Can Agile Conquer the Physics of the Triple Constraint?

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I recently saw a presentation from an advertising agency that claimed it would be able to do what no other company had: It had figured out how to deliver complex projects (in comparison
to other digital advertising projects) inexpensively, on spec and faster than any other firm in the pitch.  It was more of a tag line, so there was little by way of explanation behind the claim.

I held my tongue during the formal pitch, but made a point to ask the presenter a few questions after the meeting. Primarily, I wanted to know if he had heard of the triple constraint. The "iron triangle" as some refer to it, defines three pillars: cost, scope and time. It asserts that you have to prioritize the three with an understanding that trying to have all of them at the same time compromises quality.

Some assert that several additional factors come into play when discussing a project's success. I agree with this, but I disagree with removing the triple constraint model from training, as I believe it's such an easy concept to teach, understand and enforce.

My confidence in the triple constraint made it hard for me to believe that anyone had truly convinced themselves they could beat what is, essentially, physics. But sure enough, I got a very firm response from the organization: "We are able to deliver this service because we take an agile approach in our production processes, making us more efficient and thus able to deliver more value for the customer."

Confused, I pressed a little further.

"As I understand it, agile as a methodology does not allow you to overcome the basic physics outlined in the triple constraint. Agile simply prioritizes the tradeoff as one of scope rather than time or quality," I said.

Of course, it wasn't a discussion I was going to win in this setting. Looking around, I saw that the speaker's entire management team had bought into the theory and were smiling proudly at their triumph. I let it go. But it struck me how much confusion still seems to be out there around the triple constraint and the ability of newer methodologies such as agile to overcome it.

How many of you have had your management tell you to explore agile as a way to get your current project work done faster without sacrificing any of the three pillars? And how many of you still use the triple constraint to help you explain the basics physics around project execution?
Posted by Geoff Mattie on: November 29, 2010 04:13 PM | Permalink

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