Balancing the Critical Project Management Constraints with Six Easy Tips
In my last blog, I looked at the Project Management triangle, and the need to balance cost, scope, and schedule. I used, as an example, a construction project to create a new master bedroom suite.
I introduced the notion that with the development of Agile thinking, we needed to expand our thinking on the triple constraint to include some other project management constraints. Perhaps constraint is not the best word. Perhaps we are simply talking about other considerations that are critical to the success of your project.
Areas that experts often agree constitute project management constraints include quality, risks, and resource availability. In this blog, I discuss these areas, and others, and offer six tips that will help you ensure that your project is completed successfully.
6 Tips for Balancing Critical Project Management Constraints
1. Deliver value to the client regularly and frequently.
When a client is paying you to complete a project, the needs and preferences of that client are of paramount importance. And when you are completing a project in a company, government agency, or non-profit, the senior leadership in your organization takes on the role of the client for the project team. By this I mean that the project team’s job is to deliver value, regularly and frequently, to the client.
I’m not sure anyone would consider this idea a project constraint. But teams that are not used to thinking about regularly delivering value to the client can become constrained in their thinking.
It can be a big change in the way that project teams think about their project. No longer is the focus on completing the project on schedule, within budget, and according to the scope. Too often projects have finished with those constraints satisfied quite well, only to find that the client is unhappy. The project team needs to focus on making sure that the client is happy.
The best way to do that is to regularly and frequently deliver something of value to the client so that it can evaluate whether that interim deliverable is a step in the right direction. It doesn’t matter whether that is working software, installed kitchen cabinets, a compensation restructuring report, or a meeting presentation that helps the executives make some outstanding critical decisions. Give the client something of value regularly and frequently.
No longer is the focus on blindly completing the project on schedule, within budget, and according to the scope. The project team needs to focus on making sure that the client is happy. #smartprojex #projectmanagement #team
2. Delivering real value requires a focus on quality and stakeholder communications.
To deliver items that have real value for the client means that we need to understand what the client wants. This requires ongoing, honest dialogue with key decision makers. And it requires that we regularly focus on the quality that is desired for each deliverable. We can’t assume that the client won’t change its mind in a world characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.
When you plan your project, determine how you will understand and manage quality and create a communication plan that outlines the communication needs of your key stakeholders.
3. Regularly work on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of your team.
As I mentioned in my last blog, the project management triangle is sometimes called the iron triangle. This is because, traditionally, we thought that when you changed one constraint in the triangle you must change another. This is not always true.
When you can get your teams to deliver more value with less effort, you improve the project’s bottom line. This may mean removing scope that is unimportant. Or it may mean improving the team’s focus — so that it sees innovative solutions more quickly. Or finds more streamlined ways of achieving the same objective.
4. To better manage resources, shift from a scarcity to an abundance mindset.
In looking at the triple constraint, some experts like to think of managing costs and resources synonymously. After all, your costs are a function of your resources. But when the resources you want are simply unavailable, it’s a different type of project management constraint. Can you shift your mindset from scarcity to abundance? When we change our mindset, we can view our projects and organizations with a sense of gratitude and abundance.
Even in the most cash-strapped and resource-lacking organizations, viewing resources from the perspective of abundance refocuses the conversation from frustration to gratitude, from resource availability to available resources. Managing resources becomes a question of how creatively you can think, and how you value or treat your resources. Even exhaustion from working too hard on a project can be viewed from an abundance mindset.
David Whyte, the English poet, and business consultant, helps businesses “harness the insights and metaphors that poetry can offer to broaden their language, improve interaction within the workplace and stir imaginations.”[i]
According to Whyte, we look at things differently when we are tired or stressed. Until I started reading about Whyte, I viewed that as a bad thing. I rarely pushed myself to use those times of exhaustion to question what is happening. But perhaps our teams can use poetry, among other tools, to better reflect on next steps during challenging or exhausting times. The London Times reported that Whyte likes to use the images and metaphors often found in poetry to explore the problems and conversations that arise in work. He finds that “A lot of the images will have to do with being lost, with not having the usual bearings, and therefore looking at the world in a different way.”[ii]
5. Don’t forget that you need a plan to identify and manage your risks.
I’ve written before about how, occasionally, risks might even trump the triple constraint. That’s not usually the case, but risks can and do impact your project. It’s critical that you have a plan for identifying risks, both at the beginning and throughout the project. And as I’ve frequently said, this requires the team to get together and think deeply about potential risks.
And once you have identified your risks, you need to analyze and manage them, as I explained in this blog on the secret sauce behind risk management.
6. Use organizational tools that improve your results.
A methodology or project tool that is cumbersome to use or ineffective is a project management constraint. I’ve been on a quest for the perfect methodology and project management tools for quite some time and haven’t found them yet.
But some are better than others. And some will work better in your organization than others. Some tools are more geared for linear and predictable projects. Others are more geared to innovation projects, or solo projects.
I would simply caution you to ask yourself a few questions about the tools you are using:
- Do they allow you to document the project details in a streamlined way so that you can find them when you need them?
- Will the tool reduce the time spent trying to find missing documentation that you know you created?
- Can the people who need the documentation, both for review and editing, get what they need, with the right privileges?
Hopefully, you have found these six tips helpful. Balancing project management constraints is not a science but an art and we all work towards the best balance as we seek to successfully move projects from start to finish. There are two areas of consideration that I have omitted from this blog, but not because they are unimportant. It is because they have less to do with the project team and its job of driving a project through successfully. They are benefits realization and sustainability. I’ll save them for subsequent blogs. Stay tuned. And please sign up for my monthly newsletter if you want to make sure you don’t miss them.
[i] ld, “Where Do Bill Gates, Oprah and Steven Spielberg Vacation?”, Aran Isles, 2009, http://www.aran-isles.com/blog/2009/10/where-do-bill-gates-oprah-and.php.
[ii] ld, “Where Do Bill Gates, Oprah and Steven Spielberg Vacation?.”, https://www.ft.com/content/6ab26a24-124e-11de-b816-0000779fd2ac