This is a the second part of our Project management series. If you missed the first edition you can read it here. In the first edition, I tried to explain who a project manager is. So, you may have to read it first before you continue with this piece. One key concern for anyone who has ever had to take on a project is how to ensure that all projects are delivered according to a specified budget or cost, scope and the delivery time. Most issues or constraints that arise from projects not being successful are derived from any of these three factors.
To discuss the project management triangle, let us look at three case scenarios and decide what option best addresses them.
- You gave out a project to a contractor and agreed on how much it will cost to deliver the project. The contractor then comes back after some weeks into the project that they did not envisage a part of the project and so it was not included in the costing. They will therefore need to review the project cost upwards and you have no choice but the bear the additional cost.
- You gave out a project to a contractor to be delivered in four weeks. You even ensured that all payments were made to the contractor so that there won’t be any financial excuse not to deliver the project on time. Three weeks into the project, you find out that the contractor has not started because they haven’t sourced a major material needed to start.
- You are a contractor that has just been awarded a contract to deliver exercise books to a secondary school. After all negotiations and timelines have been concluded, you set out to deliver the project. You have made all necessary arrangements to deliver the project on time. Some weeks to your promised timeline, the project owner called you that he just remembered that he did not tell you that you have to design a special cover for the exercise book
These three scenarios show different factors that can affect any business per time if not well managed. These factors are the core reasons why a lot of projects are failing.
Case 1: shows a project where cost was not well defined at the beginning. The cost constraint refers to the budgeted amount available for the project. This is expected to show how much the whole project will cost in Naira and Kobo.
Case 2: shows a project where timelines for different aspects were not well planned for. The time constraint refers to the amount of time (in days, months or years) that the project has been planned to be completed.
Case 3: shows a project where scope was not well defined at the initiation of the project. The scope constraint refers to what must be done to produce the project’s end result.
There really won’t be any need for project management if time, money, or project scope were unlimited. All projects, irrespective of their size, will have many constraints/factors affecting them.
In project management parlance, these three factors (cost, time and scope) are referred to as the Project Management Triangle. These three factors go a long way to determine how well the project is going for all the parties involved. The contractor/project manager wants to ensure he has understood every detail of the project and made plans for them in terms of the costing and the delivery time. The project owner wants to ensure that every detail for the project is well understood by the project manager and that he is getting the project at the right cost and it will be delivered on time.
Each constraint is placed at every side of a triangle. One side of the triangle cannot be changed without affecting the others. Whenever a change is made to any of these constraints, it automatically has resulting effects on the other two, e.g. whenever you change the scope of a project, it will surely have a resulting effect on the project cost and time of delivery. A further refinement of the constraints separates product quality or performance from scope, and turns quality into a fourth constraint.
The three project management constraints are often competing constraints. If you adjust any one side of the triangle, the other two sides are affected. For example, if you decide to adjust the project plan to:
- Ensure the project is finished on time, then you might end up with the project costing more and possibly the scope reduced by not doing some part of the project
- Meet the project budget, the result might take longer to complete and a decreased scope
- Increase scope by adding more job/features to the project, your project might take more time and cost more money in the form of resources, such as workers
The main responsibility of a project manager is to manage these constraints of the project management triangle. Project management practice provides the tools and the techniques for the project manager to be able to manage all these constraints. The project management triangle is used by managers to analyze or understand the difficulties that may arise due to implementing and executing a project.
Application of the Project Management Triangle
Most times when a client requests or does something unreasonable, like adding a feature or shortening project due date while still expecting everything to remain unchanged, many contractors or project managers just respond in simple terms to the client that it is not possible. Most clients might insist on what they want and at the end, its either they get a job that is rushed and not well done or possibly get job with materials of very poor quality.
The project management triangle should be used as a communication tool. It should be used to communicate the constraints involved in achieving the change in the project structure and how best to achieve the project with the new details needed by the client. This will guide business people on not saying “no” to potential clients. For example, if a client wants to move the due date forward by two weeks, we can advise the client to either remove some of the features of the project or add more workers to the project. Always get the client’s consent before changing any feature of the project.