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The Iron Triangle of Project Management

CMS Vocational Training Hadyn Luke posted this on Monday 30th of March 2020 Hadyn Luke 30/03/2020

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The Iron Triangle of Project Management

Our series on Project Management continues, as we take a look at the Iron Triangle.

Whatever project you are working on, it’s likely that its success will rely on the following three parameters:

  • Budget
  • Scope
  • Schedule

Even a small change to one of these ‘Iron Triangle’ features can affect the others – with the potential to disrupt or damage the quality of the whole project.

How does the Iron Triangle affect a project?

Before a project begins, the planning process will usually involve discussions about budget, scope and schedule.

Once the project is underway, decisions made about any of these three issues will almost certainly affect the other two.

For example, if part of the project requires a higher budget than anticipated, this might mean that the scope of the project has to be reduced in some way, or that the schedule has to be stretched over a longer period of time.

Ultimately, the challenge facing anyone running a project is how to balance budget, scope and schedule. This can mean difficult decisions along the way, which need to be carefully thought out and discussed by team members.

An example of the Iron Triangle at work

Your company is rebranding its core products. The new label design is not popular with test consumers and you decide to go back to the drawing board, which means you have to delay the product relaunch.

Because the schedule has been disrupted, your budget will be affected as more staff hours are spent on working on the project, plus potential additional costs for design work.

Another option could be to change the scope of the project. For example, instead of rebranding all of your core products, you could decide to test the water with a small number of products and delay work on the others until a later date.

What should you do if your Iron Triangle is disrupted?

First, look again at your plans for the project. What were the objectives and how will disruption to the Iron Triangle affect the end result you’re aiming for?

Involve your staff and stakeholders in the process. Work out what flexibility is needed within the project to adapt to the changes that have taken place.

Taking each element in turn:

Budget

  • Look for cost savings that will have the least impact
  • Swap to cheaper versions of non-essential or less important components or resources – or get rid of them altogether
  • Reduce expenses, eg: travel costs, venue hire
  • Remove any planned tasks that are not essential to the final outcome of the project
  • Ask suppliers if there are any options for discounts

Scope

  • Look into whether the change to the scope is absolutely necessary
  • Work out if any elements of the scope can be delayed to a future project and time
  • See if changes to the scope will have such a major impact that the whole project requires reassessing

Schedule

  • Assess whether you can change, reorder or remove tasks to keep to schedule
  • Work out if any tasks could be moved to a future schedule
  • See if you have any contingency time built in, which could be used to keep on schedule

Be aware of the Speed, Cost, Quality principle

This is the principle that, for most projects, you will only be able to achieve two of the following three elements: Speed, Cost, Quality. This principle states that:

A product that is delivered quickly and at low cost won’t be of quality

A product delivered quickly and to a high quality won’t be cheap

A product delivered to a high quality but cheaply won’t be made quickly

There can be exceptions, but it’s a good idea to work out which of these elements is the most important for your project.

Conclusion

While changes to smaller details can help to get your project back on track, don’t forget to look at the bigger picture and ensure that your project goals will still be met, while communicating any changes to team members and stakeholders.

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