Project Negotiations and the Iron Triangle

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  • and realized that there weren't many visible achievements scheduled for the third quarter. Shipping your product in the third quarter was one of several possibilities.
  • The executive was wondering if you had inflated your schedule and figured it couldn't hurt to ask if you could pull it in.

Your response to the request will be more effective if you know the other person's motivation. If a request is driven by a pressing business need, pushing back may be a waste of time, but blindly agreeing to the request may be just as bad. The real question is: can you find a way to satisfy the schedule goals with a useful product and the resources available?

Problem Solving with the Iron Triangle
Project negotiations often involve competing pressures among the three triangle sides of project definition and performance:

  • Scope--What is desired (features, functions, quality, performance, and compliance with constraints)
  • Schedule--When a work product is desired
  • Resources--The people, equipment, facilities, and materials needed to do the work

Change in one project element often requires accommodation in the others. This fact can help with project-related problem solving by suggesting where to look for relief.

Let's take a few of the possible motivations above and explore where we might look for changes to accommodate the executive's schedule request:

  • The executive just had coffee with a potential new client who would buy a jillion copies of your product if it were available by September 1.

Does the client need all the functions planned for the full product? Perhaps we could identify a functional subset of the product that would satisfy the new client while reducing the scope of development and testing.

If you think this is a firm business proposition, might we take a loan against the expected profit on the jillion units and hire additional human resources in order to accelerate the schedule? If adding people to the project is not a viable option, could we use the money as an incentive bonus for the team?

  • The executive just overheard a competitor discussing the September availability date of a comparable product.

Is it important we ship earlier, or is the concern a marketing issue? May we pre-announce availability of our product without changing the ship date to deal with the marketing pressure? Do we believe we have capabilities that distinguish us from our competition?

  • The executive just found out that venture capitalists expressed concerns about your company's ability to deliver. The next meeting with the Venture Capital firm is September 15.
  • The executive was intrigued by a trade show booth presentation he just saw and was imagining your product being similarly demonstrated at a trade show scheduled for mid September.

Do we need to ship sooner, or might we be able to divert some resources toward building a demo system for the VC meeting or trade show? If the original schedule was already tight, you might want to explain that rushing the product might introduce quality issues, which will reflect poorly on the company. You might also ask whether it would be possible to change the meeting with the VC's to October so that you could show them the shipped system.

  • The executive was updating his "accomplishments for the second quarter" slide for the big boss and realized that there weren't many visible achievements scheduled for the third quarter. Shipping your product in the third quarter was one of several possibilities.
  • The executive was wondering if you had inflated your schedule and figured it couldn't hurt to ask if you could pull it in.

This is a chance to let the executive know whether

About the author

Payson Hall's picture Payson Hall

Payson Hall is a consulting project manager for Catalysis Group, Inc. in Sacramento, California. Payson consults on project management issues and teaches project management. Email Payson at payson@catalysisgroup.com. Follow him on twitter at @paysonhall.

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