In this introductory article I will share a small insight that may already change the way how you start your projects.
The Control Triangle
No doubt it was part of your very first lesson on project management: as a project manager you control scope, time and cost in a project. We are talking about the Control Triangle that every project manager has become so familiar with. The Control Triangle is emphasized this much that I have seen project managers primarily focus on getting scope, budget and timings right. For starting a project, it is not the right approach, though. I already hear the experienced project managers mutter, “You have to put Quality in the center of the Control Triangle”. Indeed, quality is another Control Item to bring into the equation, but there is more. As matter of fact, quality itself is not something that you control per se. The quality level of a product can be one of the external requirements for the project, or can be a side-effect from a risk. You control quality through balancing time, scope and costs.
The Influencer Pentagon
Even more, it is not only quality that is an influencer in a project. It is my observation that projects are subject to five major influencers.
- Stakeholders are all people that can positively or negatively impact a project. The Stakeholders must be diligently identified in the very early phase. They are an important source for collecting requirements and identifying risks, both of which impact the Control Triangle. The rule of thumb is that the later a stakeholder is identified, the more negative impact it will have on the project.
- The Customer, or Project Sponsor if you prefer that wording, is the most important stakeholder for the project. Make sure that you are 100% aligned with your Customer. Clear out all assumptions, both on the project team side, as on the Customer side. The project sponsor must be involved in important decisions, so as a Project Manager you will need to do correct project reporting. Your Customer can change the project targets and budget at any time, and is inherently the biggest influencer for the project.
- Quality was already mentioned higher. It not only covers the quality of the Product, but includes the quality of how the project is run. Quality can relate to the Product, but e.g. also to project documentation. A project that is subject to external or legal regulations may require a higher volume and detail of documentation. Quality requirements need to be identified even before the project starts, so even before working on time, scope or budgets. Here also the rule of thumb is that the later quality requirements are identified, the more negative impact you will have on the project.
- The project will face Risks that can both be positive or negative to the project. Risks will require you to add additional testing in the project. Risks will need you to change scope and reserve time and money for mitigation actions. Implementing mitigation actions and doing the testing will have a direct impact on the project timelines. Risks are therefore inherent part of the project scope. They must be identified before fixing time and budget for the project.
- Resources are the people that execute the project, and the tools used in the project. The people may be readily available, or need to be specifically hired on the project. Tools may need to be specifically created, bought or hired. Here also, there is a direct relationship with project scope and budget.
Now, here’s the catch. As a Project Manager you only have the Control Triangle available for managing the Influencer Pentagon.
Every influencer will need to be controlled by a balanced use of scope, time and budget in the project. Quality and risk mitigation requirements will result in additional tasks for implementing security, doing tests, creating additional project documentation and collecting test evidence …
It must be expected that the number of requirements increases with every stakeholder identified. While the number of tasks increases, the availability of resources must be constantly guarded. And when you put your project plan on the table, your Customer will need to be convinced to agree with the costs, timelines and scope.
Notice that this is independent of how you run your project: Waterfall, Agile or Change Control. I will provide more details about this in my next articles.
Focus on the Influencer Pentagon first
Project Managers that are familiar with PMI will recognize some of these influencers as Knowledge Areas described in the PMBOK. Indeed, in that sense the Project Manager Octet does not come as a surprise. What this article wants to emphasize, is that the Influencer Pentagon is not something that is controlled only once the project has kicked off. The Influencer Pentagon must be identified upfront as much as possible.
Let’s assume that you passed the “Why?” question that every project manager is expected to ask even before the project starts. The purpose of the project is clear and it is agreed that a Product must be created or changed. A Project Charter is approved and the Project Manager is aligned with the Customer.
As a project manager, you may be tempted to immediately start working on scope, timings and costs. You start collecting requirements and create a first project schedule. Your Customer is excited about your hard work and happily agrees with the budget you presented.
But what would happen if you didn’t take the Influencer Pentagon into consideration first? Once your project budget and milestones are approved, you are hooked. You will find yourself adding tasks and risks to the project with every new Stakeholder that you discuss the project with. And while more and more risks are identified, the Project Manager needs to add tasks. Budgets and timelines need to be constantly updated, and discussed with the Customer. Who, of course, doesn’t want to lose face and will push back on making project level changes.
Therefore, work on the Influencer Pentagon first. A project manager must first work with the Customer identifying stakeholders for the project. The stakeholders must be actively contacted and asked for project level requirements and risks. Collect quality requirements, and align with the customer if there are external demands for the project itself, such as legal demands for storing test evidence. Verify who is available for working on the project. Identify what resources you already have available.
And don’t, don’t provide early estimates on the Control Triangle before you feel confident on the Influencer Pentagon.
The ideas in this blog are part of the Chagwa Project Management methodology, http://www.chagwa.com.
Read more about the Chagwa Project Management theory: