The Iron Triangle, also known as the “Triple Constraint,” is the idea that Scope, Cost, and Schedule are intricately linked, so that, for any given project, it’s impossible to change one while leaving the others as-is. A corollary axiom, out of “Quality, Price, and Availability: one can only pick any two,” is an often-overlooked truth, but it drives wide sections of current management science, and can explain why there are never-ending conflicts in the Project Management world.
Problem #1: The Vendor selection is never good enough.
The strategy of awarding contracts to the lowest bidder, as it is seen in majority of the projects. Going by the “pick any two” rule, there are only three possible management approaches to a given project:
For Government-sponsored projects, it is the trend to let procurements based on the lowest bidder. In this case approach #1 above is already ruled out. Doesn’t matter which of the remaining two approaches are pursued, the stakeholders who invested will complain long and loud since they will face lack of able vendors or lack of quality deliverables. Even in the instances where the service (or goods) being sought requires high quality and an aggressive schedule, criticisms will be levied about its costs being too high. It’s generally impossible to deliver comparatively high-quality, affordable services (or goods) with a ready availability.
This is where the private sector has a real advantage. In the case of IT services, some companies set up their business model for those clients who need immediate requirement at an affordable price, and staff their companies with IT professionals (known as fresher’s) in modest facilities. Other companies can concentrate on personnel with specialized and niche skillsets who can keep prices reasonable because their clients don’t need immediate attention, and can typically wait for an appointment. Still other companies can charge a premium for those clients who need to cater to requirements immediately for complex problems, and all three of these business approaches can exist side-by-side, with the most successful ones being determined by the client’s choices. This is rarely the case in Government projects, which tend to impact broader sections of their constituents in such a way that other alternatives are excluded.
The above problem is one of the reasons why the practice of formal Project Management techniques is so crucial. Regardless of which two of the three preferred attributes are chosen, the precise relationship among Scope, Cost, and Schedule is locked in when the three baselines are “frozen,” and subject to formal change control. It’s a way of making sure everyone (appropriately) involved agrees on what’s being delivered, at what cost, and by which date, with claims of deceit or poor performance evaluated in terms of the already agreed parameters.
But this is also why some Project Managers will never escape accusations of failing to meet the expectations of some group of stakeholders.
Problem #2: Project Without a Scope Creep
On a high level this resembles problem #1 since it’s also based on the “pick any two” corollary. Once the project is underway, getting more or better services (or goods) is the only informally negotiable member of the Iron Triangle left available. Costs are quantified in currency, and schedules depicted in day but better quality can be requested in many circumstances where those parameters aren’t precisely captured, especially if the improved quality being sought is a result of the project team working harder or longer. Since quality is usually far more difficult to precisely quantify than cost or schedule one can make a claim to offer a quality service (or goods) with more confidence of never being proved false than the claim of being the lowest-priced, or fastest available. It’s in this very characteristic of quality management that the clients set on maximizing their “value” by attempting to informally increase the scope and take advantage, and even seasoned PMs are vulnerable to them.
In other words, post-contract, a customer who requests a reduction in budget or who desires services (or goods) delivery sooner than negotiated can be easily rebuffed. But the client who complains about inattention to quality will usually be seen next to impossible to contradict or refute.
When it comes to the next generation of Project Managers, I believe they have a case if or when they assert that these two long-standing problems should have been addressed, if not solved out-and-out solved. That being said, they could also easily pass these two problems on to the next generation of PMs, meaning that these two Project Management Problems, among others, are possibly never-ending.