Monday, September 8, 2008

September 8, 2008 – Back to the Basic: The Troubling Triangle

In our quest to return to the basic of project management we have already tackled the stakeholders. Next we take on the triple constraint in the form of a triangle. The concept of a triangle to represent the Scope, Schedule and Cost of a project is actually quite ingenious. Adding more scope dictates an increase in the schedule, cost or both. Reducing the cost or timeline for the project requires less scope. Each part is dependent on the other two.

The trouble is that management thinks of these three items as completely independent of each other; like 3 line segments lying as distinctly separated as the bones in my daughter’s x-ray from last week’s edition.

Scope. The scope of your project includes the full extent of what is agreed to, both verbally and in writing. In reality scope is never fully defined until all of the requirements are vetted, but from the minute you take ownership it is our responsibility is to ferret out promises and commitments made. This is especially evident in the consulting world. Account Representatives (aka Salesmen) are notorious for making promises and not letting the project manager in on the secret. Take your list of Stakeholders and find out their expectations.

The resulting wish list is not your scope. Like pruning a Bonsai tree you need to cut that back to something you can realistically deliver in the timeframe and cost provided. Remember, you can’t set one line segment of your triangle without impacting the other two.

Cost. Auto salesmen get a bad rep, justifiably so in many cases. But you can take a page out of their play book. When asked how much it will cost to deliver the scope, ask how much they are looking to spend. If they only have enough for a used, beat up Yugo, don’t try to sell them a Lamborghini.

When giving an estimate, put it in terms of what will be delivered. Never give a quote without documenting your assumptions; the “here’s what I was thinking…” piece. Placing the cost into context forces the discussion of scope.

Schedule. Timing is always an issue. On one project our directive was to go live in August. Backing up from that date gave us July for Testing and Implementation, June for Development, May for Design and April for Requirements. It would be tight, but do-able. At the end of May “in production” was clarified to mean the day after 4 weeks of parallel testing in the production environment. Changing the move to production, even if we weren’t “live” would have been impossible without changing the scope and adding more resources (increasing the cost).

Find out what the date is and the significance of it. If it is a hard date you have already set one of the legs in the triangle.

As you establish the three legs of your triangle, it is management’s job to stretch the scope side while reducing the length of the cost and schedule sides. How can you effectively push back without a career shortening screaming match?

Go gourmet on them. Most CIOs, VPs and Senior Managers enjoy their share of fine food. The higher end restaurants produce amazing dinners that take longer to serve and cost quite a bit more than your local fast food joint. Even our cafeteria at work has a sign that says, “Good food takes time. Thank you for your patience.”

Build a reputation on speaking straight and not padding estimates. It is your responsibility to present the facts, back them up with evidence and state your case clearly. It is their job to make decisions.


Cornelius Fichtner, PMP said...


I am currently working my way through the new PMBOK Guide 4th edition (draft) and one of my predictions has come true: The triple constraints are dead - long live the Competing Project Constraints.

The third edition of the PMBOK Guide still talks about the triple constraints and does use this term in particular. However, what I have seen coming about 2 years ago (and I mentioned this several times on The Project Management Podcast) has actually happened. The triple constraints are no longer mentioned in the upcoming 4th edition. Instead, we now talk about these competing project constraints.

But that does not mean that your advice in this post is wrong. What you say on how to deal with the traditional triple constraints is still valid. However, we now (and FINALLY) have to get used to the fact that we must include any and all constraints in our thinking. The list presented in the PMBOK Guide includes:
- Scope
- Quality
- Schedule
- Budget
- Resources
- Risk

They also recognize that there are many more and that this list is not complete.

Personally, I am very happy that this change is appearing in the PMBOK Guide. Not because it shows that I am "right" in what I have been saying all along. But because it finally reflects the facts of project management life, where you have a large number of competing constraints, and not just the traditional triple constraints.

Glen B. Alleman said...

Tom and Cornelis,
No matter PMI's rewording, the connections between cost, schedule and techncial performance measures (TPM) is inseperable. It may ne that PMI has missed to sea change here in thge defense and aerospace industry.
The next wave of Earned Value and Earned Schedule analysis processes by placed on large programs (our is $12B), makes these connections in the form of Performance Based Earned Value.
PB-EV is the brain child of Paul Solomon. Paul's materials can be foudn at and many defense journals and conference papers.
The triangle may not be "iron" but the three variables are tightly coupled.

Glen B. Alleman
VP, Program Planning and Controls
Denver Colorado