Is the Project Management Iron Triangle Obsolete?

By | April 22nd, 2014|Project Management Methodology|Comments Off on Is the Project Management Iron Triangle Obsolete?

One of the first things project management students learn is that a project’s cost, time, and scope are interdependent. These three project constraints form the iron triangle. If one constraint changes, the other two change as well. For example, adding extra features to a product costs more and takes more time. Although the iron triangle was a measure of project success for decades, it is no longer so. Yet the iron triangle is not obsolete.

At the beginning of the project management era and for many decades to come, the iron triangle measured project success. Successful projects balanced time, cost, and scope—they were completed on time and within budget. However, even some completed projects that exceed time or budget can be perceived as successful by project stakeholders. Also, a project completed on time and within budget can be a failure if it leads to team burnout, for example. It is clear that more than just balancing the iron triangle contributes to a project’s success. For example, the PMBOK (v. 4) says a project needs to balance other constraints besides time, cost, and scope, namely quality, resources, schedule, and risks.

However, the iron triangle can still offer guidelines for setting the success criteria of a project. The project manager can continue to use it to understand stakeholders’ most important constraints for that project and help stakeholders agree on what constraint they can afford to “slide.” With that information, the project manager can plan the project better. In almost any project, the iron triangle tends to go out of balance because scope, cost, and time and their interrelationships are complex, thus difficult to predict and more difficult to control.

Scope can change during the lifetime of a project. This is intrinsically true for an agile project, whose scope is only broadly defined at the beginning of the project, but can also be true for traditional (waterfall) projects, due to changes such as market trend variation, domain evolution, and new legislation. For example, in IT, the cost and time of a project are two sliding constraints for about 50 percent of projects, according to statistics. (more…)

Recognizing and Avoiding Project Team Burnout

“Death march projects are the norm, not the exception,” says Edward Yourdon, the author of the Death March, a book about surviving highly stressful, irrational projects in the software industry. Many organizations promote “death march” projects – those with unrealistic goals and schedules – to keep up with the competition in their respective industries. As a result, project teams work overtime to meet unrealistic goals and schedules, sometimes with insufficient resources, only to reach the burnout phase. The productivity declines, the absenteeism rate increases, and the team is unable to meet requirements. A burnout team means that the employees’ job satisfaction diminishes and that they cannot perform their tasks and meet deadlines. The consequence is a failed current project and a high probability of failure of the next project.

Recognizing team burnout and taking steps toward avoiding it are essential for avoiding cost repercussions for the organization.

“Burnout can be defined as feelings of exhaustion, a cynical attitude toward the job and people involved in the job and through a reduced personal accomplishment or work efficiency,” according to a dieBerater report.

Many things can trigger team burnout besides death march projects. These include poor project planning (cost, time, and resources), customer changes, micromanagement, high workload, time pressures, insufficient project manager support, as well as insufficient training and decision-making opportunities.

Exhausted teams tend to focus on achieving the results by working harder rather than smarter. The team members fail to use creativity to develop efficient solutions, so they become frustrated, communicate less, and work inefficiently. (more…)