The Project Triangle

In 2012, a conference speaker introduced me to the concept of the project triangle. (I’ve also heard it called the scope triangle and the iron triangle.) We were asked to prioritize: Do you want it fast? Do you want it cheap? Do you want it good? Change in one factor affects the other factors. Good, fast projects are usually not cheap. Cheap, good projects may not be fast, and fast, cheap projects….well, we’ve probably all experienced those.  Sometimes fast and cheap fits the need.

Though project management experts now have a Project Diamond and a six-pointed project management star, sticking with three factors has served me well so far. When taking on (or being assigned) a project I try to be clear on my priorities and those of any stakeholders. Without that clarity, I may be keeping an eagle eye on the budget, when top quality is what the stakeholders have in mind. Or I might seek a certain quality, when speed is most important.

In exploring the project triangle with middle school students, I find that budget does not concern most of them. The middle school project triangle more accurately asks: How much time? How much effort? How good? While a deadline might be set by others, the amount of time invested in the project is under the student’s control.  Effort is under a student’s control.  A rubric can provide standards for rankings of “Excellent” to “Needs Improvement.”

A discussion of the project triangle in the beginning stages of an assignment can encourage students to take ownership of their ultimate result. In juggling multiple projects, recognizing that I have control of how much of my time and how much of my effort I put into a project can help put things in perspective. Reflecting (and asking students to reflect) on personal choices for time, budget (effort) and quality both pre- and post-project can yield insights into choices made, and how different allocations might have benefitted or hurt both personal stress levels and the finished products.

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