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I was reading the PMI “Pulse of the Profession – 2018” recently, and a little side blurb in the Executive Summary caught my eye.  Labeled “Performance Levels”, it opens with the sentence:

“The traditional measures of scope, time, and cost are essential but no longer sufficient in today’s competitive environment.  The ability of projects to deliver what they set out to do – the expected business benefits – is what organizations need.” – PMI Pulse of the Profession – 2018 – Page 3

These two little sentences speak volumes about the project management community of practice, if you take a minute and think about what it represents, and the truth of what is expected of our profession.  I don’t know about you, but I have been in this profession for a long time, over 20 years at this point.  I have been in the profession long enough to see some methodologies mature, new ones have come on the scene, and others have withered and died.  Through it all, the majority of members of the Project Management profession have focused on the “VALUE” of the Triple Constraints of Project Management. 

Triple Constraints of Project Management – Scope / Schedule / Budget

Think back over your career as a Project Manager.  During a job interview, were you ever asked to define the concepts of the “Triple Constraints”, and explain in your own words what they are, and why they are important?  I have been asked, and I have asked that question many times while sitting on both sides of the interview table.  It used to be a foundational question, which gave you insight into what the person across the table considered important for the successful delivery of a project.

How about this statement?  If you change any side of the Triple Constraints, you impact the other two, and you introduce risk into the successful delivery of your project.  Have you heard it?  Have you said it to a project sponsor or project team?  I know I have over the last 20 years of my career. 

Project Sponsors were always so focused on one aspect of the Triple Constraints.  Some executive in the project would tell you that “The Schedule” is all that matters. I don’t care what it costs, but we have to deliver on time!”  Your finance manager would tell you that all that matters is “The Budget”.  Cut scope but keep the project on or below budget.  And the original project owner would tell you that we must deliver the full, defined scope of the project.  Regardless of the cost or the time, they needed every function and feature that they defined as the deliverables.  Every one of these executives had, in their own perception, defined for you, the Project Manager, what was the most valuable aspect of the project – TO THEM!

In all those conversations, it would be extremely rare that the conversation would encompass a discussion on the true “Business Value” of the project.  What does “Success” look like at the completion of the project?  Somehow or somewhere, there was originally a problem that needed to be solved, and the project was a response to solve that problem.  What happened?  How did the resolution of the problem get lost in the focus on “Scope / Schedule / Budget”?

“Business Value” vs “Triple Constraints”

So, what happens when you change the perspective of a “Successful Project”?  What if you focused on delivery of the “Business Value”, and while tracking, and managing the “Triple Constraints” of your project, they were not the primary driving criteria for making project decisions?  Do you think your view of a “successful project” would change?  Do you think that you could be more successful as a Project Manager, if you knew what success looked like before you started the project?  I believe it would.  I have been in organizations where it has made a significant difference. 

What if you started your entire delivery methodology with a Project Intake Process that asked those questions in the very beginning before the project started?  What is the business problem that needs to be solved?  What is the opportunity or business value if we solve this problem?  What does “Project Success” look like, or how will we know we have solved the original problem that was defined?  Can you answer those three questions about the projects you are managing now?  If not, why not?

While I understand this is an overly simplistic view of success, think about it.  You are working on a project that is supposed to be delivering a value to the business.  Somehow, in many organizations, the delivery of value, gets lost in the delivery of “scope / schedule / budget”.  Which vision of success is more valuable and could possibly make significant difference in your organization? 

Don’t underestimate the importance of truly understanding your business value, and what success looks like.  I am not advocating that we abandon the principles of the Triple Constraint, but I do advocate we expand our perception of success to include and truly understand the original reason for the project, and what the definition of “success” is when you are accountable for delivering a successful project!


Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Don Clarke

Don Clarke

Co-Founder: Project Management for Today

As a Co-Founder of the website, Don Clarke has over 20  years of experience in the Project Management / Program Management space.  Having worked for a variety of companies over the last 20 years, he brings a strong base of knowledge in the industry.  Establishing or helping redefine multiple PMO's during this time, there is a unique perspective to his approach to developing the value of a Project Management Office (PMO), as well as his approach to leadership development within the organization.  Having been privileged to have multiple career defining mentoring experiences, Don realizes the importance of sharing that experience and giving back to the organizations where he is engaged.


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