In project management, there’s a model called the project management triangle or iron triangle. To achieve quality with a project, project managers are constantly balancing scope, time and costs. These three constraints of a project make up the three corners, or sides of the triangle. Quality is at the center, and when one side is longer than the other, the symmetry of the triangle is disturbed, and thus quality is threatened.
The three sides of the iron triangle.
Scope: The specific features, objectives and requirements of a project that need to be delivered.
Time: The total estimated time to complete each task within the scope of the project.
Costs: Estimated labour rates, overhead, materials each can factor in the costs associated with a project.
“Good, fast, cheap. Choose two.”
In theory, to achieve the highest quality, there is an ideal trade-off between cost, scope and time. But in reality, trade-offs are not always possible. Projects often run longer on time, and if the budget can’t be increased or scope trimmed, quality suffers. Alternatively, a project can be sped up with added costs and changes to scope.
Good and fast is not cheap.
Fast and cheap is never good.
Cheap and good is rarely fast.
The quality of work is finite to perfection. Yet, cost, scope, and time are infinitely exchanged within a project. Project managers are continually trading between the triangle’s constraints to achieve the best quality they can.
Quality of the project management triangle does not define a project’s success.
The project management triangle is often used to define a project’s success by delivering the scope within the constraints. Delivering a product’s scope on-time and within a budget does not necessarily represent a project’s success. There are many factors, such as knowledge-gathering, user satisfaction, and any impact the project has on important stakeholders that come in to play.
The project management triangle is a visual representation of the three fundamental constraints that are a part of almost any project. While some constraints may be laxer than others, they are still factors. Projects of high quality are rarely the product of limitless scope, infinite time and bottomless budgets. There are limits in real life, and finding the right tools, such as online employee time and expense sheet system, goes a long way in delivering quality work within those limits.
While success is not ultimately tied to the quality of a project, failure certainly is. When a project’s constraints are allowed to run amok, the triangle becomes unbalanced, and quality suffers. When quality suffers for long enough, success is nearly impossible to achieve.