The New PM Triangle and the Value of Project Management

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Mark Langley, CEO of PMI has proposed a new project management triangle. Instead of the points Scope, Time, and Cost, the points of the triangle should be Business Acumen, Leadership, and Technical Project Management (the old PM Triangle).

Here is a quote from Mr. Langley:

"If we only speak the language of project management as in scope, time, and cost; then project management as a profession will fail today’s businesses..!"

Mr. Langley is not advocating that the triple constraint of scope, budget and time, be replaced but that it is a small triangle (technical project management) on a larger triangle of TPM, Business Acumen, and Leadership.

I agree with him and others that have said that managing scope, budget, and time is the basics of project management. It is the LEAST that we do. But in today's world and for our customers today, it is not enough. It is not the value add that project management can and should bring to our customers.

We should not think that our customers do not know what they find as valuable or that we know more about value than they. Like beauty, value is and always will be in the eye of the beholder. Project success always trumps project management process. The project owners, the customers, define what project success is, not the project manager. Our focus as PMs should always be on project success. We work within some set of parameters (usually including scope, budget and time and others) that we manage in order to ensure project success. The point is that my customer's definition of project success may not include the triple constraint. And that is just fine because it's their project, their money and their time. So I better be managing their project in manner that is consistent with their definition of success and in a manner that meets their needs. I will do so, of course, using the tools of my profession to the best of my ability and as appropriately as I can. But my goal is to meet their definition of project success. I work for them after all.

That doesn't mean I am going to chase every whim or suggestion they make because sometimes my job includes providing guidance to help them make good decisions. I will use that bias' of scope, budget, and time plus other information to explain consequences of their change requests and other decisions. But they own the project and have every right and responsibility to act as they own it.

In order for me to act as a good steward of their project, I need to bring (or obtain) a knowledge of the business to the project. Since nearly all projects involve teams and people who don't report to me, I must be a good leader. And I need to be good at using the tools of my profession (project management). I must be good at all points of this triad in order to fully serve my constituents. I bring the most value to my customers through servant leadership as I act as a good steward of their project. I bring value by being a problem solver, flexible and adaptive as needed.I bring value by working to ensure that the objectives of the project are met and I bring value when I do all that I can to ensure the benefits of the project are met.

The project objectives and the realization of project benefits are the elements of project success. These are the reasons projects are undertaken and where the value lies. There is no value in the project itself, only in the results of the project. So I believe it is my responsibility to manage to the results, using the appropriate tools of my profession. This is what my customer expects of me.

As I have said before, I have often heard, from project managers, "the business doesn't understand project management," well there is no reason they should. It's why they hired us. To me what is more troubling is how often I hear "project managers don't understand my business." If we don't understand the business, we run the risk of not making the appropriate project related decisions or of taking the wrong actions.

Sorry for such a long winded post. But I believe this is such an important topic because it is indicative of the need for our profession to be more customer centric in our focus.

Posted on: March 22, 2013 10:33 AM | Permalink

Comments (10)

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I'm glad to see the proposal for YAFORP (Yet Another Flat Object Representing our Profession). I have always liked three (or even four) dimensions. Why? Because with all due respect to Thomas Friedman (and a lot *is* due), the world - our world especially - is not flat. Projects are bursting with all kinds of solid things. That's why when I teach a course in project management I use a pyramid - not only a static pyramid but one which can change over time (there's your fourth dimension). The walls are Scope, Time, and Cost, their fabric is Quality, the floor is Risk and uncertainty, and you - you the PM, are standing at the top. So, as the floor changes (it *is* a floor made of risk, after all) the whole shape of the pyramid changes, wobbles, pulsates. And you're atop this structure which is moving under you. Not a job for the faint-hearted.
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And this is why I think the models for PM should not be flat, but should be able to contain the volume of work that we have to do to complete a project under all of these constraints.
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But I'm not done, not by a longshot. Despite the above critique of the new triangle I am in favor of the concept because what it does is amplify what my partner Dave Shirley and I have been saying before and since the publication of Cleland Award winning Green Project Management (see, even shameless plugs have more than two dimensions). What PMI CEO Mark Langley is saying, quite well, is that project managers have to be more aware of - and take advantage of - their position in the company which is right smack dab in the middle of strategies (born of ideas and missions) and operations (time to make the widgets...).
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So I think that sustainability can be now included in this new triangle (perhaps its 3rd dimension can be sustainability). The idea is that we, as project managers, can not keep defining success with such a narrow definition. Sorry, folks, the project may be over when you hand that section of highway over to the Transportation Department, but remember that cars will be driving on it. Many cars. So the thought you put into the type of surface needs to consider the customers (for example drivers, other humans living nearby - everyone) in the long term. Could you have selected a material which, while being more expensive, provides 1 or 2 extra miles per gallon (or kilometers per liter)? Should that question even be in your head? We say yes, at least to the latter. And although I may be a little off from Mark's *central* message, I think it fits in the model he is expounding, 2-dimensional though it is.
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What do you think? Does this make any sense to you? Or - does it leave you ... flat?



I like the new triangle as it is more descriptive of what project manager do in their job. Project Managers do not just manage the cost, scope, and time (technical project management) or MS Projects.

Leadership and Business Acumen are very important as Project Managers lead the project team and assist in removing project impediments so that the project team can work towards the success criteria that was defined by the Business Sponsor. Yes, soft skills are very important!

With my colleague and friend Caccamese we have hypothesized the existence of the soft pyramid.
We believe that the project manager needs to extend its integrative role also to “soft factors”, so that the traditional “iron triangle” is modified into a “hard-soft pyramid”, where “soft factors” are integrated into a constrained environment between themselves and with the traditional “hard factors”, like scope, time, cost and quality.
To be successful, the Project Manager should also reach a reasonable trade-off among various concurrent heterogeneous factors that constitute the “soft pyramid”: this is much more than “making usage of soft skills in Project Management”, and should be made explicit in Project Management best practices. We are trying to build this methodology in order to help project managers in dealing with this topics.

I agree with the YAFORP comments and don''t think the "new" triangle even begins to replace the old one. The constraints represented by the old triangle are unchanging. And there has even been a revised similar triangle for agile. The "new" PMI triangle is a separate animal altogether, a new species. It can''t replace the old Waterfall triangle or the new Agile triangle.

Whether it can survive on its own is another subject.

Here are a couple of links to the Agile Triangle.
http://jimhighsmith.com/beyond-scope-schedule-and-cost-the-agile-triangle/
http://www.projectmanagement.com/blog/Agility-and-Project-Leadership/5325/



Thanks for your comment John. I always enjoy learning from my colleagues. I will definitely be checking out your suggested reading.

Since I posted this article, PMI has revised the triangle and it is now called the PM Talent Triangle, consisting of Leadership, Strategic and Business Knowledge, and Technical Project Management. The focus is towards being more strategic as a PM, something every manager should be, and away from being a project administrator/reporter/task manager. Not only has the "triangle" changed but the Continuing Certification Requirements have changed to match the Talent Triangle. As for replacing the old triangle, that isn't really the purpose rather the purpose is to go beyond the old triangle. This change is in response to significant research done by PMI and other organizations, such as Gartner, HBR, and CEB. This is what employers have indicated they expect from project managers now.

I think that the triangle is a good step forward, although there are a lot more holes to plug. I take my hat off to PMI for finally taking this step. For years, many of us have been preaching the obvious issues in project management signaled by poor project leadership (at all levels of the company), IT being well known for project failure as they feel that knowledge in technology trumps business acumen, and the focus on delivering a check-list, procedure,laden project that meets scope, schedule, and budget, devoid of value which PMI seemed to be ignoring. This is first step that is simple enough to be comprehended by the project management literate.

IMHO, though, PMI is not going to solve this problem as they created it by focusing for forty-some odd years by preaching process as the answer. But the change is very welcome.

I think we should not forget other supremely important elements such as Quality, Risk, Customer Satisfaction and Communication. Now then it would be an octagon.

The new scheme seems very appropriate as project managers must develop a comprehensive set of management skills, technical, business and ethics, which should have a balance so that people grow holistically. This together with the experience allows better results in projects

Great discussions!

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