Project Management Triangles and Integrated Reasoning

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By Wanda Curlee 

There are two triangles commonly referenced in the project management discipline: The Iron Triangle (sometimes called the Golden Triangle) and PMI’s Talent Triangle®. Each provides insight into the complexity of even the simplest project.  


However, I think there is a big component missing: the human psyche. Let’s look at both triangles. 


The Iron Triangle


The Iron Triangle has many versions that have been enhanced by subject matter experts to help define how to manage a project. On the triangle’s sides, you’ll find time, cost and resources. Quality and/or scope, which was added later, can be found in the middle of the triangle. 


My preference is to put time at the bottom part of the triangle as it is constant. When time has passed, it’s gone for good (until time travel is invented). All other sides and the interior of the triangle change and often do.  


Some would say the scope is constant because there is a statement of work that defines the scope. A good theoretical basis, but reality normally prevails. For instance, out of ignorance, incompetence or “doing a favor”, the scope can change. It may also change because of a customer or vendor request. All these changes affect the other axis and interior of the triangle. However, your time is gone no matter how the scope changes. Quality may go up or down depending on scope, resources and time.  


The Talent Triangle


PMI’s Talent Triangle acknowledges that the project professional must have soft and hard skills. These skills include leadership, a technical knowledge and an understanding of the strategic and business alignment of the project, program and portfolio—while also ensuring that projects stay within the Golden Triangle. 


Understanding the industry helps project professionals realize the importance of the endeavor for the company. Finally, understanding the politics and strategic fit of the project or program is a must. If the project or program manager cannot articulate how the effort drives the company’s strategic objective, it might be time to move to a different project or maybe find a new profession. 


The Human Psyche


While these two triangles are good, they don’t incorporate the missing link—the human psyche.  

We need to understand how to drive the project team to make sure no sides of the triangle fail. What does this mean? If one side of the Iron Triangle falls short or goes long then the triangle fails. The same could be said for the Talent Triangle. 


Three inherent manners can help: integrated reasoning, strategic focus and creative thinking. I want to look at integrated reasoning.


According to neuroscience, there are three ways a person thinks. He or she can be a rock star, coach/playmaker or rainmaker.  


The rock star is the junior to the experienced project manager and is normally focused on one or two tasks. Think budget timelines, schedules and risk management, among other things.


The coach/playmaker is the senior project manager and junior to the experienced program manager. These individuals see the forest. The coach knows how to lead to the final goal.  


Finally, there’s the rainmaker. These are the senior program managers, portfolio managers and C-suiters. They can see years into the future. The rainmakers know how to decide which projects and programs make sense for the strategic objectives. They see success.  


Why is this important? It leads to integrated reasoning. Project and program managers should recognize where members of their team fall on the spectrum. He or she then needs to encourage and provide the opportunity to jump into a new reality so they can be more effective on all sides of the triangle.  


For example, I am very comfortable in the rainmaker role. However, I force myself into the coach and rock star role. This allows me to see the organization, strategy and people from many angles, which increases my political rationality.

So, what is the political reality of your project or program? Does your reality agree with that of the sponsor? How about the project management office or portfolio manager? If you do not understand your political rationality from all angles you will fail yourself, your team and the triangle. 

Stay tuned for the next post in which I will put integrated reasoning into reality to help drive the strategic focus of your project or program. 



Posted by Wanda Curlee on: October 12, 2017 09:09 AM | Permalink

Comments (26)

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Interesting post. Certainly gives us something to ponder about our projects and ourselves.

Stephnane - Thanks for the comment. Neuroscience will certainly change the project management landscape.

Good article Wanda. Does emotional intelligence fit into the human psyche portion of this equation?

Hello Sante - Thanks for your comment. Absolutely it does. EI will become even more powerful as there will be quantitative data to support it rather than qualitative. I suspect that EI will change over the years as we learn more about the brain!

Interesting topic, it's great to share the psyche impacts and the triangle of Integerated resasoing, strategic focus and creative thinking. Thanks a lot!

Good Article Wanda. Thanks for sharing.

Eduin - Thank you

Zhou - You are most welcome. Stay tuned for my next blog.

Tahir - Thank you

Thanks for interesting article.

Interesting article with good insights

Napat - Thank you

Glen - Thanks for reading the article.

thanks for sharing

Wanda, Your remarks on PMI's talent triangle (TT)( raise a question that has been bothering me for a while. As I understand it, the TT is designed to provide a performance-based framework for assessing project management knowledge and performance: this is why PDU as now linked to it. So, to my question: why is the TT not used as the top-level organizing concept for structuring the Role Delineation Studies (also used as the Examination Content Outline)? I have carried out this analysis and sent a copy to PMI well over a year ago - and received no feedback.

I would be interested in the views of practitioners.

Kevin - Thanks for reading.

Hello Kik - A pleasure that you provided a comment. Yes, the TT is for awarding PDUs. The last role delineation study (RDS) that I participated on the talent triangle did not exist or had just been introduced. I do agree that it needs to be reviewed but should not be the driving force. The RDS actually is supposed to visualize the content five to 10 years in the future. In other words, how will the content morph or will it! Also, remember that the TT is once you receive the certification, whereas the certification is assessing your understanding the concepts for someone that has 3-5 years of experience. Just my two cents. Would love to hear what others have in mind.

Regarding contacting PMI, I can assure that the analysis will be presented to the next RDS teams. It is that the at the PgMP and PfMP levels a new RDS has not started.

Wanda, thanks for the great article!

Alaa - Thanks for reading the article.

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