The Project Management Triangle

Project ManagementHas your project hit a bump in the road? Are the project results diverging from the plan? Are you starting to think something might be wrong? How do you get back on track?If you have looked for answers in all the usual places, it might be useful to review the project management triangle.

The project triangle is a simple triangle with each edge labeled Scope, Time and Money. As a project manager, it’s your responsibility to control at least one side of the triangle. Without control of at least one side, you won’t be able to regain control of your project. If all three sides are fixed, the project will fail.

Time – often the first choice of Engineering, just add more time to the schedule. Let’s be honest, estimating dates is difficult. Sometimes people make mistakes. Sometimes dates are coerced. Whatever the case, if you are going to ask for more time, be sure you ask for enough time. Nobody wants to continuously slip a schedule. It’s bad for business and it’s bad for moral.

Money – people or equipment. In The Mythical Man Month, Fred Brooks cautions against adding more people to an already late project, but if the project is truly short staffed the addition of “value-add” players may be the solution. Some projects are constrained by their tools – slow computers, limited disk space, etc. Buy, rent, or borrow what you need to get the job done.

Scope – often this edge remains fixed when in fact it can be the easiest to manipulate. By postponing commitments we remain fluid and agile. Is it better to complete 5 features on time or slip the schedule to get 7? That depends on how committed you and your customers are to those 2 features. In Lean Software Development, Mary and Tom Poppendieck advocate postponing decisions until the “Last Responsible Moment.” Many projects try to nail down too much up front. Mary and Tom make some great arguments in favor of waiting.

One final note: smooth running project strive to balance the triangle. Extremely short or long sides make for an unstable project. Next time your project starts to lean, adjust one of the three sides.

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