Project Management

Transcend the thinking that scope, time and cost are in opposition to each other with Lean-Thinking

From the Manifesting Business Agility Blog
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This blog concerns itself with organizations moving to business agility—the quick realization of value predictably and sustainably, and with high quality. It includes all aspects of this—from the business stakeholders through ops and support. Topics will be far-reaching but will mostly discuss FLEX, Flow, Lean-Thinking, Lean-Management, Theory of Constraints, Systems Thinking, Test-First and Agile.

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Many people tend to look at scope, time and cost as 3 factors for completing a project and that all 3 can't be set. This is the trouble with fixed scope, time & cost projects. Waterfall projects often fix all 3 with at one of these factors being missed. That is, scope is dropped, project is late, and/or we have cost overruns.

Agile attempts to have these work more effectively by fixing time & cost with time-boxing. This is the essence of a Scrum sprint. This is an improvement. The most important work can be accomplished & smaller cycles are a major improvement.

But this line of thinking still has the 3 in conflict with each other. Lean suggests that "scope" is more complex than just "what to do." That we need to focus on actual value delivered, not merely what work is being done. Lean-thinking tells us that our work is composed of work of value (some more valuable than others) as well as waste. This waste is due to rework & working on the wrong items. Instead of being locked into the iron triangle (flipped or otherwise) we want to focus on eliminating this waste.

Most waste is due to delays in workflow and in feedback caused by poor workflows and teams being overloaded. Handoffs, handbacks, mis-communications and more are rampant. Lean-thinking tells us that scope, time and cost are not necessarily opposed to each other but that two other factors need to be attended to - product quality and workflow quality.

Attending to these five factors enable more useful work to be done in less time and with less cost. This happens because as product quality increases, rework for building the wrong thing goes down. As workflow quality increases, rework due to delays in feedback go down. It is also useful to note that risk also goes down as these factors work together.

The issue isn’t to see how to best do trade offs. It’s to understand that these five aspects work together and that true value can be realized in less time. This is the heart of business agility – the ability to realize value quickly, sustainably, predictably and with high quality.

This doesn't, of course, mean schedules don't matter. But it facilitates us focusing on delivering the most important value in an efficient method.

Posted on: September 05, 2021 10:52 AM | Permalink

Comments (1)

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You bring up a good point about quality. The iron triangle would be better represented by a pyramid, with quality as a third point on the base, to better reflect that the aggregate of all four considerations is not two-dimensional in nature.

However, this still does not eliminate the tension between the points of the pyramid. Two of the critical factors that affect this tension are uncertainty and timing, and these are closely related. I'm not going to start preaching to the choir with a lecture on the cone of uncertainty, I just want to point out that I've had several projects that were considered off schedule or over budget because a ROM estimate was treated as a commitment before the project was fully scoped. I once had a project that was considered late, before it even started, because commitments were made to complete several projects without taking into account other work that had to be performed before the projects could begin. In this case, I believe things wandered past uncertainty, but I'll withhold my opinion in a public forum. (I've got nothing against portfolio roadmaps; they can be very helpful. But I think people forget that the future cannot be locked in stone.)

I would argue that the tension between scope, cost, and time (and quality), is often artificial, manufactured as a result of committing to cost and time when it is too early in a project to know what a more realistic commitment should be.

This isn't the only reason for the tension, and there are additional variables, including existing waste that was previously created (because we don't often have environments or systems with a clean slate). Understanding, and addressing, the variables and factors in your organization that create tension in the triple (quadruple?) constraint will go a long way toward improving business agility.

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