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The Project Triangle
The Time - Money - Quality Paradigm revealed

The context of the Time - Money - Quality design paradigm or triangle is rooted in an old, universally accepted project management visualization tool known as the "Project Triangle". The relationships between the three values describes the challenges a designer or developer face when undertaking any project. While the goal of every project is to maximize all three of these factors, typically one suffers at the expense of the other two. This roughly translates into "you get what you pay for".

That being said, there are factors you may want to consider. If, from the ground up, the designer or developer has a well established understanding of the client's needs, the time factors can be minimized without sacrificing quality. This is not a one-way street in any event. The client has to be wiling to take responsibility for their half of the understanding. It's like any good relationship. And the better the relationship, the more to be gained.

Another way we are able to mitigate the time and cost factors for most web development projects is to provide a robust suite of user tools with every web project that far exceeds most client's requirements. Bring the best tools to the table is our way of holding up our end of the relationship. But alas, design (as in graphic design) typically remains the wild card. Design is such a subjective process. By adhering to our well established design approach, we can help mitigate costs, but it doesn't often allow control over a client's evolving view of what they want and how they expect us to meet their evolving expectations. For more on the design process - click here.

As a client, it's important to consider how well you understand the process and constraints represented by the project triangle, and if you are prepared to pay for the level of quality you expect. If you want to know more about the project triangle, read on. If you would like to discuss how to be more effective in your project choices, feel free to contact me for more information.


The Project Triangle

The real value of the project triangle is to show the complexity that is present in any project. The plane area of the triangle represents the near infinite variations of priorities that could exist between the three competing values. By acknowledging the limitless variety, possible within the triangle, using this graphic aid can facilitate better project decisions and planning and ensure alignment among team members and the project owners.

The project triangle as a "pick any two" proposition.

You are given the options of Fast (Time), Good (Quality) and Cheap (Money), and told to pick any two. Here Fast refers to the time required to create the deliverables, Good equates to the Quality of the final product, and Cheap refers to the total Cost of designing and building the final product. This triangle reflects the fact that the three properties of a project are interrelated, and it is not possible to optimize all three one will always suffer. In other words you have three options:

  • Design something quickly and to a high standard, but then it will not be cheap.
  • Design something quickly and cheaply, but it will not be of high quality.
  • Design something with high quality and cheaply, but it will take a long time.
Traditionally the project triangle model recognized three key constraints; "Cost", "Time" and "Scope". These constraints construct a triangle with geometric proportions illustrating the strong interdependent relationship between the factors. If there is a requirement to shift any one of these factors, at least one of the other factors must also be adjusted. With mainstream acceptance of the model, "Cost" and "Time" appear to be represented consistently. "Scope" however is often used interchangeably given the context of the triangle's illustration or the perception of the respective project. Scope / Goal / Product / Deliverable / Quality are all relatively similar and generic variations.

This widespread use of variations implies a level of ambiguity carried by the nuance of the third constraint term and of course a level of value in the flexibility of the model. This ambiguity allows blurs focus between a project's output and project's process, with the examples above having potentially different impetus in the two contexts. Both "Cost" and "Time" represent the top level project's inputs.

Dave Green is the lead project manager, architect and designer at Readywebgo.

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Tags: design  project management  money time quality  developer  designer 


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