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The Triple Restraint

(Originally Published On Iowabiz.com in May 2007)

Some of you may be saying, "Um... Tim... are you sure you don't mean the triple CONSTRAINT?  You said 'restraint.'  I think you got that wrong."

Tripleconstraint_2 To which I answer:  nope.  I meant it.  The triple RESTRAINT.  The triple constraint, as many of you are already aware, is the core principle of project management.  It's the good-fast-cheap-choose-two mindset.  It means that something's gotta give.  Good project managers can generally manage to one of the three:  schedule, scope, or resources.  Excellent project managers more often than not can manage to two of the three.  Very few can give their clients everything they want without altering the space-time continuum (and then being selfish enough not to share their advanced physics knowledge with the rest of us... GRRRR).

The point of this is that we all recognize that there has to be a trade off.  For many small businesses, that trade-off comes in the form of time or money.  Show me a small business owner who says she or he has more than enough of either of these, and I'll show you a small business owner who is probably stagnating and/or is in denial.  Hence, scope and quality get short-changed. 

Regardless of the size of your business, you have to identify two things:  which constraint absolutely cannot budge regardless or circumstances (e.g., we absolutely have to open our new store in time for the summer season) and which constraint has the most give (e.g., spend as much as you need to in order to get it right).  The problem falls with the latter:  we never identify the flexible constraint.  So all three become a RESTRAINT such that NOTHING moves forwared or gets done.  By demanding that all three are managed to unrealistic expectations, you've just bound (and gagged) your project stakeholders.  And you've inadvertantly created a culture where bad news will not be shared (and believe me, there will be bad news).

So before you undertake your next major project for your small business, take out a piece of paper and draw a triangle.  Label your schedule, your resources, and what you need to do.  And then think ahead to that inevitable point in the project when push comes to shove.  And figure out what absolutely cannot give.  And then drink a healthy dose of the humility-reality cocktail to figure out what must give for the project to move forward.  See?  You're already half-way to becoming a better project manager.

Carpe Factum!!!


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I'll raise a cocktail glass to this post. Excellent advice and yes, something always has to give so it's best to know up front what you can sacrifice to shift back into forward.

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