The Magic Triangle in Project Management
What is the Magic Triangle?
Exceeding this timeframe can have cost implications, as additional funding may be required to ensure that the project does not deviate significantly from schedule.
This relationship can be easily illustrated with an everyday example. When we use the post office for express delivery, we pay a higher price than for standard delivery because we get the package in a shorter time. The same applies to project management. Conflicts between deadlines and costs often arise in the final stages of a project or shortly before a milestone is reached. In such situations, when time is tight and deadlines have to be met, the question always arises as to whether there is a budget available to, for example, send additional staff to the site to make up for the time lag, or whether it is possible to adjust the deadline target. Alternatively, the quality of the work can be adjusted to meet the deadline. In such a situation, it is important to decide what the priorities are: Does the client want to meet the deadline at all costs, or is he more cost sensitive and willing to accept that the deadline will be missed? Are they even prepared to compromise on quality in order to meet the deadline?
The problem arises when the budget is used up. When all activities have been planned and the remaining resources are known, the project manager must decide whether to complete the project within the budget using cheaper materials, or to prioritise quality and increase the budget if possible. Again, it may be possible to bring costs back into line by adjusting the schedule. For example, it may be possible to save money by postponing the deadline.
However, there may also be problems between performance and cost or time. The project may contain particularly challenging structural components or even artistic elements, such as an intricately carved staircase in a foyer, a highly sensitive technical room or a significant stained glass window. In such cases, detailed planning is usually required. Particularly with complex installations, it is often the case that the project cannot be completed on time or on budget, either because a specialist firm requires more time or staff than originally planned, or because unexpected problems arise due to unusual circumstances. This can lead to conflicts between the target schedule, the cost and the level of detail or scope of the design. The project team must work closely with the client to identify all possible alternatives and quickly decide whether quality, cost or time is the priority.
Keeping the Magic Triangle in balance
If the objectives change during the course of the project, because the customer introduces a change, resources are not available or external influences affect the project, the planning has to be changed, i.e., the corners become unbalanced and a compromise has to be found. This depends very much on which of the three goals the client is most concerned with. Is the budget to be met? Should full quality be delivered? Or should the deadline not be exceeded? This shows that the Magic Triangle is not a rigid construct, but a flexible one that allows adjustments to be made and priorities to be set.
If quality is the priority and unexpected events occur, cost and/or time must be adjusted to meet the quality target. Adjusting the cost target may mean hiring more people. Shifting the deadline may mean that existing staff have more time to deliver the required quality.
However, if the focus is on time, either the quality will have to be reduced, i.e. some requirements will have to be cut, or the cost will have to be increased in order to hire more people. Especially in the latter case, it is important to get the customer's approval for a budget increase in advance.
These examples show how flexible the magic triangle must be and how much attention must be paid to each aspect in order to satisfy the client.
To this end, it makes sense to develop a change request process. No matter how well a project is planned, deviations can still occur. This process ensures that changes are not simply implemented, but that the team can decide whether the change is necessary at all, and what adjustments need to be made to integrate the change.