeline must start to complete the new pipeline. However it did not specified lag scenario, can you illustrate that too?

    Also in your Gantt illustration, activity A seems to be the successor making activity B the predecessor.

    Reply
  3. I found the very unique and valuable information through the article thanks for sharing such a wonderful piece of knowledgeable information. Worth reading it.

    Reply
  4. “Y – Start using New Software System (N), Y – Phase out Old Software System (O). It is assumed that N & O cannot be used in parallel. N cannot be started until O is phased out.”

    There is likely a typo here (both activities listed as Y) but as described this looks like FS. O being phased out is a (F)inish and N starting is a (S)tart. I think we should say O cannot be phased out until N is started. Rather than saying they cannot be used in parallel we would say that there cannot be a time with no system in operation.

    SF relationships do occur but are not all that common and often cause confusing even among experienced PMs.

    Reply

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