Project Management

The Cripple Constraint

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From a recent article in Scientific American:

"In July 2012 three of India's regional electric grids failed, triggering the largest blackout on earth. More than 620 million people — 9 percent of the world's population—were left powerless.

The cause: the strain of food production from a lack of water.

Because of major drought, farmers plugged in more and more electric pumps to draw water from deeper and deeper below ground for irrigation.  Those pumps, working furiously under the hot sun, increased the demand on power plants.  At the same time, low water levels meant hydroelectric dams were generating less electricity than normal ...

Energy, water and food are the world's three most critical resources.

Although this fact is widely acknowledged in policy circles, the interdependence of these resources on one another is significantly underappreciated.

Strains on any one can cripple the others."

Sound a little familiar?  Increase your project's scope, and you proably have a budget and schedule problem.  Fiddle with the schedule, bringing the date in by 3 weeks, and you probably have to spend money on overtime and may have to leave out some featres.  Got hit with a budget cut?  Get ready to just admit that the delivery date has moved out by a couple of weeks, and/or once again, you have to take a scissors to some features.

Sure enough, the Iron Triangle - or Triple Constraint - has lost its mojo recently, at least in terms of presence in the PMBOK(R) Guide.

But as Gene Wilder said so well in Young Frankenstein... "IT"S ALIVE!". 

Sure, the PMBOK(R) Guide 5th Edition talks about multiple contratints on page 6, and now leaves out the formal reference to the Triple Constraint, but you know - you feel - that it is still there.  And it often rules your proejct - doesn't it?

Now back to Scientific American.  The point of the article - definitely worth a read - is that the triad of Food, Water, and Energy is a similar set of constraints.  And as we work on our projects, it's worth thinking about the relationships that our project - and the project's outcomes - have on the social infrastructure around them.   We realize that not every project has the obvious connection to food, water, and energy, but any such connection is easier to imagine if you think about the product of your project in action -  cumulatively - say 5 or 10 years from now.  And it may not be the exact "Cripple Constraint" called out by Scientific American, it may be some other set of dependent variables.

We just urge you to think about your project - just as Gene Wilder did - not only in its assembly stages - but when... IT'S ALIVE!

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: January 29, 2015 02:02 PM | Permalink

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