Devil’s Triangle of Project Management

Say what?
One of the basic principles I’ve learned during a college about Project Management is the concept of the “Devil’s Triangle”. Although it’s a very simple concept in nature, it’s powerful when (failed to be) understood.

As you might have expected, there are three sides to our triangle:

  • Time
  • Cost
  • Quality

Devil’s Triangle of Project Management

Three is a charm
The basic rule is that you choose one primary and one secondary focus of your triangle. The third one is something you just have to accept.

Examples
If we choose to go for a low budget (cost) and fast paced project (time), then we will have to cut in features (quality).
If we choose to increase or pace (time), we will have to sacrifice either quality or money (cost).

Risk
In addition to these three sides, we’ll have an extra factor in the middle called “Risk”. This is something that will influence each side. When a certain risk occurs, it will have an impact on at least one of our sides.

Examples
If one of our senior developers would turn sick (risk), we would need to replace him/her. This would cause us to rethink our plans in terms of:

  • Replace him/her by a senior consultant : cost increase, quality (should) remain, time line (should) remain
  • Replace him/her by a junior team member : cost decrease, quality might remain, time line will probably be longer

As you can see, you’ll need to decide (upfront) with your stakeholders which areas they value as important. Where you have to clarify that it’s not possible to win on all area’s, but that you just have to accept one side of the triangle.

4 thoughts on “Devil’s Triangle of Project Management

  1. Hi,

    I would really like to re-publish this article on PM Hut. PM Hut is a very large database of project management articles written by experienced people such as yourself. The thing is I could not find your name anywhere on the site in order to properly attribute the article to you. Would it possible to email me a small bio about yourself/your company so that I can append it at the end of the article.

    Thanks a lot!

  2. The Devil’s triangle is a tragic misconception in project management, and responsible for a lot of wrong trade-offs, especially in software development projects. Only if you’re going to deliver a higher quality than required/agreed-upon, than it will cost you more time and money. For the rest, it is not the quality that is expensive and/or cost time, but rather the lack of it. The cost of non-quality is not immediately visible, but enormous on the long run.

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