For years, we’ve overheard project managers muttering the same mantra: “On time, on scope, on budget.” A project’s value is still determined by this “triple constraints model” where one must try to align these three factors in order to bring a project to successful completion.
Well, fellow PMs, it’s time to let go of this model, because while you may think it’s your key to success, I’d argue it’s your key to consistent failure. Here’s an example that explains why:
France has been known as the greatest culinary destination in the world for decades. What may surprise you is that despite that stellar reputation, in 2014, only five French restaurants made the list of top 50 best restaurants in the world. In fact, since 1990, Paris restaurants had been called out for being predictable and boring. A Parisian chef set about finding out why and revealed a disappointing truth: 70% of French restaurants were ordering pre-cooked meals and simply reheating them on the spot with a microwave! From a triple constraints perspective, customers were getting their meals on time, on scope, and on budget. But the actual results stank.
Dr. Harold Kerzner posted a blog about his 2018 project management predictions, which starts off talking about how the three constraints have the foul smell of rot. His first three predictions include expanding constraints, prioritizing constraints, and ensuring that projects align with business value.
Constraints are NOT binary.
Before we even go any further, we need to change how we think about constraints for key performance indicators (KPIs). We learn to evaluate them in one of two states: either fulfilled or unfulfilled. There’s no middle, no grey zone: It’s binary.
The problem is that it’s not true! It’s not all or nothing; it’s constantly adjusting through ebbs and flows. Instead, think of constraints as a rubber band: it’s flexible and can be stretched a little, but if you go a little too far in two opposing directions, it breaks.
Adjusting constraints according to project value
There are several other constraints models out there that include more than the original three. While those may be applicable to your project, we’re seeing a pattern emerging: If every project has a unique goal and definition of value, how can they all follow the same constraints to determine success?
In Dr. Kerzner’s book Project Management 2.0, he gives a great example from Disneyland and Disneyworld where project managers defined six constraints: the original three plus safety, quality, and aesthetic value. What those project managers realized was that in order to deliver a valuable end result to their customer, the additional three constraints were critical. Would you happily climb onto a ride where safety wasn’t even seen as a factor for success during its construction? That would give you a real reason to scream!
Dr. Kerzner’s 2018 predictions on metrics says that tracking will now include constraints that fit our business value needs (in addition to the original three). For example, a restaurant could add customer experience and reputation as a constraint. By adding those two, the recipes would change to include fresh local ingredients, exciting new flavors, and blow-your-mind food presentation. The project cost and time may go up, the scope will change, but wouldn’t you rather eat there as opposed to the place where they microwave precooked frozen dishes?
We will now have to face a tradeoff dilemma. We can’t have very high-quality food AND a quick turnaround since the “rubber band” will break, as these are two opposing constraints. This will put us in a position where we’ll need to balance the constraints in order to achieve an end result that still delivers great business value and is in line with our definition of project success.
Another of Dr. Kerzner’s prediction for 2018 is that smart organizations will dedicate time to properly prioritizing constraints. As the number of things to track increase (time, cost, scope, flavor, freshness, excitement, safety, etc.), the potential for battle between them increases accordingly. Time will fight against freshness and safety. Scope will fight against cost and excitement. In the end, it will be impossible for all to win equally.
Sacrifices will have to be made.
In order to successfully manage this fight, PMs will need to understand the necessary trade-offs and opportunity costs associated. Meaning that success will rely heavily on prioritization. As discussed in a previous blog post that asks if project managers are really admins since they spend too much time tracking, we’ll need to ensure that our project process includes an agreed-upon framework for prioritizing constraints. The obvious trap when adding metrics and constraints is that the amount of administrative work (i.e., tracking) increases and becomes more complex. Project and product managers will have to find a way to quickly evaluate priorities in order to better balance their workloads and continue to develop business value.
Building a prioritization process for value
Dr. Kerzner predicts that our competitors will be focused on value, value, and more value. Really, it’s the root of this whole exercise. Determining what value our project provides gives us the constraints for success that we need to track for the project. But one question still remains: How do we prioritize?
Once all the project stakeholders agree on those new constraints, they need to be listed in order of importance. What constraint provides the most value? Which one provides the second-most important value? And so on. The key here is to get all of the project’s participants in agreement: that means the stakeholders, clients, the team, everyone. This makes sure everyone is on the same page when dealing with priorities, and the objectives are clear.
Dr. Kerzner’s first three predictions, evolving our project tracking methods, adjusting our constraints, as well as delivering ever-increasing value, are all essentially connected. I don’t believe you can keep up with your progressive competitors by succeeding in one and not the other. Think of the French restaurants: With no regard for delivering value, they focused on constraints that created a mediocre end result. It’s critical to think about the business value goal as well as the objectives to get us there (the project constraints), and how to prioritize them since we know we will not meet all constraints at the same top-notch level.
Finally, bake in the process how to set up the right metrics into your project methodology, blueprint, framework, or whatever you call your process. Consider it critical to scale the method to all of your projects regardless of size. Metrics is only part of the story, because it’s only about tracking. So ensure we know the why and how along with the what.
Good luck with your recipes for 2018 and beyond!
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This article originally appeared on the Pie blog and is republished by permission.