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2015: A Business Project Odyssey

by Joe Newbert · Updated on Nov 10, 2020

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Hammering The Iron Triangle To Forge Customer Quality

Back in 1200 BC, iron was the new bronze and businesses were forging to the dawn of an emerging market. Demand was high, but there were supply issues: products were not according to specification, they were taking too long to produce, costs were excessive and quality was suffering.  To mitigate their problems, a group of project-mongers created the triple constraints:

Iron Triangle
The Iron Triangle

That’s probably not how the ‘Iron Triangle’ was born *, but I’m happy to start a rumour.  Leaping forward to 1986, and a true story from the annals of project management:

With a revolutionary design and exceeding quality standards, the Taurus became one of the best selling cars in Ford’s history. The result was a remarkable business success: customers loved it, and even in 2012 the Taurus was still winning awards for performance, design, safety, and reliability. Yet when the original five year project was completed, the project manager was fired because the project was three months behind schedule.

Almost a decade later in 1995, Ford decided to build upon the success of the Taurus and, based on the earlier organisational precedent, the Project Manager defined time as the epitome of success, whilst sacrificing other factors. The project was completed on schedule and on budget, yet the product delivered was not well received by customers. So, by iron standards, a resounding success then?

Today, in 2015, we live in the Information Age and marketplaces have evolved. In an era of available knowledge, savvy customers and abundant choice, success can no longer be guaranteed by simply managing the triple constraints. These modern times require contemporary parameters:

Value Triangle
The Newbert Triangle

The fundamental business products, services and support activities must align to the organisations mission and objectives. Benefits must inform decision making to ensure any operational action realises value to the organisation. Change must enable those who lead, manage and execute to embrace the brand, culture and processes. With each aspect placing the customer at heart.

To be clear, I’m not advocating an ‘out with the old’ project mentality, but a complimentary ‘in with the new’ business mentality. Business and project need to better synchronise, through a holistic framework where strategy and tactics intertwine:

The Business Change Hexagon
The Business Change Hexagon

Business change must be strategically managed, focused on achieving business result; project delivery must be tactically managed, focused on implementing operational capability. Concerns such as customer needs, competitive advantage and market success must shape project definition. Project scope, schedule and budget changes must inform organisational impact.

Over 30 years has passed since 1986 and the Fable of the Ford Taurus, and I feel that we’re yet to fully apply the moral of the story. I feel that there remains a tendency to pedestal project constraints to the detriment of business improvement. I feel that this needs to change.

What’s your opinion?

(* The project-management trilemma was cited by Sir Arthur C. Clarke, this is the basis of the popular project management aphorism “Quick, Cheap, Good: Pick two.”)

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