From Triple Constraint to Value

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When I started in project management many years ago the only measures we had for success were cost, time and quality--the famous (or infamous) triple constraint. Nobody was talking about scope or earned value.

Many variations of this triangle exist and today its basic concept is getting more and more muddled.

In the early 1990s, the concept of scope started to become more and more important and was seen as the area of the triangle, again varying against cost, time and quality. And value was still very much focused on quality. Good value was when the highest quality was achieved for the least expenditure of resources.

Today, stakeholder satisfaction, which can include quality, but also scope and other issues have replaced the concept of quality.

In project management, value could be represented as scope and quality (satisfaction) on one side of the scale and cost and time (resources) on the other side: the more scope and quality for the least cost and time yielding the most value.

Although this is an interesting concept, it is usually not the project manager's role to define these elements. They are usually imposed as parameters in the project charter.

It is the role of the sponsor to define the value that the project will generate by setting the scope and quality that will satisfy the stakeholders and define the cost and time that will be acceptable and achievable.

There is a simple equation that can be represented graphically to represent this:

value image.pngIf offered benefits are greater or equal than expected benefits, satisfaction is achieved. If available resources are greater or equal than required resources, value can be realized.

Typically projects are measured against their capability to fulfill strategic objectives and business benefits, including increased operational capabilities.

Estimated resources (time, cost and human resources) are measured against resources available at the time the project is scheduled to take place. If both ratios are positive, then value will be achieved. If many projects are competing against each other, those that provide the highest benefits to resource ratio will be chosen.

But is this truly the norm? Is this how things work at your organization?
Posted by Michel Thiry on: May 12, 2009 09:53 AM | Permalink


Patrick Weaver
Hi Michel, The original version of the Iron Triangle invented by Dr. Martin Barnes around 1969 was Time Cost and Output. The idea of an output encompasses scope and quality particularly when the definition of quality is ‘fit for purpose’ (rather than highest grade). You can’t replace quality – if the output is not suitable for its intended purpose there is no value. However the thrust of you ideas, a focus on value to the organisation are spot on. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if senior manager’s focus was on generating real value! I never cease to be amazed at the number of decisions in business and IT projects that destroy value by de-scoping to meet easily measured but largely irrelevant targets such as artificially imposed deadlines. Value is a complex concept to measure but at the end of the day it is the only one that matters.

Martin Caro
Hello Michael. I am relativelly new in Voices on PM,however the triangle of iron or project diamont are good methodoly and we need to continue to use the concepts in other dimension, it is my opinion (dimensions). 1. Always the Project Management is about the Owner, Investor, Shareholder and how the President, Manager create value (share value, ambient value, good will, etc) to this group. 2. The conceptual idea and project scope defined was the work done, This is related to the people (all organization)and that they done the work that have done. 3. The organization´s values are the values of those who make it up, It is not the same thinking(politicians, religions, etc.) it is about same values. All of this 3 point with a Innovation because it is the only way to sustainability of any type of business. In the URL the picture about it.

Project Management Templates
I tend to agree that there are certain "flaws" with the Theory of Triple Constraints and I also agree that there is no need for more legs to the stool. I have always used the triangle model that has Budget ($), Time, and Resource Availability as the three sides of the triangle.

Inside the triangle I placed three terms: Scope, Quality and Requirements, as the focal point to which all project managers strive to achieve. I believe that they attempt to achieve these three by the skillful manipulation of the three sides of my triangle. It is just another variation of the traditional model but, it is one that I have found makes the most sense when explaining the Triple Constraints to non-project managers. I don't see risk as one of the three primary constraints as the three sides are manipulated in response to risks that may manifest themselves. For what it is worth, that's just my take on things.

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