Do Not Stick to the Iron Triangle in Project Management

Do not stick to the Iron Triangle in Project Management. Only time proves the success of a project. Not the successful realization of the Triple Constraint (scope, time, and cost), the famous Iron Triangle.

Consider the following two examples: the Boeing 737 MAX 8 project and the Sydney Opera House project.

The Boeing 737 MAX 8

The Boeing 737 MAX 8 was an initial project management success. The aircraft was delivered on schedule in May 2017 to catch up with its Airbus A320 NEO competitor. Sadly, this initial success was followed by a huge drawback with 2 crashes that killed 346 people. Since then, the aircraft are grounded, customers lost their trust, and Boeing loses several billions of $.

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Fig. 1 – Representation of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 Benefits

The Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House project has been an initial failure. Budget increased from AU $7 million to AU $102 million. The delivery was 10 years behind schedule. This project became a study in the domain of project failure. Who remembers the name of the architect, the Dane Jørn Utzon? The overrun on the Opera House, and the controversy that followed, destroyed Utzon’s career and kept him from building more masterpieces. He had even to leave Australia and the Opera House, in the middle of construction and never returned. Yet the Opera House is today a worldwide attraction for millions of tourists and a major success for Australia. the Australian government even recouped the massive cost after only two years. More than 8.2 million people from Australia and around the world visit it each year and some 300,000 people take part in guided tours. Isn’t it a huge success?

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Fig. 2 – Representation of the Sydney Opera House Benefits

Key Takeaways

What you want in reality is sustainable success, not costs, schedule or scope. Here are my three takeaways:

  • Quality (the “fourth dimension” of the Iron Triangle) must be the priority one. The Sydney Opera House is a superb iconic building that sooner or later would deserve its rewards. Performance was maybe bounded (by its Triple Constraint overrun), yet its success is unbounded[1].
  • The Iron Triangle is nothing more than an excessive set of constraints. Ease them to make sure that you achieve the right “quality”, that is what the users will get from your project. A few more months and redundant systems would have cost more than initially forecasted by Boeing, yet much less than the costs incurred by the tragedies of the crashes.
  • Above all, replace the efforts you devote to the Triple Constraint by efforts to reduce the fragilities of your project. A fragility is anything that does not like uncertainty, volatility, disorder, or time[2]. Never focus too much on efficiency alone. For example, imitate human bodies that reduce their fragility thanks to redundant eyes, lungs or kidneys.  

Do you agree?

Warmly

Philippe Husser

The article is inspired from the 5th version of my book The High-Impact PMO, Why and how agile project management officers deliver value in a complex world” that you can buy on Amazon

Or read my most successful articles here:

High-Impact PMO



[1] Read L. Barabasi, The Formula

[2] Read N. Taleb, Incerto

The image of the Syndey Opera House is from Patty Jansen, Pixabay