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Scope-Time-Cost or Quality-Time-Cost ?

The triple constraint is a cornerstone of project management.  However, even if you look hard for it in the PMBoK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) you will not be able to find it.   And if you use a search engine, you will find different versions, the favourites being scope – time – cost or quality – time – cost.  

 

Other versions contain resources, risk, performance, and more, making it a hexagon, or perhaps a tetrahedron. Ultimately, the exact form of the so-called ‘triple constraint’ is less important than the fact that there are trade-offs.

 

This is not a theoretical reflection, but a consideration about what could happen in practice.  In fact, it all depends upon the definition of quality.  Either the most suitable scope-time-cost combination determines quality, or the quality-time-cost equilibrium defines scope.

 

If quality is defined in terms of customer satisfaction and meeting or exceeding customer expectations (as per ISO) then quality embraces time and cost, as well as scope.  If quality is about compliance with a specification of requirments within budget and on time, then scope covers quality, time and cost.

 

To satisfy a customer is not to produce a perfect product, but late and over-priced, or to produce the wrong product before the deadline, but cheaply, or the right product on time but at a price no-one can afford.  To satisfy a specification of requirments that has been misconceived, or misunderstood, by some of the partners, is not a successful outcome even when it is contractually irreproachable.

 

An impact on scope, for example, either more or fewer requirments will almost certainly have some kind of impact on the time taken, which will knock on to cost. The inverse is not necessarily true.   Prices or exchange rates, for example, can change without any commensurate impact to the schedule, whilst the schedule can slip without modifying scope.

 

The main reason that leads me to prefer the scope-time-cost triangle is because higher quality does not always imply higher cost.  Sometimes, fewer features give a better fit with the customer need, whilst also costing less.  Indeed, cheap and quick may be the customer preference, as in many low cost products, rather than waiting for features that provide little added value to the core product.

 

There are products where cost is embedded as the essence of ‘quality’.  It would be entirely inappropriate to suggest an expensive ‘low-cost’ air fare, ‘economy’ car or ‘budget hotel’.

 

Similarly, there are products for which even the slightest degree of lateness would invalidate any notion of quality: a late ticket for the cup final, today's newspaper delivered 3 days late, a perfect weather forceast (to tell you that it rained yesterday), a gift late for an anniversary. 

 

Here is another version of the triple constraint: Triple constraint

A more extensive reflection on the "critical triple constraint" and the ways in which projects can be managed according to the priorities established between scope, time and cost also introduces the idea of "critical purpose".





Managing projects upwards

There is one major skill that does not get mentioned enough on projects and that is about the ability to manage upwards.  Managing upwards on projects is not just about the quality of reporting, and it is certainly not a “kiss up, kick-down” mentality, but rather the opposite.  

Managing upwards means that the project is driven by a dialogue between the technology and the business. It means that the project manager must validate that the business case is genuinely sufficient to justify the existence of the project, that the requirments have been prioritized with an appropriate break down between what is most important and what is least important, and that the users give reliable feedback when they verify deliverables.
 
Managing upwards on projects does not imply that designers and engineers, developers and testers, decide what the customer needs, but that they help the customer to frame their requirments in terms that are adequate to start and to continue developing a useful and usable solution.

Managing upwards uses measures and indicators with enough bravery to communicate not only what is important, but also what is easy to measure.  It gathers and shares knowledge ('known knowns') as early as possible, admits that there are uncertainties ('unknown unknowns'), analyses and takes ownership for risks ('known unknowns'), and understands that it is the lack of communication across disciplines and up and down organisations ('unknown knowns') that can kill off success.

Managing upwards includs understanding the way different managers and decision makers like to receive their information; some like it in visual format, graphic, text or numbers, or in the right combination, the big picture or the detail, the riskrs, the goals, the actions or the options.  It means communicating according to people's preferences.
 
Managing upwards is about the tactics of delivering the appropriate message that leads to the best decisions; showing red when you need help, orange when problems are under control and green when you are getting the progress and the support that you need.  It's about demonstrating that you buy into the strategy and understand the context of the business and not just the project.  It's about being a positive team player and not a moaner, and being a leader by showing that you can generate energy rather than stress.  
 
Managing upwards relies on stakeholder management skills, which is another way of saying that you need to understand the organisational and institutional complexities, that you can communicate, lobby, promote, sell; market, persuade, influence and, in other words, exercise political nous in a way that preserves trust.
 
Managing upwards is a skill that organisations need quite badly as they adapt to a world of changing technological possibilities.




Hygiene factor

Severance means breaking a bond.  What happens when the bond between success and rewards has been so severely severed?  

 

If the system we use to keep score merely tells us who takes the most, but bears no relation to merit, then where is the motivation to obtain a high score?   Past a certain point money doesn’t motivate, but its absence aggravates.  In fact, because people look upwards rather than downwards, a high reward can create discontent.  The higher you go, the bigger the gap with the next person above.  

 

The best rewards come from real achievement and the sense of self-worth that comes with it.





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