Tuesday, 02 December 2014 00:00

Traditional Iron Triangle vs. Agile Triangle

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triangleIn the world of construction projects, cost and time management usually have a greater influence than scope management — despite how big they are.

Having said that, construction projects usually suffer from cost and time overruns. In some cases, those can be a symptom of productivity issues. However, if we better analyse their root causes, we will discover they are issues in the overall value management of the final project deliverables.

Productivity problems are widely analysed and studied by construction companies and general contractors. In this analysis, it is mostly taken by time and cost management, as these are the constraints that ultimately influence the main decisions about the management of a construction project.

The management of a construction project is generally done as follows:

The scope is first analysed by the company that sponsors the project. After that, this analysis is passed to the construction company that, in the execution of the project, will update the scope according to the sponsor change requests. During this work the focus will be on the management of the relationships among the main project stakeholders in a construction project.

Could there be a better approach to this?

Time and cost in a project can be difficult to plan in advance. Especially since construction projects, by the very fact that they are done outdoors, are likely to be impacted by time delays.

The project manager will manage the schedule the best way they can. But, are we sure there are no other priorities that he or she should consider?

The Project Charter contains the total cost of the project, the overall schedule and the scope that the project will realize. In the Project Charter, we also find the most influential project stakeholders. If during the project initialization the Charter is developed with the main stakeholders, keeping in mind only the traditional project Iron Constraints Triangle, we will lose focus on the actual value the project is meant to deliver.

In this process the most important aspect that we should consider is which company represents the project sponsor. This company will be the one the project manager will have to closely work with, as well as the one to hand the final deliverable of the project to.

Analysing the project sponsor and his or her goals is extremely important. This should be the first thing to consider when project constraints are determined. Also, we should spend time to understand the meaning he or she gives to the project constraints triangle.

In order to conduct an efficient analysis, the first thing to do is ask if the extrinsic quality of the project deliverable is of higher priority compared to time and costs.

As an example, let us put ourselves in the shoes of a project sponsor from a country where that actual value of the project deliverable takes priority against time and cost. We can think of a skyscraper in the Arab Emirates. In particular, let us think what the main sponsor’s goals of Expo 2020 in Dubai can be. The main objective will be to have a majestic event and magnificent buildings. To achieve this objective, innovative architectural designs will be applied, as well as precious materials.

We can say that this will be the sponsor’s objective just by looking at the magnificent and innovative buildings in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong. Of course, time and cost for those projects are managed. But the priority of the project sponsors is the extrinsic value of the deliverable. This means the architectural design and the correct functionality in all its aspect and details take priority over everything.

When we say functionality, we mean the characteristics of the opera, its visual impact and the emotion it leaves in the people that will see and use it.

In order to achieve this objective, an agile approach in the project lifecycle management would be more appropriate than a traditional one. The project manager should concentrate on the value of the opera rather than its constraints. He or she should manage the change proposals that are raised during the execution of the project rather than focus on the adherence to the project plan. In the agile world, this means the focus will be on the extrinsic value of the opera.

A similar approach can be used on the intrinsic quality of the project. When we talk about intrinsic quality in the field of construction projects, we mean architectural elements and construction materials. In order to achieve the intrinsic value, the attention will be on technics used to have high-quality standards, and also on the tools used for controlling during the execution.

If the focus is on the intrinsic value, we know the extrinsic value of the opera will benefit as well.

As anticipated above, the Tradition Iron Triangle will no longer be appropriate. In the Tradition Iron Triangle, the constraints are scope, time and cost. Considering these three constraints as the main success factors of the project will make us lose the main objective and purpose that the opera is built for.

To keep focus on value at the very beginning of the project’s inception, we should consider who asks to realise this new opera, why he or she asks to do this and what is going to be the main purpose of the opera.
If we ask ourselves some questions about who, why and what; if we help the project sponsor pay more attention to the value of the opera rather than cost and time; if we focus on the opera’s purpose, its visual characteristics and functionality; if we finally focus on the main purpose of the opera, its extrinsic value, then the Agile Project Triangle is the best one to be applied.

On one vertex of the Agile Project Triangle, we have the intrinsic quality of the opera. On the second vertex, we have time and cost constraints. On top of the triangle we will have the extrinsic quality: the value of the opera to build.

The Agile Triangle best represents the case when the priority of the sponsor focuses on the value of the opera, its internal quality and then on time and cost.

With this approach, the project will be seen feasibly from a different perspective, and will be planned as such. At this point in the project lifecycle, it will be important to have constant and direct contact with the project sponsor in order to define clear priorities and the most critical features of the final deliverable. It will be important to analyse the building techniques to maximise the value of the final deliverable, as well as its internal quality.

The same should be done during the project activity definition and scheduling. Time and cost should be estimated according to the value of what the project is meant to deliver. It will be important to keep in mind whom the project will serve and why. This last aspect will be considered as the intrinsic meaning of the opera the project will deliver.

All of the above can be summarized by saying that in construction projects, the traditional triangle with scope, time and cost constraints is not appropriate because it doesn’t focus on the priorities of the project sponsor. With this in mind, it will be clear that the appropriate approach to apply will be based on the Agile Triangle.

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Massimo Longo

Massimo Longo PMP, PMI-RMP, PMI-SP, is a Project Manager in the construction field, and has been managing projects for almost 25 years in the public and private areas. He is very interested in studying project management methodologies as agile methods for improving his skills. In his spare time, he supports non-profit associations with project management coaching and mentoring.

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